December 07, 2011

On Finding Fernanda and More

Last week I finished reading Erin Siegal's Finding Fernanda. What you can read by clicking on more will be a combination of a book review and personal reflection. Because myself personally and this site were mentioned in the book, being part of the story so-to-speak, it was impossible to separate the book from my personal involvement, albeit minimal, in it. And as you will read, it also caused some self-reflection.

Let me start out by offering a positive review of the book. In my opinion, it tells the story in a compelling fashion and tries to be objective and direct. Of course, to those of us who have advocated for ICA over the years, it is very simple to think otherwise because it doesn’t “show both sides”. But what I had to keep in mind is that this book is about one story and that is a story that exposes things that many of us thought impossible.

Erin Siegel researched this story for years. In the many discussions I had with her, I found her to be open-minded and very interested in really understanding all the dynamics that were going on. She didn’t investigate from afar and she put herself at risk in her determination to document what really happened. In my mind, all of these things were evident in the book.

The sad truth is that this underbelly in adoption from Guatemala did exist. The story details how the worst-of-the-worst operated. It also dives into how half of the problems with adoption are a manifestation of ills that plague Guatemalan society as a whole in ways that are difficult for us to imagine.

We can’t run away from, deny, or create excuses for what happened to Fernanda, her family, and the Emmanuels. There is no one claiming that this case represents the whole of the adoption system. And there is no way to justify a single such case because it was the exception. In my mind, we collectively need to realize it and fight to ensure adoption systems can function without these criminals being able to consider such heinous acts.

I realize this isn’t much of a review. But what can I say? It was easy-to-read. It did a good job of describing the system so all readers could understand it without generalizing so much that people like us are screaming about it missing things. Factually, I found two minor errors that I have since shared with Erin, neither of which is relevant to the main story. My biggest issue was honestly that there were too many typos, something which I find plagues all print media today. The worst of which was of course my last name being misspelled once 

With all that said, the depiction of me and Guatadopt did not “make me happy”. Up front, I am not claiming any bias or any inaccuracy about either in the book! As I read it, realizing it isn’t a book about Guatadopt, I put my ego aside to be objective. So what follows is not a “my side of the story” because that’s not necessary. What it is, though, is a chance for those of our readers to better understand what Erin would have written had she unwisely decided to delve deeper into my involvement in this case and overall at the time.

Unlike most families I communicated with years ago, I do vividly remember Elizabeth Emmanuel contacting me. It was just a day or two after the Dateline NBC story aired and I was in New Mexico for a sales meeting talking to her in a hotel lobby that was under renovation. At the time, I was unaware that Elizabeth was a little skeptical of Guatadopt and as a result didn’t share 100%. Please don’t read any animosity or anger into that because there is none and if I was in her shoes I may have been the same. (For the record: Guatadopt never received a penny from ASG for the ad on the site. We put it there because so many people asked us for their contact info and because they had helped many families with basic info free-of-charge.)

To speak of skepticism, I admit I had some about Sobrevivientes. At the time, we had never seen evidence of a kidnapped child actually being adopted. We knew attempts had been made, but we wrongly believed that the Embassy approved doctor offices doing DNA samples were secure. We had become very concerned about the number of cases we saw turning into abandonments because it was a trend that stood in the face of conventional wisdom that “judicial” adoptions were not the problem.

Back to Sobrevivientes… When they got into the press, Guatadopt reached out several times trying to help, offering to post the pictures of the abducted children. At the time, we had the best vehicle available to reach the group of people most likely to (a) recognize one the children if they were in the adoption system (b) want to ensure this child returns to his/her family. For example, even if the adoptive parent chose not to come forward, there were good odds that someone else in the Guatadopt community would have seen the person’s referral pics. I mean let’s be real, we all loved to share pics of our children-to-be. Despite numerous attempts, Sobrevivientes never replied. Maybe it was our ego or maybe it was healthy skepticism in a politically charged environment, but it seemed to us that if this was all legitimate, they’d have taken up any offer of help. As such, we were not sure if the stories being presented were exactly as they appeared.

