Reuniting families separted by the civil war

Several papers had feature stories this week about Suzanne Marie Berghaus, who as a baby had been adopted by parents from Massachusetts, who never knew that she had been forcibly taken from her birth parents by soldiers during El Salvador's civil war. This week Ms. Berghaus was reunited with her birth parents in El Salvador:
Ms. Berghaus, a 26-year-old from the Boston suburbs, walked into a humble homestead here in rural El Salvador on Tuesday and spotted someone a generation older with a face that resembled her own but whom she did not know. Then, mother and daughter embraced.

Soon after, others came for hugs of their own. Confronted with siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews — strangers all — Ms. Berghaus wiped tears from her cheeks. “Hola,” she said, one of the few Spanish words she knows.

This was a family reunion of a most unusual sort. Wrapped in it was a profound personal story as well as that of El Salvador’s bitter civil war, which long ago came to a formal end but still haunts this country in ways large and small.

At age 14 months, Ms. Berghaus had been plucked from a hammock by a government soldier, one of numerous babies snatched by the military during the war in what was part counterinsurgency strategy and part business venture.

Many of the stolen children were sent to orphanages, where they were adopted internationally in a wartime system that had tinges of compassion and greed. (more from the New York Times)

The reunion was also chronicled in the International Herald Tribune and the Boston Globe. The Boston Globe also had a photo gallery from the reunion.

This story highlights the work of Asociación Pro-Busqueda, the organization, founded by Father Jon Cortina, which works to help Salvadoran families find the thousands of children kidnapped or otherwise "disappeared" during the civil war. From Pro-Busqueda's web site:
Pro-Busqueda was founded on the basis of a simple but brutal question that rips with pain the hearts of the mothers and fathers who live in anguish: Where is my son? Where is my daughter? From these questions the Association has over time evolved its mission to its now solid form of to “Search and locate children who disappeared as a result of the armed conflict in El Salvador, and once found, to promote the reunification and reintegration of the family unit. In this fashion the demands for truth, justice and reparation, which the victims have against the Salvadoran state, come to pass.”

Another of Pro-Busqeda's success stories is story of Nelson (or Roberto when he was a baby in El Salvador). Nelson has set up a blog where his families' stories are told called Ana's Miracle. It's dedicated to his mother, a guerilla fighter who was killed and her baby boy placed in an orphanage.


El-Visitador said…
It is a good thing that Suzanne Marie has met her biological parents. But these are clearly propaganda hit pieces, not genuine news reports.

Tim, did you realize that in these whole pieces the so-called "journalists" never interview or cite any source other than either the purported victim or Probúsqueda? Do you realize that these staged reunions between sons and parents are extremely well planned in advance, and that there always are major media press from the U.S. at these media events?

It was only three months ago that there was another Probusqueda article in the U.S. media that received wide coverage. Angela Fillingim was reunited with her Salvadorean parents and the press headlined about kidnapping soldiers, etc., etc. It was only towards the bottom of the articles that it was revealed Filingim had been given up voluntarily because of she was the result of an extramarital affair.

Yesterday's hit pieces, likewise, are filled with dark innuendos about government denials, "fattening houses," and profit-making lawyers. I ask any non-salvadorean readers: do U.S. adoption laywers generally work for free?. Did the "journalists" bother to ask the lawyers before sullying their humanitarian work in this way?

Compare the U.S. media coverage of Probúsqueda vs. that of the government's equivalent entity. Did you see this case in your local paper? Did not think so. It would not advance the interests of the weeping-heart left-biased U.S. media.

It was only in December that it was revealed another Salvadorean "news report" from the New York Times was also solely based on an ONG's input, and it was a fake (the link is to Tim's own article). Have you wondered why is it that the NYT insists on reporting on just an ONG's view?

Easy. These stories fit with their lefty weeping-heart worldview. Therefore, there is no need for contrasting or additional sources. These people are not journalists. They are propagandists.
Anonymous said…
Apparently, the OAS and the InterAmerican Human Rights Court are also part of this conspiracy to manufacture accusations about disappeared children. See Case of of the Serrano-Cruz sisters v. El Salvador.
Nelson de Witt said…
wow, I completely disagree. How is this any way propaganda?

When I met my family for the first time there was no media coverage, it was definitely not staged or planned in advanced. It was not a media event is anyway. It was just me and my family.

Probusqueda is a great organization. With out them I would not know my birth family. I can assure you they did not try to use our reunion for any type of propaganda.

I think this is a story that this absolutely deserves coverage. My family, like many others, was torn apart by the civil and it took many years for those wounds to heal. I'm glad they covered it because it shows that some good can come out of that awful war.

So you can call it "weeping heart" or "propaganda" all you want but I think you are missing the point. Growing up not know your birth family is so hard and Finding your lost loved ones again is an incredible experience that deserved to be celebrated.
El-Visitador said…
"Finding your lost loved ones again is an incredible experience that deserved to be celebrated"

Agreed. And Probúsqueda has done a commendable and humanitarian job by helping people come together.

"How is this any way propaganda?"

+ "Journalists" who only recite the press release's talking points

+ "Journalists" who do not cite, interview, or quote any source other than the media event itself.

+ "Journalists" who insinuate adoption lawyers and doctors (!) are in just for the money. How about some innuendo that these "journalists" are in only b/c of the easy, zero-prep, company paid, pre-arranged trip and media event?

+ "Journalists" who print that Probúsqueda's competition is "window dressing" ---when that other institution has solved over 20 cases in just one year of operations.

