‘Does the lady still want a doll?’: How a criminal network sold babies in Peru

Authorities are investigating a family in Cusco, who are suspected of selling newborns and fetuses. Since January, 299 minors have gone missing in the city

Fanny Hurtado Altamirano holds a baby while being treated by hospital staff, in an image captured by security cameras on September 4.
Fanny Hurtado Altamirano holds a baby while being treated by hospital staff, in an image captured by security cameras on September 4.
Renzo Gómez Vega

Before being sent to Qenqoro women’s prison, in Cusco, Peru, Fanny Hurtado — the 45-year-old woman who was arrested in a hospital with a newborn that was not hers — tried to sway the court: “I got carried away because I wanted to be a mother like every woman. I was depressed because my father had just died. I didn’t want to hurt the baby. I saved him. I have sinned by loving a child,” she said.

Hurtado — who was arrested on September 2 — told the court that she was in San Jerónimo market when a woman approached her and asked her to take care of her niece’s baby for three days. “She found out that I couldn’t have children from the vendors in the market. Sometimes I told them my things,” the woman told the judges, adding that in the past, she had visited assisted reproduction centers, but had no success.

In the police interrogation and at court, the woman denied buying the baby. On Friday, September 22, the child will have spent one month under the protection of the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations. However, chats between Hurtado and a woman named Rosa Doris indicate that a payment of 3,000 soles ($811) was made for the child, and that money was still owed. “They told me the money was for the legal adoption procedures,” said Hurtado.

The “they” she is referring to are Rubén Mora and Lizet Zambrano, the daughter of Rosa Doris. But it is Doris who appears to be the ringleader of the alleged criminal network that sold children under the facade of an obstetric center.

Both Mora and Zambrano received cash deposits. What’s more, Mora was arrested in the middle of the act, while transporting the fake mother and the woman allegedly selling her baby to Manco Cápac. Despite this, the judge in charge of the case, Zulay Sánchez, granted them temporary release due to a formality, arguing that the prosecutor’s office had arbitrarily detained the two because they did not have a prior warrant.

Fanny Hurtado Altamirano
Fanny Hurtado Altamirano holds a baby while being treated by hospital staff.

Rosa Doris did not return to the hearing where she was sentenced to nine months in pre-trial detention and her whereabouts are unknown. The control office of the Judicial Branch of Cusco has opened an investigation into Judge Sánchez over her decision to grant temporary release.

As for Lizet Zambrano, her whereabouts are also a mystery. Although she was not arrested red-handed, she is directly linked to the crime. Within the group’s organization — which was called Los Imperiales de San Jerónimo (The Imperials of St. Jerome) she was in charge of caring for the babies and certifying their births. Zambrano claimed to have a bachelor in obstetrics, but Emiliana Huacasi, the dean of the Cusco College of Obstetricians, said that she “was not a member nor was she authorized to practice.”

In addition to Zambrano, Rosa Doris’ other daughter — Candy Gutiérrez Huayhua — was also involved in the alleged criminal group, which operated near Plaza Mayor square in Cusco. The Peruvian newspaper Perú 21 published a conversation involving Gutiérrez, who until now was not included in the case. “Candy, does that lady still want a doll?” Doris asked her daughter. “Yes, I think so. She told me that she was sure,” she responded.

Everything indicates that it was a family-run organization: Rosa Doris and Candy Gutiérrez Huayhua were in charge of recruiting surrogate mothers, while Zambrano forged the documents: the mother and her two daughters worked together.

According to the investigations, the three not only sold babies but also fetuses. “Presumably they were used for offerings to the land. What’s more, if the babies had any flaws, it was assumed that they could put them to sleep. That is, kill them,” said Deputy Prosecutor for Human Trafficking Paulo Rivera Quispe. In the obstetric center, which has been closed for two weeks, investigators found an altar with incense and charcoal.

According to Peru’s Ombudsman’s Office, 299 minors have disappeared in Cusco since January this year. This figure could be a consequence of the criminal acts of Los Imperiales de San Jerónimo. It could even shed light on the mysterious theft of two bodies in recent months: in July, a fetus went missing from the Antonio Lorena hospital morgue; and in August, a grave containing the remains of an eight-month-old child was desecrated in the Sol de Oro cemetery, in the San Sebastián district. “There are more people involved, including health personnel. It would not be the first baby to be taken to the hospital where Fanny Hurtado Altamirano was arrested,” a police source told the Cusco newspaper. The prosecution estimates that about 20 children have been trafficked.

A third child of Rosa Doris has also become involved with the story: her son, Álvaro Zambrano Huayhua, a non-commissioned officer in the National Police. When his mother was arrested, the police officer was absent from his base in the Puno region for four days. “He left irregularly, without his bosses’ knowledge. We are not going to cover up any of these acts,” declared police chief Enrique Felipe Monroy.

Members of the Cusco Superior Court of Justice escort Doris Rosa Huayhua.
Members of the Cusco Superior Court of Justice escort Doris Rosa Huayhua.Policía Nacional

Meanwhile, the Human Trafficking Prosecutor’s Office continues to search for the biological mother of the newborn, who sparked the investigation that uncovered the criminal network. Authorities also want to track down the women who went to the obstetric clinic, which carried out abortions and deliveries.

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