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Baby case remains an enigma to investigators

Why are they in Costa Rica?
Baby case remains an enigma to investigators
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Investigators still do not know what they are dealing with in the case of nine Guatemalan babies they found in a La Uruca home Sunday.

The most sensationalistic explanation is that the children were the pawns in some kind of international child trafficking network, but the line between trafficking and a legal adoption frequently is thin.

The babies range from two weeks to two years. At least one of the adults arrested, a Guatemalan woman, is pregnant and another is the mother of one of the babies, investigators said. In all, five Guatemalans and a Honduran man were arrested. Others with whom police would like to talk are in flight, agents said.

Guatemala has long been a source of babies in the estimated $60 million a year private adoption business. But last March 5 the country became a signatory to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. The country eliminated the private adoption and the state asserted control over all adoptions.

Most officials favor state-controlled adoptions because there is protection of infants and certification of their origins. There also frequently is follow-up by social workers.

Guatemala ranks fourth behind China, Russia and South Korea for babies being adopted into the United States.

However, police have not discarded the possibility that some of the woman came here to have a native-born Costa Rica child and the immigration and social welfare protection that provides.

Also arrested was former lawyer and former Banco Anglo manager Carlos Hernán Robles because documents from his firm were found in the house. He told reporters as he was being arrested at his home that he represented a licensed adoption agency in Costa Rica.

He was off to prison Monday night after an appeals court reinstated a sentence stemming from the Banco Anglo failure. He got 25 years for misuse of state funds.

Trafficking in children generally implies stealing or otherwise taking the children without the permission of parents. However, some categorize trafficking when the women give birth to children specifically so that the child will be place for adoption for money.

A police source said Monday that at least four of the children had valid passports. However, 

the source also said that at least five children have been stolen from maternity hospitals in Costa Rica over the last few years. They have never been located.

Guatemala has published strict adoption rules on the Web site of its embassy in the United States. 

However, in that country and also in Costa Rica it would be possible to obtain adoption papers in an illegal way. Both countries also give preference to their own residents in adoption cases.

Although rumors of child trafficking has been current for at least three years, it was a neighbor who called police on the house in La Uruca. The neighbor was upset by the continual crying and what she said she thought was poor treatment of the children that she saw through a window.

Two weeks ago police detained a woman who was taking a young Honduran boy to La Uruca by taxi. The taxi driver became suspicious. Police later said that the pair’s documentation was in order. The woman said she had been paid to bring the boy to Costa Rica and suggested that the child’s mother thought life would be better here. Both arrived by bus.

Investigators in the latest case are checking to see how those arrested or taken into custody Sunday arrived here.

Two outstanding cases involving children also raised the specter of child trafficking.

Jessica Valverde Pineda, 4, vanished near her home in Los Guidos de Desamparados in  February 2002. She left her home walking to a nearby store and has not been seen since.

Osvaldo Faobricio Madrigal Bravo, 3, of San Miguel de Higuito in Desamparados was abducted June 4, 2002, and a taxi driver and a local guard have been convicted in the crime. The pair said they were just deliverymen and said they took the child either to Pavas or La Uruca.

The boy later turned up dead, and speculation centers on the possibility that the abductors killed him when they found out that his father was an agent for the Judicial Investigating Organization.

However, both children also were considered possible victims of molesters, too.

In the latest case, police here are coordinating with Guatemalan officials to try to locate parents and also find out the correct names of the youngsters.

2003 Sep