“Hello, my love, I think I am your mom. They told me you were dead ”.
That was the message that Mariela Sifontes received on Facebook almost 3 years ago.
A few words that ended a hard search process and served as a prologue to the second life of this 34-year-old woman, who lives in Belgium with her husband and their two children, Eva and Hugo.
Mariela is Guatemalan. When she was 11 months old, she was adopted by a loving Belgian couple, the Fanons, and became Coline.
She always knew she was adopted.
What did not know wasn the true circumstances in which it occurred its adoption.
This is his story.
I. A Guatemalan in Europe
I had a very good childhood. My adoptive family is wonderful.
My parents let me learn to play the piano Y perform other activities. Ílet’s go vacations every year.
I have a large adoptive family (a brother, cousins, aunts and uncles) and I have been very close to my grandmothers. Really nunca I felt different because my family has always protected and loved me.
But physically yesí was distinta.
My parents always told me that I was adopted.
My mother had a very beautiful way of saying it as a child and asked her questions: “I did not carry you in my womb, but I always carried you in my heart”.
My foster mom wanted me to stay connected to my roots, but I didn’t want to talk too much about it before I was an adult.
I started asking myself questions when I was a teenager. CLike any young woman who becomes a woman, she wanted to know who I was. Mand I lookedaba in the mirror and whateria know who I looked like.
So is more or less as startedor this search process.
I started to inquire at 18, but in an “approximate” way, sin knowing how neither where i lookedar.
I will qualify this as a period where I wandered, because there was no an organism that will help the adopted ones to look for their origins.
On each of my birthdays I would ask myself if my biological mother isestuary thinking about me.
Although now I know that the birthday that he had celebrated for over 30 years it was wrong by a difference of days.
Secretly in my heart I celebrated my birth mother’s birthday every years, the one that appeared on the identification cardion of my file, which also turned out to be false.
But I really started looking when I became a mother.
II. Retracing the path
The “history official” I said that my mother was in very bad condition economic, that he couldn’t afford to eat and that’s why I gave up voluntarily for adoption.
I would like to point out that my family in Guatemala is not a poor family, which makes the cliché of “girl saved”.
That socioeconomic context in which people want let’s value “The luck of have been adoptyou” it is totally false in my case.
When I was 18, my adoptive parents gave me my adoption record. I had access to it before, but had never read it full because then I was not interested in knowing more about my past.
My parents gave it to me because they felt it was my story and what this documents I must have had them.
The file tinía information that over time turned out to be incorrect or even false.
There were inconsistencies with some dates, chronology problems And I started to doubt
It was like a revolution, which was intensified when my 5-year-old daughter also started asking questions.
I read reports on the tragedy of the stolen children in Guatemala, on illegal adoptions, on baby trafficking.
I got help from a journalist, Sebastiton Scaleorn.
I contacted him following one of his articles on this topic in which a name that he mentioned caught my attention: Ofelia de Gamas.
In my file, this woman appears as a witness in a false notarial certificate of abandonment that my mother would have signed.
Escalón offered to help me. I want to quote him because without him nothing would have been possible.
His work allowed me to undertake mine. Thanks to your help I found the trace of my biological mother in Facebook.
III. An adoption “in order”
My adoptive parents are smart people.
They always wanted to adopt, and in the mid-1980s, sand contacted the Belgian juvenile officeto to know the adoption agencies approved by the ANDstador.
The agency (called Make Bridge) resolved all the administrative procedure with thelady that I mentioned before.
Normally, the agency wore between 3 and 10 children / babies by plane to Belgium.
The year my adoption was made, the agency asked the adoptive parents to go to Guatemala.
Mes parents were to find me sure that everything was in order by having the guarantee of an organization recognized by the Belgian government.
Now we know that this woman, now deceased, was the sister-in-law of the then president of Guatemala Óscar Mejía Victores and had been arrested along with a man called Edmond muletin1980 for child trafficking.
But at that moment did not exist Internet! Y my adoptive parents they couldn’t know all that.
Guatemala in the spotlight
Guatemala is often singled out by international organizations such as one of the main sources of irregular international adoptions in the world.
The Central American country was the scene of a brutal armed conflict (1960-1996), which left an impoverished nation, with fragile institutions, with 1 million displaced and thousands of lost children.
Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, hotels in Guatemala were full of Americans and Europeans picking up children.
Many of the adoptions were carried out under legal conditions, but the trafficking of minors became a large underground business for which it is very difficult to have exact figures.
According to Unicef, the United Nations agency in charge of child protection, more than 30,000 Guatemalan children were given up for international adoption between 1997 and 2007 by a system “that did not offer guarantees about the origin or suitability of the host family.”
IV. Love and loneliness
My adoptive parents always supported and encouraged.
She He told me that he would come with me to Guatemala if I felt that need.
When I mentioned the possibility of child trafficking, my parents were very surprised and more presentI know never.
They were afraid for me. My friends and family have been very supportive.
The person to whom I owe everything is my husband.
He saw me collapse, picked me up, took care of our family and many everyday things when I I dove with all my heart in follow the traces of the traffickers.
But even though to have so much love and support from my beloved, I felt very alone to face and understand this ton of information, to learn Spanish, etc.
