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Child Abduction for Adoption and the Tangled Web of Deceit in Guatemala: A Review of Erin Siegal’s “Finding Fernanda”

Written by Karen Smith Rotabi for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

2012 01 10 rotabi2 Child Abduction for Adoption and the Tangled Web of Deceit in Guatemala: A Review of Erin Siegal’s “Finding Fernanda”

Because much of my research has focused on reforming intercountry adoption and most especially Guatemala, I opened Siegal’s “Finding Fernanda” cautiously. She began the story by capturing the meager life of a determined mother, Mildred Alvarado, and her children living on poverty’s bitter edge.

By the end of this captivating read, it is impossible to see Alvarado as anything but a strong and resilient woman who is determined to fight circumstances of poverty and oppression–its impact on human dignity and the destruction of her family.

This main thread of the story makes Alvarado not only an interesting woman, but the underdog that everyone must hope for the ‘right thing’ to happen in the end.

However, when Alvarado and many other women’s stories of child abduction for adoption went ‘public’ it seemed everyone in the intercountry adoption community was routing against ‘the truth.’ It was unthinkable that some [1] of the beautiful children who had been adopted from Guatemala came to their adoptive families from sinister pathways. ‘Orphan’ adoption is viewed by most as an honorable act and to suggest that children are not truly orphans (and may be trafficking victims) is more than impolite to most people. Unfortunately the historical context and story of Guatemala is far too complicated for such fantasized notions about ‘orphans’ to always be true and when interrogates the facts, a grotesque reality unfolds.

Siegal pulls together many of the facts in her book, often allowing them to speak for themselves. The villain, an executive director of a notoriously bad adoption agency in Florida, gives the reader some insight into the inner workings of a ‘Christian’ woman who uses faith to manipulate her clients as needed. Then, there is the more subtle manipulation of the US Government, ranging from the US Department of State to the many Senators and Congressmen who demand that their constituent’s adoptions be completed—regardless of fears of fraud, coercion, and abduction of children for adoption.

2012 01 10 rotabi4 Child Abduction for Adoption and the Tangled Web of Deceit in Guatemala: A Review of Erin Siegal’s “Finding Fernanda”

Siegal rightly identifies that one should follow the money! [2] I am left wondering how an executive director of an adoption agency can make in the range of $250,000 annually with six figure bonuses for her husband (with little documentation for ‘why’ such a payment is legitimate). How can the IRS allow such ridiculous money management of a ‘non-profit’ agency? Further, some suspect that this agency director’s home and vehicle are paid for by the organization. While these allegations are not substantiated, the suspicion is telling.

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