|Liam, the grandson who will hopefully never know his grandfather.|
The next day I sent Estela and Astrid to Guatemalan immigration for the fourth time in the hope of getting a passport for Astrid. In a previous visit one of the officials had snarled at Estela "how do I know that you are not going to take the child away from her father?" This time we really thought we would succeed as we had everything that had been requested during the previous visits. I had paid an attorney to go to the prison and have Alex sign a document giving permission for Astrid to travel. I had written a letter explaining my relationship to the child and the reason for her needing a passport. The founder of her international school had written letters. There were documents from the court detailing Alex's case. A crisp $100 bill was in a plain white envelope. As I was not allowed in I had rehearsed the two over and over as to how to proceed. "Tell them you will be back next month." "Ask them why they are punishing Astrid for the crimes of her father." I was very pretty optimistic that a passport would be forthcoming this time.
After several hours of hard negotiations the two returned once again without a passport. There were corrections written all over the document that Alex had signed. The attorney had made several blatant errors in writing the document. In addition to having much of my information incorrect she had indicated that Alex had signed the document in her office which was obviously not the case. Attorneys in Guatemala are not held to the same standard as in the United States. Interestingly the $100 bill had been returned. I had suggested that the two offer the money as a last resort indicating that it was "another letter from the gringa." Astrid said that only after the passport had been denied had the boss looked at my Guatemalan identity card and then the white envelope sitting on the desk. He reached for the envelope and Astrid grabbed it. No passport, no bribe.
|The two groups of kids have become great friends|
since their father's arrest, a real bonus.
Astrid was furious however I insisted that she go on to school. That same evening the news yielded that, the same day, in another department of the government her father, whose parental rights were of such great concern to the immigration department had been sentenced to seventy (yes, 70) years in prison. A fuzzy picture of the four bad guys in the newspaper showed Alex slumped over, head in his hands, upon hearing the sentence. I can only imagine how many cases of kidnapping had been involved to generate the equivalent of a life sentence. Hopefully, the woman without proof felt vindicated.
The next morning, Saturday, as Estela and the children trickled in for music and swimming lessons I learned that they didn't know about the sentence. I told Astrid and she grinned. Diego read the article in the newspaper without comment. He had recently told me that his mother had stopped going to visit Alex. Much to my surprise Denis who had not spoken of his father for almost two years said, in English, "bye, bye." Then in Spanish he said "It is better for all of us." He was clearly relieved even jubilant. I talked to Astrid and Denis, once again, how it is often those who face the biggest obstacles in life who are the strongest and have the greatest amount of success. I further told them that their story would likely help them to get scholarships to attend university in which case they would need to say "gracias, papa."
Estela arrived and I showed her the newspaper article. She then told me of a time, some five or so years before, when Alex had asked her what she thought I would do if either Jackie or Denis were kidnapped. Fortunately, for all of us, Estela had told him "nada" because they were not my children. It was hard to imagine that Alex was such a monster that he would contemplate putting one of his own children through the experience of being kidnapped for financial gain. Unbelievable.
|Hopefully Mishelle, 6, will never know the real truth about her father.|
If as indicated by the court the kidnapping activities had been going on for years one could only wonder where the money was. There had to be money somewhere. We knew that Alex once tried to open a bank account in Estela's name. Perhaps he succeeded somewhere. It has been suggested that I search my garden as Alex was once my gardener, albeit not a good one.
No one discussed the news with the youngest two children. Cristofer went with some school friends to see a Disney movie in his first ever visit to a real movie theater in Guatemala City. Mishelle helped Estela cook lunch, worked on her iPad reading program and challenged me to way too many games of Tic Tac Toe. The older two boys washed cars in the rain. There was an air of lightness and relief amongst everyone. No more concerns about Alex turning up one day and starting in again with lies, pleas for money and more. He is gone. But then this was Guatemala where a prison year was only nine months long and where strange things happen almost daily. My hope was that nothing strange would happen until the children were grown and established and in a better position to fend off Alex should he one day be free.
|Cris was 4 when his father was arrested. He occasionally|
gets weepy about not having a father.
Before he left Denis gave me a big hug and thanked me once again for my support. I told him that we should just all forget about Alex. He agreed.
For readers who once knew Alex I am sure you can appreciate my continued amazement that the same fellow who buckled his youngest two kids into their seat belts after a visit to the zoo weeks before his arrest could, in reality, be such a monster. For once there had been some justice in Guatemala.