Guatemalan soldiers sold children in war - gov't
Thu Sep 10, 2009 8:28pm EDT
By Sarah Grainger
GUATEMALA CITY, Sept 10 (Reuters) - At least 333 children and probably thousands more were taken by Guatemalan security forces and sold abroad during the country's 36-year civil war, a government report said on Thursday.
Soldiers and police killed children's parents, lied about how they had been found and handed them to state-run homes for sale to adoptive parents in the United States and Europe, said the report, which was based on government archives.
The archives in the Guatemalan presidency's social welfare department show hundreds of children whose parents were killed by the army or who were forcefully taken from their families and were put up for adoption with false papers.
"Some of the people involved in organizing these adoptions made the process into a very lucrative business for themselves, and with that in mind they gave priority to international adoptions," Marco Tulio Alvarez, the report's author and the director of the archives, told a news conference.
By the end of the war in 1996, Guatemala was the second largest source of children adopted internationally after China, but numbers have dropped after the government tightened regulations in 2007.
Investigators studied 333 cases for this preliminary report into adoptions during some of the most violent years of the war, between 1977 and 1989, after the archive was opened by President Alvaro Colom last year.
Around 250,000 people, mostly indigenous Mayan Indians, died in the war between successive right-wing governments and leftist insurgents, which ended with the signing of UN-backed peace accords in 1996.
Human rights groups hope that dozens of people could be prosecuted based on the new report. There may be thousands more cases but little paperwork survives as proof.
Bernabe Gutierrez was 3 years old when his mother was killed by soldiers and his father fled to Mexico in 1980.
He and his three siblings were taken by a local pastor and then split up. Gutierrez and his sister remained in Guatemala and a brother was adopted in Italy. Gutierrez' youngest brother has never been found.
"(I'm) very sad, devastated, because it's unacceptable that armed men can come into a home and take the lives of defenseless people like they did," said Gutierrez, who has been reunited with some members of his family.
Experts are also working on digitalizing and making public a massive police archive of millions of documents that were discovered, covered in dust and bat droppings, in a warehouse on the outskirts of Guatemala City four years ago.
The huge paper trail contains everything from parking tickets to arrest warrants and could help prosecute former police officers who killed activists and union leaders during the civil war.