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Guatemalan mother says daughter kidnapped, adopted in U.S.

By Rafael Romo, CNN Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
  • Loyda Rodriguez says her 2-year-old daughter was kidnapped
  • The girl was grabbed by a stranger in 2006, Rodriquez says
  • She "found" her daughter among international adoption files
  • A judge has ruled a Missouri couple must return their adopted daughter to Guatemala

(CNN) -- It's a case that has become emblematic of the risks involved in international adoption.

The case involves a now-6-year-old girl, two countries (the United States and Guatemala), and two families who, in addition to th girl, have been deeply affected by what a Guatemala woman describes as her daughter's kidnapping five years ago.

Loyda Rodriguez, a 26-year-old Guatemalan mother, says she was arriving home in Guatemala City in November of 2006 with her three children when a woman grabbed her then-2-year-old daughter and got into a waiting taxi.

After months of posting flyers, visiting orphanages and talking to strangers, Rodriguez says she found her daughter by staging a hunger strike and pressuring Guatemalan authorities to show her international adoption records.

As she was patiently reviewing about 2,000 files in 2008, the mother's heart sank. Her little girl had been offered for adoption under a false name and adopted by an American family in Liberty, Missouri.

The mother-daughter relationship was confirmed through DNA -- a DNA sample is taken from every Guatemalan child adopted internationally, and the sample from the girl matched Rodriguez.

After a three-year legal case, a Guatemalan judge issued a ruling that is expected to test the limits of international law: an American couple must return the girl they adopted to her biological mother in the country of her birth.

When Rodriguez learned about the decision in late July, she broke down in tears. For the first time the judge was giving her the possibility of seeing her daughter again. Would she remember her after such a long time?

"I have fought so hard for this. It's been almost five years and this surprising ruling makes me very happy," Rodriguez said.

She also had a message for the American couple who adopted her daughter. "All I want to tell them is to return my girl. I don't have anything against them because perhaps they took my daughter without knowing that she had been stolen from me. That's why I want to ask them to return her to me because I have been suffering for five years," Rodriguez said.

The American couple apparently had no idea that the girl they were adopting was kidnapped. They haven't made any public statements. But Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for the adoptive parents, issued a written statement saying :"The family will continue to advocate for the safety and best interests of their legally adopted child. They remain committed to protecting their daughter from additional trauma as they pursue the truth of her past through appropriate legal channels."

Eight people are behind bars in Guatemala in connection with this case, including the judge who allowed the adoption to take place. He is accused of taking bribes in exchange for expediting cases. All eight individuals have trials pending.

Usha Smerdon, vice president of Ethica, a nonprofit corporation that monitors adoption practices throughout the world, called the case of the Guatemalan girl "an absolute tragedy."

Speaking to CNN affiliate KCTV in Missouri, Smerdon added that "if something like this is what it takes for there to be real reform and oversight over the international adoption process, that portion of it is a good result; but I would never wish this on anyone."

Claudia Maria Hernandez, assistant director of a Guatemalan non-governmental organization known as Survivors Foundation, says this case should send a message to authorities in charge of monitoring adoptions throughout the world.

"More than anything," Hernandez says, "this case is about a child's right to live with their true family, the parents' right to raise their own biological children which in this case was clearly violated, and the respect to the rule of law."

The ruling issued by the Guatemalan judge says the girl must be returned to her biological parents within two months. Advocates for the biological family in Guatemala say that because this could be considered a human trafficking case under international law, if the girl is not returned, Interpol could be asked to assist in taking the girl back to her native country.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday she had seen reports on the case. Her only comment was that the situation "speaks to the complicated nature of these foreign adoption cases."