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unravel child trafficking ring
By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press 23rd January 2012
ZAPOPAN, Mexico (AP) — Life seemed to give Karla Zepeda a break when a
woman came to her dusty neighborhood of cinderblock homes and dirt roads
looking for babies to photograph in an anti-abortion ad campaign.
The woman asked to use the 15-year-old's baby girl in a two-week photo
shoot for $755 ($10,000 pesos), a small fortune for a teen mother who
earns $180 a month at a sandwich stand and shares a cramped, one-story
house with her disabled mother, stepfather, and three brothers.
But 9-month-old Camila wasn't just posing for photographs when she was
Jalisco state investigators say the child was left for weeks at a time
in the care of an Irish couple who had come to Ajijic, a town of
cobblestone streets and gated communities 37 miles (60 kilometers) away,
thinking they were adopting her.
Prosecutors say the baby was apparently part of an illegal adoption ring
that ensnared destitute young Mexican women trying to earn more for
their children and childless Irish couples desperate to become parents.
Camila and nine other children have been turned over to state officials
who suspect they were being groomed for illegal adoptions. And
authorities hint that far more children could be involved: Lead
investigator Blanca Barron told reporters the ring may have been
operating for 20 years, though she gave no details. Prosecutors also say
four of the children show signs of sexual abuse, though they gave no
details on how or by whom.
Nine people have been detained, including two suspected leaders of the
ring, but no one has yet been charged.
At least 15 Irish citizens have been questioned, the Jalisco state
attorney general's office said, but officials have not released their
names. Neighbors say most or all have returned to Ireland after spending
weeks or months in Ajijic trying to meet requirements for adopting a
child. None was detained.
For Karla Zepeda, the story began in August, when she was approached by
Guadalupe Bosquez and agreed to lend her daughter for an anti-abortion
advertising campaign, she told The Associated Press. Bosquez later
returned with another woman, Silvia Soto, and gave her half the money as
they picked the child up. She got the rest two weeks later when they
brought Camila home.
"They showed me a poster that showed my girl with other babies and
said 'No To Abortion, Yes To Life,'" said Karla, a petite girl
cleaning her house to loud norteno music. "I thought it was legal
because everything seemed very normal."
Before long, the message spread to her neighbors. Seven other women,
most between the ages of 15 and 22, agreed to let their babies be part
of the ad campaign. Some already had several children. Some are single
mothers. One of them doesn't know how to read or write. Five of them
told they AP that they did not even have birth certificates for their
babies when they came across Bosquez and Soto.
One said she needed money to pay for her child's medical care, another
to finish building an extra room on her house.
All deny agreeing to give their children up for adoption.
"We're going through a nightmare," said Fernanda Montes, an
18-year-old housewife who said she took part to pay a $670 hospital bill
from the birth of her 3-month-old. "How could we have trusted
someone so evil?"
The women say that Bosquez and Soto persuaded three of them to register
their children as single mothers so they could participate in the
anti-abortion campaign, even though they live with the children's
Children's rights activists say that also could have made it easier to
release the child for adoption: only the mother's signature would be
The mothers were assured that the babies were being taken care of by
several nannies and checked by doctors. The babies often returned home
wearing new clothes.
Some of the mothers said they began having second thoughts. But when
they declined to send their children back, they say, Bosquez and Soto
insisted they would have to pay for the strollers, car seats, diaper
bags and everything else they had bought for the babies.
Investigators say that Bosquez and Soto were taking the children to a
hotel in Guadalajara, where they met with Irish couples who believed
they were going to adopt them.
The plan began to unravel on Jan. 9, when local police detained
21-year-old Laura Carranza and accused her of trying to sell her
Investigators said Carranza denied that allegation, but acknowledged she
was "renting" her 8-month-old son. She then led authorities to
Bosquez and Soto.
Both are now being held on suspicion they ran the alleged anti-abortion
ad campaign as a front for an illegal adoption ring. It was not clear if
they have attorneys and they have not yet been brought before a judge to
say if they accept or reject the allegations.
Carranza is also being held, as is Karla's mother, Cecilia Velazquez,
who hasn't worked since she lost both legs in a traffic accident in
2010. Karla says her mother's only fault was agreeing to the ad
Seven of the mothers interviewed told the AP that the children had most
recently been picked up by Bosquez and Soto between Dec. 27 and Dec. 30
for an alleged photo shoot. They returned the babies on Jan. 9 and 10,
saying "there had been problems." The mothers said they didn't
notice anything wrong with the babies or any signs of abuse.
Then state police investigators showed up at their homes and drove them
and their children to the police department for questioning. The babies
were taken from them and put into state protective custody. The women
complained that only four of them have been allowed to see their babies
since, and only once.
A statement from Jalisco state prosecutors' said authorities seized
Carranza's two children from her and the other seven while they were
with Irish couples. Prosecutors didn't respond to requests by the AP to
clarify the discrepancy.
Residents of Ajijic, a town on the shore of Lake Chapala favored by
American and Canadian retirees, say Irish citizens looking to adopt
Mexican children began appearing there at least four years ago.
Jalisco state prosecutors' spokesman Lino Gonzalez wouldn't confirm the
Irish had left, but said none had been charged with a crime.
Even if they had adopted the children, Ireland might not have accepted
them because the adoptions were handled privately, said Frances
FitzGerald, Ireland's minister for children.
"Obviously, for any couple caught up in this, it's a nightmare
scenario," she said.
"What you can't have in Mexico is people going to local agencies or
individuals doing private adoptions because when they come back, there
is going to be a difficulty."
Prosecutors say they have been trying without success to reach the
attorneys who were handling the adoption paperwork in the neighboring
state of Colima.
Custody release statements signed by all of the mothers carry the logo
of Lopez y Lopez Asociados, a firm owned by Carlos Lopez Valenzuela and
his son, Carlos Lopez Castellanos. Authorities raided their home last
The release statements were shown to the AP by a local advocate for
missing and stolen children, Juan Manuel Estrada of Fundacion FIND, who
said they had been leaked to him by a state official. He said Lopez
Valenzuela had separately sent him a lengthy statement by email
declaring that he too may have been duped in the case and denying
Prosecutors wouldn't confirm the authenticity of that statement, but it
mirrors the stories of seven mothers who were interviewed by the AP.
According to the statement Lopez said he had handled adoptions in Colima
state for 63 Irish couples since 2004. He said he first met Bosquez when
she approached him in 2009 about giving her own unborn child up for
adoption to an Irish couple, a process, he wrote, that was completed
The statement said that Bosquez also introduced Lopez to a social worker
and together they brought him the current case involving Zepeda and the
other women from Zapopan, apparently hoping he could match the children
to adopting couples.
It says Lopez was told the mothers wanted only to deal with the two
women, and he agreed. The young mothers confirmed they never met Lopez.
Lopez didn't respond to emailed interview requests from the AP.
According to the statement, Lopez said he follows the stringent adoption
laws set by the Hague Adoption Convention, which Mexico has signed.
Unlike Guatemala or China, Mexico has not been a popular destination for
foreigners looking to adopt, perhaps because the process, done by law,
"The legal adoption process in Mexico is difficult, but cheating in
Mexico is very easy," Estrada said.
Associated Press writer Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin contributed to this
Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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|“In all of us there
is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are
and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there
is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting
Alex Haley, Author of Roots