I did receive some criticism around this time for how I reacted to the hunger strike. With hindsight being 20-20, I do apologize to all the mothers for the doubt I placed on the veracity of their stories. It was never intended to deny their rights to have their children back in their hands. It was never to deny that there were abuses in the system. It was more that kidnappings seemed unnecessary in the adoption system and near-impossible to move through the system. There were DNA tests showing a maternal connection. The requisite conspiracy seemed more far-fetched than the possibility that women had changed their minds and attorneys were unwilling to do the right thing in that event. But I was wrong and I feel horribly for it.

One of the things I did after Elizabeth contacted me was to check with some of my contacts to see what they knew about this case. Two sources came back to me with the same story. They had heard that Mildred (Fernanda’s mother) had relinquished the children but then had tried to offer them to other attorneys for more money. These two sources had both been proven trustworthy in the past and had no known connection to one-another. So we’re talking two “independent” sources saying the same thing. One of the sources was the investigator referred to as “Pablo Hernandez” in the book. While I won’t divulge who the other was, I think it is important to say that it was not Susana, who by that point in time was pretty upset with Guatadopt. It is clear now that, for whatever reason, what they told me was incorrect. At the time, it seemed more plausible than the wild story portrayed in the newspaper, which by supposition indicted the sacred DNA sample sites.

Elizabeth could confirm that my position if in fact this had been about a mother’s children going to the highest bidder, never once did I support anyone hiding the children or taking any action other than the attorney with the children brining them into the court system with full disclosure and transparency. And of course my position was irrelevant anyway

Not coincidentally, the meat of the book occurs during a period of time when my personal faith in the system was diminishing. If one could plot the tone of Guatadopt over the same period this would be clear. The truth is that things seemed to be rapidly deteriorating based on the number and type of things families came to us with. Things were getting ugly and we were doing what we could to help it. We were supporting the families who refused to be victims to adoption service providers they thought had wronged them. We were giving PAPs as honest and direct of advice as we could. In a few cases, we helped get information into the hands of those who could do something with it. And at times, those same sorts of folks came to us for help. Maybe I’m being defensive but the depiction in the book, without attacking its accuracy or intent, was more of someone trying to maintain the status quo and that was not the case.

What I have had to come to terms with since that time is this reality that children were kidnapped and made it through the system. No, I don’t believe there were many, however it is that one would go about quantifying “many”. But we now know it did happen and I regret it took me as long as it did to embrace that reality.

It’s important to point out a distinction in that last paragraph and that is the part about kidnapped children actually making it through the system. Sick and stupid people did horrible things. There was one mutilated child found where it appears some such monsters actually believed they could sell her organs. We knew from the Dateline story that kidnapped children had entered the system, but had no evidence that any had exited it and joined a family in the United States.

Most of our avid readers know that much of our work was done behind the scenes, helping individual families with an open ear, compassion, honesty, and experience. And when I combine that with how our status made us privy to pieces of other things, well maybe I should be the one writing a book. We pieced together many puzzles with some amazing results. Heck, Finding Fernanda is evidence of that. For while I write this defense-of-sorts, the reality is that Elizabeth Emmanuel first made the connection as a result of reading a Prensa Libre story posted on Guatadopt. Who knows where Fernanda would be today without the site. For that, I am immensely proud. But then there is the other side.

My children are my life. I cannot fathom someone taking them from me. And for that, combined with my combined Guatadopt experience, I shall forever live with something between guilt and sadness, maybe some remorse, for what I could have done. I know in my heart with 100% certainty that never once did I act in a manner that was anything but ethical. Never once did I knowingly allow anything that meant a mother would involuntarily lose a child unless a court deemed her unfit. Nonetheless, “if I had only known then what I know now” bears a toll.

It would take a full length novel to go through this all but I am going to share some things I’ve never before disclosed publicly as I get this off my chest. It involves kidnappings and all this what I now know stuff. And it revolves around the same time period as the book.

