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Human Rights

The Burning of Baltasar Garzón


Baltasar Garzón in one of his last appearances as a Spanish judge

I’m no fan of Baltasar Garzón. He has always seemed to me to be a pretentious, egotistical busybody, sticking his nose into other people’s business. Pinochet, Scilingo and Cavallo were all disgusting fascist butchers – but they were our fascist butchers, and it should be the people of Chile and Argentina who put them up against a wall with a blindfold and cigarette, not some Spanish judge. In fact, with plenty of fascists running around still in Spain, why leave home looking for trouble?










 Augusto Pinochet, Adolfo Scilingo and Ricardo Cavallo

Now we know why. Apparently it was tolerable to play it the “great man” while pursuing Latin Americans…less funny when you try to indict Bush Administration officials….not funny at all when you go after the fascists at home, even the dead ones. Franco’s is a long arm from the grave.










Spain’s “Caudillo” Franciso Franco. He’s the one on the right.

Those who support the conviction of Garzón argue that politics had nothing to do with it, that he was guilty of a number of serious crimes and oversights (specifically in authorizing the wiretapping of conversations between detainees in a corruption trial and their counsel, which is only legal in terrorism cases – though how violating attorney-client privilege at all can be legal is beside the point). That’s disingenuous at best. Garzón may very well be guilty of what he’s accused of, and if so he deserves to be punished. But the actions of the court need to be taken in the context of Spanish justice as a whole.

One example is that of Francisco Javier de Urquía (pictured left), a Spanish judge from Marbella, who was convicted of accepting hundreds of thousands of euros in bribes involving local real estate and money laundering. Mr. de Urquía was given a sentence of 2 years in prison and 17  years prohibition from serving again as a judge. How he can ever be considered qualified to serve as a judge again is incredible, but also beside the point. The point is that Mr. de Urquía is now on the verge of serving as a judge again after having – incredibly – received suspended sentences and a waiver of jail time from the Supreme Court (La Sala de lo Contencioso-administrativo del Tribunal Supremo). His penalty: 21 months inactivity, which expires at the end of 2012.

 This slap on the wrist for a judge who accepted money from and connived with international money launderers and drug traffickers contrasts very sharply with the 11-year non-appealable sentence handed down to Mr. Garzón. The fact that Mr. Garzón’s principal accusers are members of the still active La Falange, also known as “fascists”, makes the cries of “witch hunt” gain all the more credence.








Flag of the Spanish “Phalanx” party (La Falange)

Spanish papers, partisan even under the best of circumstances, have ranged from frothing at the mouth rabidly angry with the injustice to Mr. Garzón, to disgustingly smug and self-satisfied with the same outcome. Which is why the Brookings article is so timely. Based on the World Bank’s (hardly a leftist organization) Worldwide Governance Indicators, Spanish justice not only does poorly compared to every other developed country (except Italy, for obvious reasons); the trend since 2000 is depressingly negative. In fact, Spanish justice is losing ground, even while some South American nations make rapid strides forwards. Uruguay, Brazil and Colombia have all improved substantially or sustained very high marks in the case of Chile.


 Mr. Garzón, despite his showboating and publicity seeking, despite sticking his nose into other nations’ business, nevertheless gave hope to the millions of victims of state terrorism. Hope that they would not forever be denied some measure of justice, or at least of recognition. What hope do the 300,000 victims of Franco’s murderous regime and their descendants have now? Little enough, to judge by Mr. Garzón’s excommunication.



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