Tuesday, February 16, 2010

THIS LA TIMES EDITORIAL defending judge Baltasar Garzón is way out of line, for two reasons: one, that the heat he's getting is not only because he wanted to indict the Franco regime ignoring the 1977 amnesty, but for other potentially more damning cases that have nothing to do with it.

Let's start with the Franco regime prosecution (leaving aside that Generalissimo Franco is still dead, as do the main strongmen). Many people, virtually all but a handful of regime nostalgics, welcome the attempt to unbury the corpses of people executed by the Franco's people. The problem is that there's also hundreds of people buried in mass graves which were killed by Second Republic paramilitaries, even official law enforcement agents (in a civil war both sides killed and get killed, you know). And besides the insistence that he should investigate them too, and indict the culprits too, he's unwilling to do so. That's where the unlawful prosecution comes in. If the country really wants to come clean with its past in order to be able to move on with peace of mind, it should treat crimes on both sides equally. Otherwise its looks like one side is now trying to win a war they lost.

And no, the fact that Franco already honored its dead is not an argument. First, because that's not always the case: there are hundreds still buried in unmarked sites, in the same roadsides where they were shot. But second and most importantly, because if we consider the Franco regime's actions illegitimate, worth nothing, the honoring of its dead would be worth nothing either. If the post-1975 democracy wants to settle once and for all the wrongs of the Franco regime, it must honor both its victims and those of the other side, something that has yet to happen.

But, as I said, there's other cases against Garzón that are being investigated. One (link in Spanish), the year on leave he spent teaching in NYU, between March 2005 and June 2006. He failed to declare he was getting paid a grant for him, his assistant, and his daughter schooling, by NYU, so the Spanish judiciary kept paying him his regular salary as if he didn't (that's illegal). More damning, NYU paid him with funds provided by Banco Santander. Garzón asked personally in letters to Emilio Botín, the bank's CEO and one of its main shareholders, to pay NYU in order for NYU to pay him. Worst of all, just as Garzón's leave ended and after he came back to Spain and resumed his duties as a magistrate, he immediately acquitted Botín from a high-profile case around the illegal concession of loans.

And two (link in Spanish), something that happened during the so-called negotiation between the Zapatero government and the Basque terrorist group ETA. Garzón is now being investigated by the Supreme Court for unduly delaying the investigation of a murky episode: the police tipped an ETA member about his upcoming arrest so that he could flee. There are phone records showing that a police anti-terror chief called a terrorist collaborator that he shouldn't collect extortion money at the agreed pickup site because cops were positioned there to arrest whoever picked the money. We know that because of a wiretap in a Basque politician car, where the terrorist collaboration explained him in amazement what happened. The reason? according to ETA documents later seized by the French police (link in Spanish), the government negotiator with ETA used that incident to prove that Zapatero was acting in good faith in the negotiation. Never mind he was also collaborating with a terrorist organization... Known as the "Bar Faisán" case (after the name of the bar where the tipped terrorist collaborator worked, and where he got the tip from the police chief), the case landed in Garzón's desk and was immediately put in a drawer. Afterwards there was a mysterious disappearance of the incriminating video and audio surveillance case.

So no, LA Times, Garzón's trouble are not as venial as a disagreement on whether to prosecute a dead regime or not. I know it all sounds really strange, more like in a bad movie than reality. Welcome to Spain's "wonderful" politics.