On February 4th, 2009, U.S. Congressman Chris Smith from New Jersey state spoke before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs during its hearing on "US Policy Toward Latin America in 2009 and Beyond." The congressman made a statement condemning Brazil's weak record of enforcing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Smith brough to light the case of American David Goldman whose son, Sean Goldman, was abducted by his own mother to Brazil. The woman remarried in Brazil and soon after died. Even after her death the Brazilian Justice refuses to return the boy to his father who lives in the United States. Her comments are now a part of the official Congressional Record.
On the same day, Congressmen Smith introduced House Resolution 125, "Calling on the central authority of Brazil to immediately discharge all its duties under the Hague Convention by facilitating and supporting Federal judicial proceedings as a matter of extreme urgency to obtain the return of Sean Goldman to his father, David Goldman, for immediate return to the United States."
Additionally, this resolution describes all of the various failings of the Brazilian judiciary and law enforcement in the handling of this case, and calls upon the United States Government to declare that Brazil is a "Country Not Compliant with the Convention."
On February 5th, Senators Lautenberg and Menendez of NJ released an open letter to Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The letter summarizes the case and urges President Lula to take action and return the child to the United States.
Additionally, it warns of the precedence that could be set if a strategy of delay and legal miring so that the child adapts to his abductors is permitted to become a basis for denying the return of any abducted child.
Congress's sudden involvement in this case was spurred by the national reaction to the NBC Dateline television special featuring David Goldman and his tragic story of the abduction of his son. On January 30th, nearly 5 million viewers tuned in to learn of this heartbreaking saga.
Their response was overwhelming, flooding websites and email bins, searching for more details and demanding action from both governments. Nearly 30,000 people signed the petition or joined the Facebook group to show their support for David's efforts to be reunited with his son.
Congressman Chris Smith and his wife were among those watching. The Smith's were moved by David's plea for help and his obvious love for his son. At his wife's urging, Congressman Smith immediately contacted his staff to inform them that he was going to get involved.
That very night, his staff contacted David Goldman and scheduled a meeting for the following Monday. At the meeting, the congressman presented David with an offer: he would do everything in his power to help David bring his son back home including accompanying David to Brazil for any future court proceedings.
The opportunity to honor that promise came quickly. David and Congressman Smith flew to Brazil together on February 5th, 2009 to meet with high level government officials and to attend a court ordered mediation hearing.
Together with U.S. Ambassador Clifford Sobel and David's Brazilian legal representatives, the pair met with Sean's Brazilian guardian and Judge . At this hearing, David was finally granted the right to visit his son for the first time in four and a half years. Other issues related to custody of the child were not determined.
The illegal behavior of one person and his success in manipulating the Brazilian justice system has brought international attention to the human rights record of an entire country. In addition to the Goldman case, there are nearly fifty other open cases of children abducted to Brazil from the United States alone.
Certainly this is not what President Lula wishes to deal with as he prepares to enter into negotiations with the new administration in the United States over critical issues such as free trade and biofuels.
Yet there is little doubt that unless he and Justice Minister Tarso Genro act to ensure that this case and others like it are handled at the federal or supreme court level and that judges are directed to follow the Hague Treaty, he will face public demonstrations as well as resistance from Washington during his upcoming visit to United States.
Lautenberg/Menendez letter: http://lautenberg.senate.gov/newsroom/record.cfm?id=307802
AP Story on Chris Smith visiting Brazil:Â http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/AP/story/889695.html