Friday, October 23, 2009


Is this love -- or possession?

I am amazed that there is not any outcry about a story, The Snatchback, that is running in the November Atlantic. I only know what is in the article, but that documents a disturbing instance of cultural and economic imperialism.

The Atlantic promo copy reads "If your ex-spouse has run off and taken your children abroad, and the international legal system is failing to bring them back, what are you to do? One option is to call Gus Zamora, a former Army ranger who will, for a hefty fee, get your children back. Operating in a moral gray area beyond the reach of any clear-cut legal jurisdiction, Zamora claims to have returned 54 children to left-behind parents. Here’s the story of number 55."

In the story, an aggrieved Florida man with no clear legal standing in the child's life hires a mercenary to kidnap his ex-wife's child from the boy's birth father.

Unless there are circumstances that did not appear in the Atlantic article, this is a clear-cut case of a rich American trying to buy himself a son. He goes down to Costa Rica, meets a young (and it turns out, not so stable) pregnant woman and brings her to the states with a translator to teach her English. She ends up divorcing him and going back to Costa Rica, but he wants to keep her child even though the birth father has custody according to Costa Rican law. The rich American says the kid is his because he has spent money on his medical bills and upbringing, and because he claims the Costa Rican courts are corrupt. Maybe their legal system is not all it should be but they appear to have made the right choice in this case. The kid says he wants to go back to his rich stepfather instead of staying with his not-rich father. No surprise there. If this guy Todd really loves the boy he should have left Andres with his biological family and set up a bank account for his education. As the story is explained in the Atlantic, it is all about control and entitlement, nothing to do with love. This stepfather says he loves his son. Any legal standing he has in the child's life was obtained after the custody issue arose.

Here are some comments from the website, written by people who have some familiarity with the heartbreak of international custody battles.
Tea wrote:

"The father did NOT kidnap his child. The father said he agreed to let his son live with her in the US and apparently was fine with the idea of only temporarily having his son stay with him until he found out the truth about her. He went to court in Costa Rica where the mother and the son were, when he found out about her habit, and fought her for custody. He won custody and she had visitation. During one of her visitations she and the stepfather kidnapped the child. How can you just take the child out of the country when you have lost custody and only have visitation rights? You can't that's why they had to sneak over the border....
Reverse the situation. What if the father was the recovering addict having just lost custody, had just showed up at the kid's school in FL and taken him off the street like she did? Would anyone even be asking if that was okay? Would it matter if he had a custody order from Costa Rica saying he had custody but no one had ever challenged it in Costa Rica, but in a United States court he had lost custody and everyone involved was currently in the United States. Which order would stand?"

Someone with the screen name LDJVR weighed in with this:

"The mother took the child to Costa Rica and handed him to his father instead of leaving him with the stepfather. Send the child to his father! Stepfather is not in the picture here.
The father should not need a lawyer. No legal birth parent should need to spend thousands in legal fees. All legal birth parents should need to do is report the child missing. The abducting parents or grandparents should pay all cost to have the child returned (IMMEDIATELY) and should be responsible for any legal cost. This child has been kidnapped from his father and his homeland! Does Secretary of State Clinton know about this?!?!? What an embarrassment to our country!"

A couple of the posters compared this to the Elian Gonzalez case, although in this case it is the US side that possesses the asymmetrical resources. I wonder what the Atlantic meant in publishing such an account. The reporter went with the US kidnappers and even interviewed the birth father while knowing there was a plot to break up his family. Doesn't that make her a co-conspirator?

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My first thought is how far we have come when this seems to be all about dads-not moms as was usually the case in previous custody disputes. But I have not read the article yet-just your post. But it seems also to lose respect for the women in the story...see today's NYT op ed by Joanne Lipman.
OK, read it and it is just plain kidnapping from my point of view. This is an issue that should only be between his parents-the "stepfather" did not adopt him and can only argue that he spent money on him. Since when do we award children to people based on who has spent the most money on them? Under those rules, children all over the world could be kidnapped and who is to say what happens to them next. I am not sure why this was in the Atlantic-disappointing-sounds more like the National Inquirer.
We seen that thought the Seam Goldman case the outrage by people all over the world how unjust the Brazilian courts can be. But our courts here have allot to answer for themselves. Mother all over the country run off and hide for months to get legal residency and then play games with their children's lives The heart break for children who suffer at their hands is long lasting and effects the child, who themselves never recover and in some cases sets a pattern for them to to suffer from a divorce situation.
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