For the NYT, if you found your relatives through the government, you are window dressing. No "deserved to be celebrated," apparently, in those cases.
Tim said…

There is no doubt that Pro-Busqueda invited the press to El Salvador for a very compelling human interest story. Out of necessity, Pro-Busqueda has had to become expert in public relations, in order to generate the financial and international support necessary to pursue the reunification of families. That support was necessary because the government of El Salvador has done so very little to help the families of children who were separated during the war.

The government's intransigence, is well documented in the proceedings before the Inter-American Court for Human Rights in the case of the Serrano sisters. In fact, the Salvadoran government did not have any commission for uniting families until ordered to do so by the international court. As you point out, the Salvadoran commission has been in existence -- for only one year -- isn't that at least 14 years too late?

Your own "righty" agenda is as apparent in pointing to the La Prensa article from March 15. First, the article has the suspicious timing of coming right before the deadline for compliance with the Serrano court judgment. Second, the case it describes is one where the government does not have to worry about implicating itself -- a family decides to send its 5 year old son overseas to study in Italy and loses touch with him until reunited 21 years later. I am happy for all of these families who have been reunited, whether through Pro-Busqueda or the government's efforts, but don't think you are convincing anybody that El Salvador's government has done anything but drag its feet on this issue.

More importantly, your diatribes against the US-based media, don't deal with the real issue of whether there was kidnapping of children during the war and whether there were adoption practices which ignored the rights of parents, particularly parents in guerilla-controlled areas. Here we have the testimony of eye-witnesses such as the parents of Suzanne Marie or the relatives of the Serrano sisters to kidnappings. A few anecdotes don't tell us whether this was a "policy" or a "corrupt system," but unless the Salvadoran government opens up its records and participates in making the whole truth available, I am not willing to give that regime the benefit of the doubt.
El-Visitador said…
«A few anecdotes don't tell us whether this was a "policy" or a "corrupt system,"»

Agreed. We don't know.

Now if the "journalists" would boldly go beyond repeating verbatim the press release, and would do some research, interviews, or would even bother to request government files, then we might find out.

But they choose parroting, so we remain, with just one side of the story, unenlightened.
Carlos X. said…
Tim, you may be aware that the press routinely relies on press releases for news copy, simply because there are not enough assets in most newsrooms to send correspondents to the far flung corners of the world where a human interest news story may be breaking. As you also may know, most press releases are put out by business interests and corporations. With that, one could just as easily decry the "corporate propaganda" that thus fills our newsprint. In reality, readers have to beware the bias of all sources, which are human, and therefore all have bias. It is not necessarily a sinister thing, and you are right to point out the bias and selective reasoning evinced in the previous comments to this story.
Anonymous said…
'Now if the "journalists" would boldly go beyond repeating verbatim the press release, and would do some research, interviews, or would even bother to request government files, then we might find out.'

Request government files? In El Salvador? Salvador does not have a Freedom of Information Act. Technically, government officials are CONSTITUTIONALLY bound to comply with PDDH requests for information. In reality, however, they rarely do so. The chances of a journalist getting government information on his or her own is VERY slim.
Anonymous said…
One of the side effects of all of this has been that in an effort to prevent some of these tragedies from happening again, today´s adoption laws in El Salvador make it almost possible to adopt. It´s a long drawn out bureaucratic nightmare. We are raising a Salvadoran boy, his mom is an alcoholic and can´t provide for him and at one point was in jail for trying to kill him. If we apply for adoption, he has to move out of our home for two years while the process begins. He´s a little boy with significant speech and learning difficulties but he´s improving rapidly with therapy. He´s a happy little boy and we´d like to see him stay that way. There are tons of kids here who´s lives would drastically improve through adoption, but few are willing to go through the process when it´s much easier in other countries. The war´s over. Present adoption laws were drafted to fight the reality of the war. Because of that a lot of kids are suffering from well intended legislation.
Bonnie S. said…
Hi, I adopted my daughter from Hogar del Niño in 1980, where she had been since Feb 1978. Her parents separated, the mother had TB when last heard from, and the father visited regularly until he gave up the children for adoption. I am in El Salvador right now for work reasons, and trying to locate the biological father from the little information I had. I have his cedula #, but not his segundo apellido... So friends are having a hard time tracking him down. I looked at ProBusqueda's website, and frankly was a little dismayed that they seem to assume that all adoptions during the civil war were the result of these human rights abuses. I have no doubt that these abuses by the military occurred, but there were also displacements, deaths, etc during the civil war that put families under extreme stress and probably also resulted in orphaned children. Anyway, I have not put myself in touch with ProBusqueda because from what they write on the website it seems that their only interest is investigating those abuses in the process of reuniting families, and not helping ordinary adoptive parents find the biological parents. I guess because it feels that they would be a little hostile to people like me, I have not gotten in touch.

I just want to let the father know that his daughter is OK, she now has two children, and give him some fotos and our address. If you think ProBusqueda would help people like me without making hostile assumptions, please let me know. thanks,

Bonnie (
Unknown said…
I think pro-busqueda is a great organization. They are helping my mother find my older sister that was adopted in 1980. She was not taken away from soldiers, but was peered pressured from a lawyer and his assistant to put them up for adoption. My mother never wasted too, but the lawyer made her believe that she would be a live in maid for the adopted parents and that they wouldn't take her rights away.... Well of course they lied, but it was too late for my mom. And thanks to pro-busqueda they are helping my mom as much as they can free of charge. The University of California is associated with pro-busqueda helping with DNA testing and match results. They are trying to get families together and help out as much as they can. Of course they want people to know the great news of the reunited families. If they wouldn't let them selves get known, then how can people know where to get great help in locating their biological families. I give them 2 thumbs up!!
Unknown said…
I would say to give them a try. Never hurts to try. They are great people to with with.