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RPCV Alexander Noce tries to find foster daughter in Paraguay
RPCV Alexander Noce tries to find foster daughter in Paraguay
Family Torn Apart
When she tried to bring her daughter from Paraguay, Santa Fe woman ran into a huge obstacle: her parents
By ANNE CONSTABLE | The New Mexican
Caption: Alex Noce holds up a photo of his daughter, Mariela Noce, 5, in his Kaune Elementary School classroom Monday. Mariela has allegedly been kidnapped by her maternal grandparents in Paraguay. - Wes Pope | The New Mexican
A bilingual assistant at Kaune Elementary School is in her native Paraguay this week searching for her 5-year-old daughter, Mariela, who was apparently abducted by her maternal grandparents, according to the woman's husband.
Carolina Soledad Durán Estigarribia de Noce has hired investigators to help her locate the child, who has been missing since Feb. 10 when police and social workers came to her grandparents' house in Asunción to collect her, the husband, Alexander Noce, says.
In Santa Fe, Alexander Noce, a fifth-grade bilingual teacher at Kaune Elementary, is working two jobs to raise money to pay for the couple's trips to Paraguay and for the cost of three private investigators.
The district attorney in Asunción is interested in the case, Alexander Noce said, but that office has only one investigator.
Paraguayan police have issued warrants for the arrest of Luis Antonio Durán and his wife, María Angélica. Because they have not demanded ransom, the case is being treated as a custody violation rather than a kidnapping, according to Alexander Noce.
"Right now, Mariela must be very confused," Carolina Noce said in an interview from Paraguay. "My mother probably told her I left and am not coming back for her."
Carolina Noce, 22, once a single mother, had sole custody of her daughter since birth. The child, who graduated from preschool last year, is outgoing, reads and writes in Spanish and is learning English. She likes to paint and draw, according to her mother.
Carolina Noce, an English teacher, lived with her parents and worked a second job waiting tables at a restaurant where she met Alexander Noce, now 37. He was in Asunción to record an album of children's songs. He had spent a number of years in Paraguay, he said, first as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1990 to 1992 and later as a consulting ecologist for the Bertoni Foundation for the Conservation of Nature.
Last April, following a family farewell party, Carolina Noce left for the United States to join Alexander Noce, who was teaching elementary school in Indio, Calif. After their marriage, the couple considered moving to Paraguay, but when Alexander Noce couldn't obtain a job there, they decided to move to Santa Fe. Alexander Noce had a Peace Corps buddy who lived in Northern New Mexico and had visited the state.
According to the couple, Carolina Noce's parents urged her to become established in the United States before bringing Mariela here. Before leaving the country, Carolina Noce had given her parents power of attorney to make medical decisions for her daughter, who suffers from respiratory problems and had once been hospitalized, Alexander Noce said.
The Noces had also obtained a passport for the child and left a debit card to cover Mariela's expenses during the separation. The grandparents withdrew approximately $1,200 during the six months, Alexander Noce said.
Meanwhile, Carolina Noce waited in the United States for her permanent-residency status. She said she called Mariela regularly, but by June she sensed her parents had had a change of heart. According to Carolina Noce, they wouldn't allow her to talk to Mariela, saying the child didn't want to speak to her mother. Carolina Noce also said her mother warned her that her father would hurt the couple if they tried to take the child.
Her papers in order, the couple flew to Paraguay. The U.S. embassy had agreed to process Mariela's visa, but the Noces needed physical custody before the application could be completed.
Carolina Noce's parents refused to surrender the child, according to their daughter. They accused her of abandoning her child and declared it was in Mariela's best interest to continue living with them, the Noces said.
Carolina Noce sued for restitution and the court found in her favor, according to the couple. Mariela's grandparents appealed. During this time, Carolina Noce said she was allowed to visit her daughter for two hours every two days in the presence of a social worker.
The appeal was rejected Dec. 31. After the court's month-long recess, the Noces said the judge issued a warrant to extract the child from the grandparents' home. On Feb. 10, a team of lawyers, police, a child psychologist and social workers accompanied Carolina Noce to her parents' house, a middle-class residence with a gate and a pool, according to court documents. After breaking the gate and the front door, they found some of Mariela's possessions, but the grandparents and their two other children, a woman, 25, and a young man, 18, had abandoned the house.
"I already knew she wasn't going to be there. Call it mother's intuition. I knew this was not going to be that easy," Carolina Noce said. "But no one expects their parents to do this."
The family was never close, she added. "But I never did anything that terrible to justify this."
Since then, Alexander Noce said, police have spotted Carolina Noce's father, a marketing teacher at the American University in Asunción but have not been able to execute the warrant for his arrest. And Carolina Noce's mother has never surfaced with the child, although the Noces believe the two are still in the country.
Mariela's biological father, who did not acknowledge his paternity at the time of her birth, tried unsuccessfully to prevent the child from leaving Paraguay, Alexander Noce said.
The fight over little Mariela has attracted considerable press attention in Paraguay. The magazine TeVeO interviewed both Carolina Noce and her mother, describing their dispute as a Greek tragedy. In the article, the grandmother said Carolina Noce kept postponing her return to Paraguay, didn't show interest in the child and wasn't willing to sit down with them to discuss the issue. Carolina Noce insisted she would never abandon her child.
While the couple does not believe the grandparents would harm Mariela, they worry that "the fact that they can't lead normal lives (and are) on the run is going to compromise her health," Alexander Noce said.
But, he added, "We decided in November that we needed to not just throw up our hands and act like victims.
"We can't stop everything. We have to lead normal lives. What has saved us is the ability to continue teaching."