During my search I felt that I was disconnected from real life. The only times that I felt more present was for my kids. I had to continue being the best possible mother and above all that my situation did not affect them.
First i found more than 200 women with the same first and last names as my biological mother. Also, in Guatemala you have to search by department and city.
After nights and days, I discovered a photo and immediately i knew what was it she, “my mother”, why I don’t like to say biological mother.
V. Like a ghost
I look like my mom. I almost look like a twin from my sisters. Is aa visceral connection. I thought my heart was going to explode when I saw their profiles and photos on Facebook.
My older sister at first thought it was a lie. OROne of my little sisters told me: “It is impossible that you are Mariela, she is dead”.
Then my mother, Lorena, wrote to me: “Hi, my love, I think I’m your mom. My heart is going to stop, they told me you were dead “.
The story of what happened to me was very different from what I knew until then.
I was born at the Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City. With 2 days of life, they robbed me.
My mother, who was very young, was told that I had been taken to another hospital.
When he went to look for me at that center, they explained that I was not there, that he had to go back to the Roosevelt.
Back there, they told him that I had died and that I couldn’t see my body because I had been buried in a mass grave.
He had to sign a paper, but it was not the same one that was part of my file.
The first conversation with my mother, by video call, was very intense.
She was very agitated, she moved, she cried. Every November 7 he published a prayer to his dead daughter and now I was in front of him.
For her it was like seeing a ghost.
SAW. Posttraumatic stress
I will not lie. I suffer from post-traumatic shock.
Emotionally I am devastated because having met again with me family does not repair 30 years of separation and lies.
I have 13 biological siblings that I just just met.
Today I can assume that I was the victim of a kidnapping when I was 2 days, I was en captivity for 11 months and then I was sold under the pretext of a international adoption.
I discovered a photo of myself and other children in a basement tied with ropes in Guatemala before being handed over to host families.
I am in treatment at a center for trauma victims. I have a lot of anxieties, but that won’t stop me from talking.
My adoptive family provided me with the values, education, and resources to face this horror. They they are devastated and destroyed. They undertook legal action with lawyers. SThey are victims just like me.
Today I am tired of living two lives in one.
The people who did this condemned me to live apart from my parents forever. They stole my life.
A coordinated business
In 2007, the Guatemalan Congress ratified the Convention on Child Protection and Cooperation in International Adoptions. He also approved a new adoption law that represented “drastic positive advances,” according to the UN.
The now dissolved International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig) then produced a report in which it denounced the irregularities that were committed in relation to adoptions, a complex network in which representatives of different levels of the State were involved.
“These (illegal) networks are made up, among others, by jaladoras or hookers in charge of stealing or ‘buying’ children from their biological mothers, or in other cases threatening, coercing or tricking them into giving their children up for adoption. These jaladoras are associated with notaries who process adoptions ”, explains the document from the Cicig.
“Sometimes stolen children are used, all their documentation is falsified, and women are used to impersonate their biological mothers through the falsification of identity documents. For this purpose, both notaries and jaladoras, who are generally the nuclei of these networks, turn to doctors, midwives, midwives and civil registrars from various municipalities and DNA laboratories where the pertinent tests are also falsified ”.
In 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned the Guatemalan State for one of the cases of irregular adoption and ordered it totry out the measures necessary to restore the family ties of the victims.
Ofelia de Gamas passed away in the 2010s. Edmond Mulet, who was never prosecuted and denies committing any crime, became the United Nations Deputy Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations and ran for the presidential elections in Guatemala in 2019.
In Belgium, the scandal hit UNICEF. Its director of the Belgian branch, Bernard Sintobin, had to resign in May 2019 for being related to fraudulent adoptions after having been treasurer of Make Bridge.
Mariela Sifontes is now focused on helping other people find their biological families and that justice is served.
Their struggle was captured in a documentary on the Telemundo network that recently won an Emmy award from the United States Television Academy.
VII. Looking forward
We founded an association to support the search for adopted persons in Belgium. SIt is called “Lost Roots”, We represent Guatemalan adoptees in more than 20 countries around the worlddo.
We do the administrative searches and then send the file to the Liga de Higiene Mental, an organization that includes a program to search for missing persons in Guatemala.
This Emmy Award is not just my story, it is an acknowledgment of a little-known subject for all adoptees of irregular shape in That country.
People should not be afraid to speak, but in Guatemala you cannot say everything because it is still dangerous.
I have written a book that will be published in 2021 in which I explain my story and the research I did in Guatemala tracing the smugglers to Europe, but also international links with Canada and the United Statess.
It is a must, on behalf of all the disappeared children of Guatemala, remember what happened.
We were considered as merchandise and exported to the four corners of the world. We are living proof of this trafficking in children that generated millions of dollars and infiltrated all levels of governments, diplomacies and within so-called humanitarian organizations.
As my friend Osmin Ricardo Tobar Ramírez, who appears in the award-winning documentary, says: “We are no longer babies, we are adults with human rights: knowing our mothers and our true identities“.
I am the blood daughter of my biological parents and the daughter ofand heart of my adoptive parents. The love i have by the Four is strong and I will fight to do them justice and get this traffic out to the light.
This fight It is the project of my life and I will defend it until I close my eyes.
I will finish saying that there are thousands of us and that when reality goes beyond fiction, we cannot just sit back and say nothing.
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