ORANGE WALK, Tues. Nov. 17, 2015–Based on information from “Guatemalan central authorities,” Judith Alpuche, CEO in the Ministry of Human Development, says her department moved in on 22-year-old Analiz Perez Gutierrez and removed her 2-year-old child from her custody.
Gutierrez said that she had been napping with her daughter at her Orange Walk residence on Friday, November 13, when a woman, accompanied by a uniformed male police officer, informed her that she was a social worker authorized to immediately take the child into custody, based on a ruling in a Guatemalan Court, which granted custody of the child to her biological father, a Guatemalan national.
According to Gutierrez, the woman stated that the Office of Human Development, had been ordered by the Guatemalan Embassy in Belize to locate the child and remove her from her mother’s custody.
The story might not have made the news had the desperate mother not posted on Facebook that her “baby had been kidnapped.” Using her Facebook account, Liz Perez Gutierrez, she attached a photo of the child as well as a copy of her statement to Orange Walk police.
In that report, she outlined that the child had been taken from her custody by a woman claiming to be a social worker with the Office of Human Development. Hundreds of people shared the post and it went viral.
Perez herself contacted the media asking for coverage to assist in locating her baby. Eventually, she went further and posted a photo of the social worker after she realized that the name she had been given for the social worker was false.
Gutierrez told us she believes her rights as a Belizean had been violated by the way Human Development Office handled the matter. For instance, the young mother told us that the social worker gave her a false name and failed to provide documentation supporting her claims.
When we posed her concerns to Alpuche, she dismissed them as a “she said, he said” thing. She maintains that her office followed procedures and was professional in their handling of the matter. She says their involvement in the case is through the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, to which Belize is a signatory.
Under that convention, says Alpuche, her department is authorized to intervene when parents are in custody battles or when the custody of children is at stake or in question. She stated “The Department of Human Services, specifically, is the central authority for that convention. So basically, we are the focal point that deals with these matters.”
Alpuche criticized the publication of a photo of the social worker and the social worker’s child on social media, which was circulated and resulted in her being threatened, although Alpuche confirmed that the threats have ceased.
The matter is now in the hands of the Belize Family Court and Gutierrez is to present herself at a hearing on January 15, 2016, where a ruling will be made on the Guatemalan Court Order.
Gutierrez further explained that her troubles began after she ended her relationship with the father of her child, with whom she lived in Guatemala, before returning to Belize in March of this year. The two had met while she was studying there – Gutierrez later lived with him and his family after she gave birth to their daughter. This makes the child a Guatemalan by birth, but because the two were not married, Gutierrez says, she was able to cross the border legally, as she had, prior to leaving, received an undertaking from the court stating that she was responsible for the child.
Gutierrez says she had called the father of her child upon her arrival in Belize, informing him of her contact information and inviting him to be involved in the child’s life. She explained that she had to return home because she had been dependent on her ex-boyfriend and his family for support, but with the relationship over, that support had also ended.
She said all the drama in how the situation was handled could have been avoided if she was presented with proper documentation supporting the removal of her daughter after she mounted a challenge lasting over four hours, moving from her living room to the offices of Human Development in Orange Walk Town.
Analiz Perez Gutierrez says even though she is not reunited with her daughter, she is at peace now knowing the procedures she will have to follow and that her daughter will not be arbitrarily returned to Guatemala.
She has retained Marcel Cardona as her attorney.