exposing the dark side of adoption
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The Miami Herald

Author: MARIKA LYNCH AND ASHLEY FANTZ, mlynch@herald.com

Dateline: SAN JOSE, Costa Rica

When police raided a two-story home here this week, they stumbled on a bundle of surprises: nine Guatemalan babies, the youngest two months old, allegedly brought to Costa Rica by a child-trafficking ring to offer them up for adoption by foreigners.

Illegal international adoptions are common in Guatemala, where babies are ``bought'' from poor single mothers or even stolen from hospitals. The government there reports some 3,000 suspect adoptions a year.

But such incidents are not common in Costa Rica, a more developed nation with a large middle class where officials now fear that a recent crackdown on Guatemala's adoption mills following several scandals there has led smugglers into its borders.


``We won't let Costa Rica become a transit point; we won't tolerate it,'' Children's Affairs Minister Rosalía Gil said in an interview with The Herald.

Officials investigating the case of the nine babies say they now have their eyes on a Coral Springs adoption agency, International Adoption Resources (IAR), which registered with the state of Florida three years ago and advertises that it helps couples find children in seven foreign countries, including Costa Rica. Costa Rican officials say IAR doesn't have permission to operate here.

IAR apparently hired a local lawyer, Carlos Hernán Robles, some months ago to help it get authorization to do adoptions in Costa Rica. A former bank executive, Robles was convicted in 2001 of embezzlement after Banco Anglo Costarricense lost millions from purchasing questionable bonds, a highly publicized scandal in this country . Robles was out of jail, awaiting an appeal, until Monday when a higher court upheld his conviction.

IAR director Rebecca Thurmond, 47, of Coral Springs, didn't return several Herald calls left at her home and the office. But a man identifying himself as IAR's international coordinator returned a call and spoke briefly with The Herald before abruptly ending the interview.

Raffael Leyba

, 55, said IAR had no involvement with the Guatemalan babies but acknowledged that he didn't do his homework before hiring Robles this summer to facilitate the paperwork here. Although IAR has a policy of checking the backgrounds of everyone it works with to arrange adoptions in seven countries, Leyba said, he made an exception for Robles.

``In this case, it is completely my fault . . . I assumed that there was nothing wrong,'' he said. ``This is the first time we'd ever worked with him, yes, but he was taking me to all these high government people. He had a nice office with lots of other attorneys.

``The office was very nice, in the middle of San Jose, so I thought everything was honky dory. This is a very traumatic thing to find out about [Robles' past].''

The adoption agency is in good standing with the state of Florida, according to officials of the Department of Children and Families. The department wouldn't comment or provide The Herald with information about any complaints against IAR.


Robles' contact information was found in the makeshift nursery during the raid this week. He is under arrest, along with four women - three Guatemalans and one Honduran - who were caring for the nine babies.

All the babies, now being cared for at government shelter, had Guatemalan passports or other documents, but Cost Rican authorities are investigating whether the documents are real. The babies had been sleeping in cribs and on floor mattresses, but they didn't show any signs of abuse, said Gil, the children's minister. Their nursery was in a purple trimmed, four-bedroom house in a middle-class neighborhood of San José.

Two neighbors said the babies had been in the house for weeks, brought in at night in pairs and wrapped in sheets to hide their faces. Their cries, heard in the street, were incessant and the caretakers never took them outside.

The caretakers kept to themselves, and only opened the door a crack to receive deliveries of diapers and milk the neighbors said.

``They looked scared,'' said a neighbor whose complained to Costa Rica's child protection unit apparently triggered the police raid.

Lynch reported from Costa Rica, Fantz from South Florida.


In photo taken from television, a Costa Rican officer escorts a Guatemalan suspect, who has her head covered.

 a Costa Rican officer escorts a Guatemalan suspect

2003 Sep 23