Program

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships , ACLS Fellowship Program

Project

“Children for Export”: A History of International Adoption from Guatemala

Project

The Cold War and For-Profit International Adoptions from Guatemala to the US

Department

Global Studies

“Children for Export”: A History of International Adoption from Guatemala

Guatemala closed international adoption amidst a nationalist backlash and allegations of child theft and child-selling in 2007. Until then, one in 110 children born there was adopted by a family in the United States, Canada, or Europe. The adoption boom has its roots in the most brutal episode of Latin America’s Cold War: a 36-year armed conflict that escalated into state-directed genocide from 1981 to 1983. This dissertation draws on adoption files, police reports, court records, the results of FOIA requests, and dozens of oral histories to explore how Guatemala became a leading sender country for children, and what conditions or characteristics made a child adoptable. It argues that while participants posed international adoption as humanitarian, and thus apolitical, in fact it was practiced as a political, commercial, and racist (anti-Indigenous) institution. International adoption is a crucial site for understanding the articulation of local, national, and transnational politics and social life.

The Cold War and For-Profit International Adoptions from Guatemala to the US

This project spans the period from 1968 to 2007, when Guatemala closed international adoptions amid unfounded rumors of organ-trafficking and founded allegations of child theft and coercion of birth mothers. The year before closure, one in 110 children born there was adopted by a family abroad. The adoption boom was rooted in the bloodiest episode in Latin America’s Cold War: a 36-year armed conflict that escalated into genocide of Maya peoples. The boom was facilitated by the partial privatization of the adoption process in Guatemala. This book manuscript draws on adoption files, police reports, court records, the results of FOIA requests, and oral histories to explore how Guatemala became a leading “sender” country for children. International adoptions, often mistakenly thought of as "apolitical," are in fact a crucial site for understanding racist violence, the effects of national and global economic inequality, and U.S.-Latin American relations during the Cold War and beyond.