The highest-ranking Guatemalan diplomat in the UN, Edmond Mulet, has been widely regarded as “the honorable candidate” who could rescue the country’s corruption-ridden political system.
But suddenly, reports that Mulet was investigated for child trafficking by the Guatemalan authorities in 1981 have appeared like a nasty blotch of ink smeared across his impeccable resume. They are also a severe blow to the UN’s credibility in Latin America, given the fact that UNICEF spent years lobbying the Guatemalan government to pass stricter adoption laws that would put an end to child trafficking.
A Guatemalan, Mulet is the UN Joint Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. He has also expressed an interest in running for president in the forthcoming September elections as a candidate for the Todos party. Disgraced former president Alfonso Portillo, who will be released from federal prison in the US on Feb. 25, after having served less than a year of his six-year sentence for conspiring to launder $2.5 million through the US banking system, is allegedly one of his key supporters.
Back in the 1980s, Mulet was a lawyer and a congressional candidate for the right-wing PNR party. He was also part of Les Enfants du Soleil, an international adoption ring that sourced Guatemalan children for adoptive parents in Canada.
An exposé published by Guatemalan investigative journalism website Plaza Pública on Jan. 30, alleges that Mulet employed a woman to search for impoverished pregnant women in Guatemala City’s markets and offer to “help” them by finding adoptive homes for their babies.
Guatemalan adoption laws required, among other things, a social services report on the adoptive parents’ suitability. The process could take up to a year. However, the report alleges, Mulet devised a shrewd scheme where the children’s biological parents signed a document granting custody of their children to Les Enfants du Soleil.
Tourist visas were then issued for the infants and in just two months they were on a plane to Canada.
Mulet was imprisoned after the police raided a hotel in Guatemala City where four Canadian women were preparing to leave the country with five Guatemalan babies, but he was released after a short time. He says he was released from prison because the charges didn’t stick and that everything he did was legal.
Other unscrupulous lawyers would soon discover that babies were a valuable commodity. By 2008, Guatemala had become the world’s number one child exporter, according to UNICEF. Most of the children were adopted by US couples. Over the years, many children were abducted from their parents to feed the adoption industry. Fortunately, the approval of a new adoption law in 2007 put an end to the business and put several lawyers behind bars.
Although Plaza Pública’s exposé has gone viral and has been republished by media outlets in Chile, Mexico, Peru, and El Salvador, it is still unclear to what extent the revelations about the past investigation might hinder his political aspirations.
But one thing is certain: Unless the UN removes Mulet from his position, the UN’s credibility in Guatemala, and in the entire region, will be seriously compromised.
Every four years, Guatemala is called to task by the UN’s Human Rights Council for having one of the highest murder rates in the world, systematically violating labor rights and ignoring indigenous grievances.
Since the 1996 Peace Accords put an end to Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war, the UN has sent countless missions to the country in order to document human rights violations. Lengthy reports are written, filed away, and ignored.
The UN also sponsors the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an independent investigatory agency that played a central role in helping the Attorney General’s Office dismantle corruption and drug trafficking rings. It was an investigation launched by CICIG that allowed a number of adoption lawyers to be tried and convicted for child trafficking.
Mulet’s record is now an embarrassment for the UN, a blunder comparable to appointing a drug kingpin as director of the DEA. The UN must now take a stance on the issue. Failing to do so would be hypocritical and could seriously jeopardize the UN’s credibility in Guatemala and throughout Latin America.
Louisa Reynolds, a freelance journalist based in Guatemala, is the International Women’s Media Foundation’s 2014-2015 Elizabeth Neuffer Journalism Fellow.
Correction: An earlier version of this column misrepresented the ancestry of UN diplomat Edmond Mulet. He is Guatemalan.