Sunday, February 14, 2010

Haiti kidnapping case: stranger and stranger

The Haiti kidnapping case that hit the news with the arrest of the kidnappers two weeks ago has indeed turned out to be a story that has lead to some interesting developments. The initial sign to me that something was very unusual about this beyond just an unfortunately misunderstanding in a disaster situation was that the group was part of a project from a single Southern Baptist church in Idaho. Why would an individual church set up their own cowboy international missions program and send people into such a difficult situation? Especially since their own denomination has a large, long-established international missions program?

Marley Greiner has made her adoption-related blog The Daily Bastardette into a go-to site on this case. Check out, for instance, her posts of 02/13/10 and 02/14/10 on Jorge Puello, the latest bizarre mystery to emerge from this mess. She speculates a tad more than I would but maybe I'm being too reserved about that. I want to know more about the statement by Patrick Mahoney, who is prominent in far-right circles (a very dubious distinction), that he had worked on "past projects" with members of the congregation of the Idaho Central Valley Baptist Church that sponsored the kidnapping "mission".

The New York Times has had enough sloppy reporting that I'm reluctant to jump to conclusions about an accusation of criminal activity based solely on a Times article. For one of their most notorious failures in that regard (and not only theirs!), see Wen Ho Ho Ho Lee Gets Last Laugh by Jack Shafer 06/07/06.

So I'm treating their reports on the Haiti kidnapping case with caution: Adviser to Detained Americans in Haiti Is Investigated by Marc Lacey and Ian Urbina New York Times 02/11/10.

But this is about about the mystery man Jorge Puello:

The police in El Salvador have begun an investigation into whether a man suspected of leading a trafficking ring involving Central American and Caribbean women and girls is also a legal adviser to the Americans charged with trying to take 33 children out of Haiti without permission. ...

The adviser, Jorge Puello, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that he had not engaged in any illegal activity in El Salvador and that he had never been in the country. He called it a case of mistaken identity. “I don’t have anything to do with El Salvador,” he said, suggesting that his name was as common in Latin America as John Smith is in the United States.
Marley Greiner links to this article in which Puello's mother and stepfather confirm that the kidnappers' "legal adviser" is indeed the man sought in El Salvador for human trafficking: Adoption `lawyer' tied to child sex case by Patricia Mazzei, Michael Sallah and Gerardo Reyes Miami Herald 02/14/10.

Man, when your own mother is ratting you out to reporters, you have real problems!

Assuming that the shady businesswoman who was the head of the informal "mission" project and all her associates actually were acting on good intentions - a possible though highly dubious option to view this case - this is one more reminder that trying to set up a cowboy international missions program is very bad judgment. To do something like that right, they would have to have good legal representation and advice, among many other things. Like stable funding, qualified professionals in the required specialties like institutional child care, people who spoke the local language well, and legitimate contacts in the country.

See also:

Ten Baptists detained in Haiti get the best news since their arrest Idaho Statesman 02/12/10

Laura Silsby had grand ambitions in business and charity by Katy Moeller Idaho Statesman 02/14/10. This article gives some background on the group leader's previous connections to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It says without elaborating that her adult son got married in the Dominican Republic. It also includes several instances on this Haiti trip where Silsby was specifically warned against trying to take children out of Haiti without proper officials documentation. Also interesting and maybe not entirely irrelevant:

Silsby has more than 70 "friends" on Facebook, including many family members. Her page says she is a "fan" of Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, Wild Ivy Gift Shop, Geo Challenge and Sarah Palin.

She's been a supporter of the Republican Party in the past, having donated to the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee - $2,500 in 2008 and $500 in 2006.
Puello Probe Separate From Missionaries' Case by David Gauthier-Vallars Wall Street Journal 02/14/10

Regardless of how this case eventually turns out, a good lesson for anyone to take from it is: think twice - maybe think three or four or five times - if a cowboy group of "missionaries" headed by a shady businesswoman asks you go to a dirt-poor country in the middle of an emergency situation to pick up children to export. And if you do decide to go, hire your own qualified attorney ahead of time!


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