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Mexico adoptions: Irish couples 'thought process was legal'

Irish Examiner, Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Irish couples ensnared in an apparent illegal adoption ring in western Mexico thought they were involved in a legal process and are devastated by allegations organisers were trafficking in children, the families said.

“All the families have valid declarations to adopt from Mexico as issued by the Adoption Authority of Ireland,” they said in a statement read over the phone by their lawyer in Mexico, Carlos Montoya.

Prosecutors in Mexico contend the traffickers tricked destitute young Mexican women trying to earn more for their children and childless Irish couples desperate to become parents.

For 15-year-old Karla Zepeda, the story began in August when a woman came to her dusty neighbourhood of cinderblock homes and dirt roads looking for babies to photograph for an anti-abortion ad campaign.

Karla said the woman, Guadalupe Bosquez, asked to use her nine-month-old daughter Camila in a two-week photo shoot for $755, 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.

Ms 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 teenager cleaning her house to loud norteno music. “I thought it was legal because everything seemed very normal.”

Before long, the message spread to her neighbours. 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 were single mothers. Two of them didn’t know how to read or write.

Five of them said they did not even have birth certificates for their babies when they came across Ms Bosquez and Ms Soto.

One said she needed money to pay for her child’s medical care. All deny agreeing to give their children up for adoption.

But instead of just posing for photographs, Jalisco state investigators said Camila and other babies were left for weeks at a time in the care of Irish couples who had come to Mexico thinking they were adopting the children.

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 did not say how or by whom.

Nine people have been detained, including Ms Bosquez and Ms Soto, 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 and their lawyer says all have returned to Ireland after spending weeks or months in Ajijic, a town of cobblestone streets and gated communities 37 miles away, trying to meet requirements for adopting a child. None was detained.

In their statement, the Irish couples said they would not comment further because of the ongoing investigation.

The Mexican mothers said that Ms Bosquez and Ms 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 fathers.

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 needed.

The mothers were assured that the babies were being taken care of by several nannies and checked by doctors. The children 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, Ms Bosquez and Ms Soto insisted they would have to pay for the buggies, car seats, nappy bags and everything else they had bought for the babies.

“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 three-month-old. “How could we have trusted someone so evil?”

The plan began to unravel on January 9, when local police detained 21-year-old Laura Carranza and accused her of trying to sell her two-year-old daughter.

Investigators said Ms Carranza denied that allegation, but acknowledged she was “renting” her eight-month-old son. She then led authorities to Ms Bosquez and Ms 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 lawyers and they have not yet been brought before a judge to say if they accept or reject the allegations.

Ms Carranza is also being held, as is Karla’s mother, Cecilia Velazquez, who has not worked since she lost both legs in a traffic accident in 2010. Karla says her mother’s only fault was agreeing to the ad campaign.

Seven of the mothers interviewed said that the children had most recently been picked up by Ms Bosquez and Ms Soto between December 27 and December 30 for an alleged photo shoot.

They returned the babies on January 9 and 10, saying “there had been problems”.

The mothers said they did not 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 Ms Carranza’s two children from her and the other seven while they were with the Irish couples.

Prosecutors did not respond to requests to clarify the discrepancy.

Residents of Ajijic, a town on the shore of Lake Chapala favoured 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 said none of the Irish 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 neighbouring 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 week.

 

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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 loneliness." 

Alex Haley, Author of Roots 



 

 

 

 

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