In the aftermath of the Mary Bonn arrest and Reaching Arms International investigation, we were helping many families. And what we found from those impacted was at times frightening. If one digs back through the state of MN decision to remove RAI’s license, I believe you can see some of the detail. But the long story short is that there were children involved whose history and origin was not certain. And based on what I know now, there were similarities to the scenarios in now verified kidnappings. To be clear, these adoptions were never going to happen. The process was not moving. We had no idea where the children were physically and so far as we could tell, odds were that some scumbags were renting out their kids to other scumbags to make it appear as though these children were relinquished. Today, I think at least some of the kids were likely abducted. I don’t know what we could have done back then even if we had thought them abducted. But this does not change my regret/remorse. For the record, none of those cases were directly tied to Mary Bonn and I have no evidence that RAI would have known their origin. I am making no accusations explicit or implied that either Mary or RAI were complicit in this.

And then there is one case that is different. A case that we learned of shortly after Dateline aired and shortly after Elizabeth Emmanuel read about Mildred’s story on Guatadopt. But this is the case of a family who never went to the newspapers and who never got the attention of Norma Cruz. Imagine this scenario. At one point in time, you are helping a family get a child out the hands of someone who is working under an alias because he/she was banned by the embassy. The case is not moving. As part of this, the child physically moves to a safe hogar even though no one is confident the case will proceed. But at least we figured the child would be safe and in the courts if need be so. Months later, when we’d lost touch with the case, we discover that this child was kidnapped. This was not an infant and we were able to have the child’s parents verify it from pictures the PAP had when the child was at the hogar. Unfortunately, by this time the child had left the hogar and been given back to the adoption service provider, whereabouts unknown.

We went to great lengths to try locate this child during a period that was one of the most stressful of my life. We spent thousands of dollars out of our pockets (actually every penny of profit the original DoGood LLC made) for a private investigator and to keep the child’s family safe during the search. We made sure that the US Embassy and officials in Guatemala were informed. In fact, we were told that the inside of every Embassy window that does the visa interviews had the child’s picture taped to make sure the child didn’t slip through with a false identity. But we were never able to locate her. I can’t find the words to describe the permanent impact this has had on me. It is not guilt because we did all we could and acted properly based on our limited abilities, yet that doesn’t remove the wondering about how it could have turned out right. And as a father, that wondering is painful.

One last note of interest is that from everything I now know, every verified kidnapping had some connection to the same cast of characters involved with Fernanda. I can only hope that means they were the only such ring, though that is far from certainty. And of course there is a ton I don’t claim to know about all the public cases so someone can correct me in the comments if I am wrong about that.

So where does this all leave me? With all this remorse has my overall position changed? Do I now wish I had chosen to advocate for ending adoptions from Guatemala? Do I regret having been a ICA advocate and promoting the things I did?

The answer to those questions is almost entirely “no”. I support ICA and I think these laws that end the systems are wrong. We don’t disband the stock market when a few traders act illegally. We don’t end college football or the Catholic church because of child abuse. In fact, the real problem and answer is exactly what I advocated for many times –rigorous enforcement of laws and prosecutions of those that break them. If you read Finding Fernanda, this fact will be clear as day. Mildred’s courage is amazing and the lack of attention she received from law enforcement is inexcusable. The fact that the perpetrators are free today shows the exact issue – because even if caught little would happen. The same goes on the US side of the equation where we have been anything but proactive. If that changed, these people would think twice before being the rotten apple(s) that ruin the barrel.

Nonetheless, even as we realized that things were getting bad, they were obviously worse than we imagined. We only get to live each moment once and we can ask no more of ourselves than to always do the right thing as we see at the time. Even when we do that, even when we objectively know we have, it doesn’t make the heart fully recover from something like missing the opportunity to right a hideous wrong. There is more to that kidnapping case that I am not getting into here that would have definitively changed the end result. But those are things I can’t change and I am sure that have caused some others to share my “if only” pain.

In conclusion, read Finding Fernanda. Selfishly, please don’t use it to create any opinion on Guatadopt or myself because it’s not a book about either. I’ve written about any second thoughts I have in this post and as you have seen, they don’t involve looking the other way or creating justifications or ends-justifies-the-means explanations.

