Denver dad caught in Guatemala adoption fight

Date: 2007-09-04

Denver dad caught in Guatemala adoption fight

Guatemala blocks Denver man's try to bring baby here

September 4, 2007
By Berny Morson
Rocky Mountain News

Russell Johnston has everything he needs to welcome a baby to his Denver home.

A stroller. A car seat. A crib stocked with stuffed animals, and the name "DYLAN" on the wall above it in big, brightly colored wooden letters.

But 8-month-old Dylan is in Guatemala, a tiny hostage in a month-old dispute between the Guatemalan government and an orphanage run by an American and his Guatemalan wife.

"I call him my son all the time," says Johnston, who has met Dylan only in photographs.

Johnston is among more than 40 parents ready to adopt children from Casa Quivira, a private orphanage in Antigua, Guatemala. He had purchased airline tickets for the trip to Guatemala after running the gantlet of paperwork that precedes adoption.

But on Aug. 11, authorities raided Casa Quivira and halted adoptions. Guillermo Castillo, the Guatemalan ambassador to Washington, said Friday the raid was in response to charges by birth parents that children had been taken for adoption without permission.

More than 40 babies, including Dylan, were removed by authorities from Casa Quivira and put in other facilities. Castillo said they were seized because Casa Quivira wasn't cooperating with officials sent to supervise the orphanage.

Casa Quivira director Clifford Phillips denied the charges.

In a statement last month, Phillips said the "case against Casa Quivira is founded on baseless accusations." He accused the government of spreading "emotionally charged lies."

Phillips said Friday he runs DNA checks to ensure that women who present children for adoption are the birth parents.

He said the orphanage is a pawn in a political dispute over adoptions. The Guatemalan government is under internal and external pressure to conform to treaties on multinational adoptions.

"We're very concerned that the trauma the children will suffer will have long-term effects," said Phillips, who is living in Florida.

"I will go back (to Guatemala) when Ambassador Guillermo Castillo can assure my safety and security," Phillips said.

Johnston said he decided to adopt through Casa Quivira because of glowing recommendations from other adoptive parents.

Johnston, 35, a Missouri native, does marketing for an accounting firm.

"I just got to a point when I realized that I've been blessed with pretty much whatever I needed and wanted, and it was just time to live for something more than myself," he said of his decision to adopt as a single parent.

Johnston underwent criminal and financial background checks, a physical to be sure he was healthy enough to adopt and interviews with a social worker.

Based on estimates of compatibility, Casa Quivira paired Johnston with Dylan and sent a photograph in May.

"He really looked like the kid I would be adopting," Johnston said.

Johnston lives in an early 20th century brick home near City Park that he's been renovating for three years. He's outfitted an upstairs room as a nursery.

He has not been told where the Guatemalan government is keeping Dylan.

"He's been moved to a home that I've never seen, that I don't know," Johnston said. "I don't know if he's being fed the proper food or if he's getting medication if he needs it."

The U.S. embassy in Guatemala, which was closed for the Labor Day holiday, has urged caution in dealing with the under-regulated Guatemalan adoption market.

The U.S. requires a DNA check to confirm the parentage of Guatemalan adoptees. Since Aug. 6, the embassy has been requiring a second DNA check before babies may enter the United States.

Dylan and his mother underwent a first check, Johnston said.

Castillo, the Guatemalan ambassador, said prosecutors are reviewing the paperwork on each of the Casa Quivira babies. He's not sure how long that will take.

Johnston said he hopes to bring Dylan home before his first birthday in December "so he has plenty of time to bond and attach."

morsonb@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5209

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