Selling Babies, an interview with Bruce Harris

Date: 1997-10-09

Guatemala City, October 6. The subject of 'illegal' adoptions continued to make headlines this week, with Guatemala being described as a place where babies can be obtained "a la carte."

"Here the process is notorious. DNA tests don't exist. They know that with a little money they can obtain what they want, in addition the agencies have lawyers that help," said Bruce Harris this week in a three-page interview on the subject in the paper El Periodico. Harris is the regional director of Casa Alianza, the Central American branch of Covenant House, a child and youth advocacy group.

Harris has made front pages, in both Guatemala and Mexico, on more than one occasion recently. This press attention follows 12 complaints presented by Casa Alianza against lawyers the organization believes to be involved in adoptions with "problems".

In an interview with Cerigua, Harris spoke of his concern that the whole process has become corrupt. The problems he claims range from the trafficking of influence -- using positions of power to speed up the process -- to the extreme where babies are sto len from their mothers and papers falsified.

"What we've seen in this whole network of adoptions is that there are people who steal babies, who give false papers so the babies become 'legal' and there's the whole adoption process which takes place on the basis of legal papers which have been obtaine d illegally."

Harris said the weakness of the Guatemalan system has allowed "the commercialization of babies " and he called on the state to centralize the system in order to diminish the risk of dubious adoptions. 

However, while criticizing the system within the country he also said the demand which exists helps create the problem. "Those parents who want to adopt a baby make it with good intentions, they don't look to buy one.  But their need creates a demand and the rise in agencies in their countries stem from this.... In order to obtain more clients they have to have more disposable babies," he said. By pointing to the murky water which surrounds Guatemala's adoption system, Harris says he hopes to
provoke public investigations which will clean up the whole business -- protecting the rights of the child and the biological mother. "We need to make the process more transparent. Those who feel threatened by this type of investigation to me look like they have something to hide," he said.

Lawyer Susana de Umana is one of those who appears to feels threatened by these complaints. She kept both herself and Harris in the lime light this week by suing him for defamation.

Recently Harris stopped short of saying Umana was involved in the illegal baby trade, but he said he did believe she was involved in the trafficking of influence.

According to Harris, Umana -- whose husband is president of the Supreme Court -- has admitted to processing 400 adoptions since 1989.

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