Posted by Kevin at December 7, 2011 01:57 PM

I am an adoptive parent that brought my child home in late 2008 as one of the grandfathered cases. I have read Finding Fernanda and found the book very enlightening. Painful on all fronts - definitely a painful read to an adoptive parent of a Guatemalan child. Kevin, as a Guatadopt reader I have much respect for you. I feel that you had absolutely no ill intent, and I did not feel that was implied in the book. I do think that we as parents should read it. Why? Because our children will. The thought of my child possibly being taken from his mother or family haunts me, and might possibly haunt my child in the future. If we are going to do right by our children we must prepare for what they will see and hear. I hired a SW to find my sons BM and I have made contact. I have received photos and contact information for her. It is important for me to know that my son has every avenue to have answers to his past no matter how painful they might be. Kevin, we miss Guatadopt. What has happened is tragic, but we are the parents of these children, who the majority were relinquished ethically. It is up to us to help guide our children and remove this dark cloud from their lives where possible.
Thank you for responding to the book. As tough as it has been to acknowledge the truth of what happened (even 1 kidnapped child is too many), I applaud you.

Posted by: Scott at December 8, 2011 02:32 PM

Kevin: After many personal attacks on this forum, I appreciate your reflection. A small group of us asserted that something was terribly wrong and then received the wrath of those proceeding with their adoptions with absolute blinders on. Your reflection is one which I have wondered about and I appreciate your honesty. One thing that has always amazed me is the attack on the three mothers on hunger protest. Also, the attack on Norma Cruz--a woman who I stand in awe of. And, in ever interaction that I've had with her she has been nothing but consistent and unwaivering in her assertions and commitment. Now, we await to see if others have the integrity of treating these children as victims of abductions--not beneficiaries of adoption. And, EVERYONE NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND that IF these 3-cases are not treated with respect and resolved with return of children--you can count on the system NOT REOPENING as an adoption source to the USA. I say that with certainty as these children have become symbolic of a deeply shameful element of the system and truth and reconciliation requires justice for healing. You can argue about the 'best interests of the child' and make compelling arguments on either side, but ultimately righting a wrong is an absolute necessity to heal and move forward at the bigger systems level. As for what is right for Karen Abigail and the others--well, that is complicated.

Posted by: karenms1 at December 8, 2011 07:12 PM

Believe it or not, I do check in somewhat. I am so far-removed from a few years back that I really cannot make an educated comment on the current issues. I have not read Finding Fernanda, so I cannot comment on that.

However, I can state with 100% assurance that you have NOTHING to be regretful for in any shape or form!! I will stand up and state very clearly that YOU did the absolute best for everyone that crossed paths with you. You did what we ALL believed to be the "right thing" for the situation presented. And, there were countless attempts to get foreign and domestic entities to rid the system of those we knew to be corrupt and we knew would eventually tear ICA down.

As I reflect back on my evening walking my two oldest around the neighborhood collecting can food for the needy, I can't help but think about how close we were to never bringing our oldest home!! And, I know how hard we both fought for the truth in her case so that we would NOT allow the system to taint our adoption. We fought so hard to remain on the 'right' side of the system that there was a real possibility that I would have had to hand her over(willingly) to her own family or to some who would have abused the system with her yet again. Fortunately for all, it worked out as it was meant to be.

So, avoiding the urge to ramble, I have to say that from all the people I have met(actually never met in person) that are/were associated with ICA, you stand above them all in your support for ALL sides of ICA. Not knowing, is NOT bias!!

And, I hope folks realize that you are/were just an everyday normal guy that was cast in scenarios that were unfathomable to most.

I only wish we would have had more support from those with the power to really make a difference before it snowballed out of control. Wow! What a joke that was trying to expose the criminals.

Sleep well buddy
Troy Webb

Posted by: Troy at December 8, 2011 08:49 PM

Thanks, Kevin. You continue to have my respect.

When I went to the ICA summit, in Canada last year, my mantra at the end of each lecture and forum was "In a perfect world, there would be no international adoptions". Sadly, the UNICEF types continue to analyze adoptions as if there were a perfect alternative. And, just as sadly, many people were duped by thinking there was a perfect system for international adoptions. OK, a perfect system, with a few bad apples.

Posted by: Steve at December 8, 2011 09:49 PM

God bless. The work you have done has been A god send to so many. You helped me keep my sanity during an insane time.

