The Limits of Jurisdiction

Guernica Magazine | December 1, 2014

LOYDA

It’s unclear how the two-year-old broke her femur, Dr. Napoleon Castillo Molinedo told me. The Guatemalan pediatrician regularly saw the child, identified as “Karen Abigail Lopéz García” in his office records, for check-up appointments and vaccinations. Firing up a weary PC, the doctor retrieved Karen’s old records, printing out a list: ten visits in the first seven months of 2007 alone.

The adults who brought the toddler into Castillo’s office, members of the Bran family, were in the business of children. More specifically, they provided what most Americans call “foster care” for Guatemalan kids during their adoptions to mostly American families. According to Castillo, the Brans “didn’t overflow with love for the kids.”

“I charged them less per child, since they brought so much volume through my office,” the doctor said. He said the Brans claimed Karen “fell down” and broke her limb “jumping on a bed.” But he didn’t believe them.

Sitting in a dingy yellow office in one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in Guatemala City, Castillo explained, back in 2010, that it wasn’t his business to investigate or even report his suspicions. His involvement with Karen had clear limits. It began when she came through the clinic’s doors. It ended when she left.

The same unspoken boundaries applied to many other adults involved in Karen’s protracted, complicated adoption. Someone had found the child. Someone had offered her for adoption. Someone fed her, and someone changed her diapers. One person processed adoption paperwork in Guatemala; another did the same in the US. Some links in the chain knew each other, and some didn’t. The simple compartmentalization helped obscure a shared responsibility, as well as legal jurisdiction.

And there lies one of the myriad issues facing the exhausted prosecutors of Guatemala’s human-trafficking unit in what is now a high-profile criminal investigation. For the past six years, the child known as Karen has lived in Missouri with her adoptive parents, Timothy and Jennifer Monahan. But Loyda Rodríguez and Dayner Hernández, a young Guatemalan couple, are convinced the child is their daughter, Anyelí, who was kidnapped in November 2006. Although a Guatemalan judge ruled that Karen should be returned to Guatemala in 2011, the Monahans have kept her.

Today, both families hope to do what’s best for Karen. But understanding what that means is just as complicated as understanding what actually happened to the child.

In Guatemala nearly a dozen people, including government officials, have been charged with serious criminal offenses related to Karen’s adoption, including dereliction of duty, human trafficking, and falsifying documents. Two women, a nursery director and a lawyer, have been found guilty and are serving jail time for their involvement with the child.

The case pits American against Guatemalan interests, a family against a family. It can be seen as a study in the failure of cooperation and international diplomacy, or as an examination of influence, wealth, and power. The situation forces questions about the definitions of what is right, what is moral, and what, exactly, is criminal.

This story was reported over the past six years. I used over five thousand documents obtained and leaked from various sources in Guatemala, interviewed dozens of parties, and gained insight from criminal investigators and experts associated with the case in both countries…

Read the full story here: https://www.guernicamag.com/features/the-limits-of-jurisdiction

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