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Ordeal in Peru: Cuddling a Baby, Clinging to Hop


Journal; Ordeal in

Peru: Cuddling a Baby, Clinging to Hop

Published: June 9, 1992
They are a special group of American visitors. Many are couples in their late 30's and early 40's, too old to be classified most eligible by adoption agencies in the United States. Some are single people, who are almost always passed over in the adoption competition back home.
Most came here with high hopes, having been told that if they went to Peru they would leave with a healthy baby within four to six weeks.
But such optimism died months ago. In its place is a desperate hope that the Andean children they have cuddled and nurtured for months will not be taken from them.
Scores of Americans who came to find children are now stranded in this country of upheaval. An inefficient and at times corrupt legal system, plus adoption scandals that have fed intense nationalism here, has forced many to stay six months, and sometimes a year, to complete adoptions.
That wait has been lengthened by at least two months since President Alberto K. Fujimori seized expanded powers on April 5. Most courts were shut down for six weeks and the number of judges severely reduced, creating a tremendous backlog. 'Awful Lot of Pain'
Some frustrated foreigners have left. But most have stayed, unwilling to part with the infants they were handed when they arrived and whom they now consider their children.
"There is an awful lot of pain among us," said one woman who asked to be identified only as Di Anne. "All of us could tell you horror stories of endless delays, losing jobs back home, losing homes. We're living day by day with babies that are ours emotionally, but we don't know if we will be able to keep them."
Peru is the second most popular destination, after South Korea, for Americans adopting children abroad. Unlike many countries, Peru permits private adoption -- agreements between the natural mother and would-be parents -- and allow solder couples and single people to adopt. Embassy officials in Peru estimate that Americans adopt 700 Peruvian babies a year.
The plight of Americans spending months in hotels seems inconsequential in a country plagued by guerrilla violence and drug trafficking, with 60 percent of its people living in poverty.
But the troubles of the Americans reflect a wrenching debate in Latin American countries. Have the societies given up their children too easily? Are adoptions the fast way out of confronting poverty, malnutrition, lack of education? Adoption scandals are a favorite topic of the Peruvian press, which some say is campaigning against foreign adoptions.
"Due to the campaign, judges are carrying out deeper investigations," said a juvenile court judge who spoke on condition of anonymity. She said a judge who processed a case quickly was often accused of being corrupt.
Neighboring Colombia has made the process more difficult by eliminating private adoptions. Similar changes have been proposed for Peru.
Adoption also touches the issue of racism that runs deep in this culture, separating the dark-skinned Indian and mestizo Peruvians from the light-skinned Peruvians of Spanish descent. Many cannot understand why light-skinned Westerners would want to adopt dark-skinned babies from the Andean highlands. Some accuse foreigners of planning to raise the children to be servants.
Adopting parents have been charged with baby trafficking. Others have had babies taken from them by the police as they left for home.
"I was told it was going to be easy," said Carol Brooks, a single, 35-year-old computer analyst from Kaiser, Ore. "But with the long wait and added expense I'm using money I had put aside to buy a house."
The first child Ms. Brooks was given was taken away from her when the authorities decided the natural mother did not want to give up the child.
John Gordy, a retired United States Air Force officer, arrived on Jan. 10 in Lima with his wife, Cynthia. Their Peruvian lawyer had arranged for them to adopt two sisters in the southeastern province of Puno.
After several weeks in Puno with the children, they were told the adoption had been completed and they could take their children to Lima to await final approval. But within days Mr. Gordy found out that the judge in Puno had issued a warrant accusing him of baby trafficking.
"We went back to Puno and they hauled me in and interrogated me for hours, threatening to throw me in jail," he said. "They asked if I was a baby trafficker, said I was going to cut the hearts out of the babies."
The couple had to put both children in orphanages and left Peru without them in May, having spent more than $15,000. Support Group Is Formed
To help foreigners cope with the strain of waiting, a support group has sprung up at the Union Church, where every Friday parents gather to commiserate and share information.
The talk is about how attached one becomes to an adopted baby in a matter of days. One woman said she had stayed indoors for 56 days for fear of being stopped by the police and having her child taken for lack of final adoption documents.
"I suggest there is no more difficult experience than the element of uncertainty and waiting," said Thomas A. Nibbe, minister at the Union Church. "They can't move about freely. They can't take their child out. They sit and wait, always with the fear that they will lose the child."
1992 Jun 9