Posted by: Kathleen at December 9, 2011 01:09 PM

Wow, very powerful, Kevin. I hung on every word you wrote long after my boys were home (in 2007), and I DEFINITELY sensed the change in tone on Guateadopt. It was reading Guateadopt that encouraged us to hire someone to find my sons' birthfamilies--of course there was more than one reason, but the tipping point was that I felt we had to make every effort to know, for certain, that they had been intentionally relinquished. You were, and are, a trusted source, and I'm very grateful for you and this site.

Posted by: Amy at December 9, 2011 01:43 PM

Kevin, I read the book and there were a lot of things that I learned about Guatemala and the existence of it's people. Our adoptions were completed with the agency that was featured in this book and that has given me a lot of stress.This agency was highly reccommended to our family and I pray that it was what it was represented to be. I thank you for your hard work and dedication to all Guatemalan adoptions and there was never any doubt in my mind that you believe in doing the right thing.

Posted by: Mimi at December 9, 2011 05:41 PM

Thank you ALL! Sorry it took so long to get these comments posted. For some reason they aren't getting e-mailed to me anymore. Nice to know some folks are still checking the site.

Karen - I would be very curious to find out why it was that Norma never responded to our offers to help locate the children, post their pictures, etc. It can't change anything but on the hindsight, it would have made a big difference.

Troy - nice to know you're still kickin...


Posted by: Kevin at December 12, 2011 12:49 PM


I believe that you made the best decisions possible given the information that you had on hand at the time. Thank you Troy for doing such a good job of putting it all into words.

I believe that a lot of people are for ethical adoptions. I get a little tired of people saying that many APs are not for legal adoptions simply because based on the information they had at the time they were not convinced that corruption was as extensive as some people were stating. Agreeing on the extent of corruption and being for legal adoptions are two different things and that needs to be kept in mind. Further, just because someone has a different idea on how to ensure legal adoptions than the proponents of Hague does not mean they are against legal adoptions.

It seems to me that many of the vocal Hague proponents are saying "If you are not for Hague, then you are not for legal adoptions." That is a gross mischaracterization of many people's stance.

Kindest Regards, Cheryl

Posted by: cheryl at December 13, 2011 12:55 PM

I have said and I want to say again, my heart goes out to any one whose child has been kidnapped. I hope that we can all work together to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.

Best, Cheryl

Posted by: cheryl at December 13, 2011 07:07 PM

Its a terrible situation but you should bear no guilt.

Both sides have liars, misleaders, and agendas which cloud things. As for the survivors group and some of our "regulars" there was attacks against adoption, prejudice against nationalities, cultures, and race, arguments of colonialism, allegations of corruption coupled with illogical arguments of let them handle it themselves, arguments of where there is smoke there is fire from persons unknown who claim to know people in high places and specific details they refuse to divulge, and repeat refusal of supposed groups fighting for children to share pictures or lists of information of missing children so families could help. The message was "everyone is a liar except for us and you need to accept our words on blind faith".

The burden does not rest on the families. Guatemala should have a process on handling missing children. The survivors group should have shared pictures or something other than just sitting around on the attack [which is what they did]. Children who were missing should have been compared to the children being processed for adoption by multiple authorities. Lets think about what makes sense. A real solution. Would you put the burden on people who do not have visibility or access to all these channels or those who had access to the information? To place the burden on families or use it to tell people not to adopt is nuts.

Posted by: lisa at December 20, 2011 05:33 PM

Lisa (December 20, 2011),

Very well said.

And the children and the families involved on both sides (AP and bio) are the ones that suffer the most.

Best, Cheryl

Posted by: cheryl at December 25, 2011 12:57 PM

Kevin - I will always believe that it was more "ethical" to SEARCH for the truth than to just take everything we heard for gospel. Especially, when we had so many inconsistencies in stories and certainly didn't have all the information. While it is painful to look back and think about the "what ifs", I can safely say that YOU/WE always acted in good conscious and went out of the way to help as if the child were your own. There was no way to remove the suffering or provide a quick, happy fix.

I don't think anyone could ask for more!

Posted by: Kelly at January 18, 2012 12:54 PM

Kevin, as your belated admission to the reality of child kidnapping and trafficking, dressed up as "adoption" demonstrates, the "perpetrators" were not only those in poor and war-impoverished countries where the children were sold, but they are here living among us. So-call good people, with so-called good feelings, and genuinely caring are now appropriately in jail in Guatemala, while the payers and importers say "you/we acted in good conscious".

The pretended naivety about Guatemala and the illicit trafficking of children by adoptive parents is no less than bizarre. It is even overwhelmingly apparent to any judicious reader of this website who genuinely caress for "informed and ethical adoption". For my part the illicit trade in children is worse than any other illicit trade, including drugs and weapons.

Still the good Dr. Timothy and Jennifer Monahan have their bought and paid for "Karen Abagail", and even a television show to go along with it (aired the same day two of their accomplices in Guatemala were sentenced to prison for the kidnapping of the child they keep - without a single word of mention by CBS). And what of Anyelí and her mother, Loyda, now? Will you continue to say that the laws where a child was adopted do not apply to US citizens? Will you continue to pretend there are not enough facts known? Will any parent of an adopted child have the courage to stand up for Anyelí?

The continued denial and whitewashing of kidnapped and internationally trafficked children by adoptive parents brings shame on our country and on adoption. More importantly, the self-serving and ultimately self-congratulatory attitude of adoptive parents with regard to kidnapping and child trafficking (view again the CBS Early Show of October 24, 2011) hurts all adopted children.

It is time we think of the children and what is right to do. Send Anyelí home.

Posted by: LauraLyn at February 7, 2012 12:52 PM

Once again, a broad brush indictment of all adoptive parents, as if we are all one person, with a trafficked child in our home. MANY APs agree with your position of returning Anyeli home. MANY are concerned with ethics in adoption. MANY have spoken out. Not all, not even the majority. But to paint everyone as complicit in the trafficking of children is not only inaccurate, it is a big reason why more APs don't support your position. Expect me to support your position as you call me a trafficker. Really?

Posted by: anon at February 13, 2012 12:40 PM


You said in the post dated February 7, 2012 to Kevin, "Will you continue to say that the laws where a child was adopted do not apply to US citizens?" This is not what Kevin said. And I don't htink any one said it this way.

What has been said is that this is a sovereign country with its own laws. It is a different jurisdiction that Guatemala. Therefore, a ruling in Guatemala would not automatically take effect in the US. The case would have to be tried in the US according to US laws and standards. That is a fact. This isn't something that Kevin or any one else posting here invented. None of us have **control** over this. We didn't make it this way.

Posted by: anonymous at February 13, 2012 12:40 PM

My husband and I are cunetrrly living in Guatemala overseeing our adoptions and the extreme illegal and Human Rights Violations occurring daily in order to unveil corruption, much of where it does not exist. Hundreds of women, mostly poor and uneducated are being forced into frightening coercive interviews with government officials and denied the presence of their attorneys. Many women emerge confused and brow-beaten and some without child. The PGN is seizing some children for reasons as flimsy as typographical errors in their paperwork. When are we going to open our eyes and see this for the witch-hunt and quota filling agenda that it is. After interviewing only 150 mothers, the PGN had the audacity to state it expects to find 10% of the cases to be corrupt or suspect. They also stated that they will put these children (against the will of their birth mothers) into a state home and at some point make them eligible for adoptions through the new Guatemalan adoption system (CNA) The original adoptive parents who have loved, fought, and financed this child for the last 6 months to 2 years will not be given priority. These U.S. cases signed before January 1, 2008 are supposed to be protected under the old grandfathered laws. These women are supposed to be protected under basic human rights. When is someone going to print this side of the story and come to our aid. If you want to seek out corruption, then seek out corruption! Allow the legal, consensual adoptions to proceed and finalize as promised harassment and bribery and coercion in the 11th hour was not part of the deal! There are hundreds of children who have been abandoned since January 1 who are suffering and need assistance from the CNA. Why is there so much focus to scrutinize legal cases when their resources could be used to start a new system to serve the children of Guatemala who do not have families to care for them. This is a political agenda and nothing more! The welfare of the children and the birth mothers does not even make the list!

Posted by: Arturo at June 1, 2012 03:06 AM
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