Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The plot to destroy the judge who destroyed Pinochet

The history of the modern Spanish right wing in pictures
(plus ça change...)
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I don't usually blog about internal Spanish politics because, interesting as they are, I would have to spend most of my time telling my readers who the characters are and filling in endless context for my English speaking audience.

However, in today's case, an extremely local Spanish story has developed universal relevance  with repercussions which may eventually change the course of Spanish history and whose reverberations are extending far beyond Spain itself.

In an amazingly bizarre reversal of roles, Baltasar Garzón, perhaps the world's most famous judge, is being put on trial and is in danger of having his career destroyed by the remnants of the same fascist political organization responsible for some of the most hideous crimes against humanity of the nauseating 20th century.

Stories like this one are somewhat difficult for Americans to understand as in many ways the USA is truly unique and "American exceptionalism" is a reality.

Like the USA, in most countries of the world, the wealth of the country, the land and the power are held by a tiny minority, who are naturally intent on maintaining their privileges at any cost.

However, no other country in history has been able to devise a system like the American one that, within a  formally democratic context, so guarantees the wealth, property and privileges of its oligarchy as America's does.

Our system, combined with the amniotic fluid of our mass media and our eternal playing with endless, new, consumer toys have saved America from some of the sordid paths that other countries have taken at times,  times when, in democracy, the population has confused human rights with, well  ... human rights.

In many societies outside the USA, when in troubled times, the local oligarchy feels threatened, they only have recourse to a "man on horseback", a supreme leader who will take the ruthless steps necessary to make them and their property safe and restore the "natural" order of things.

That is the story of Hitler, Mussolini, Pinochet, the Argentine Junta and a hundred other tyrants, large and small, through recent history. That was the story of Francisco Franco, "Caudillo de España por la Gracía de Díos".

But for its institutions, but for the grace of God, that would be the story of the United States of America too. And who knows what may be waiting around the corner?

The sort of exercise of power that Hitler, Pinochet and Franco employed requires a lot of what specialists call "wet work": torture, targeted assassinations, prison camps and the like. That is what Garzón was investigating, that is why he is in trouble now. People who are into "wet work", torture, targeted assassinations, prison camps and the like, don't appreciate his efforts.

To get up to speed, let's take a little stroll down memory lane:
When you think of mass graves in contemporary Europe you probably think of Bosnia, yet sunny Spain is far more sown with unidentified corpses and dwarfs Chile in the number of missing persons: over 50,000 of them. They are mostly the victims of the Falange's death squads (the Spanish fascist party), murdered in the rearguard of the civil war for being leftists, or simply pro-democracy like Lorca, or for no reason at all. Their bones lie scattered under the woods and deep in ravines. At ditches by the roadsides there are so many that the very word for roadside in Spanish, cuneta, is still used as a byword for "political crime". And they've been there for more than six decades. Guardian, 31 October 2009
Judge Garzón decided to treat these crimes against humanity in just the same way as he had treated those in Chile and Argentina... this is what happened:
Spain’s best-known investigative magistrate, Baltasar Garzón, is now being prosecuted in a politically driven case that should have been thrown out of court. Judge Garzón is charged with ignoring a 1977 amnesty law when he decided to investigate the disappearances of more than 100,000 people during Spain’s 1930s civil war and the decade of Francoist repression that followed. The charges were brought by two far-right groups who fear an open investigation of the Franco-era record. Unfortunately, one of Mr. Garzón’s fellow magistrates sustained the complaint and brought formal charges this week. As a result, he will now be suspended from his duties pending trial. If convicted, he could be barred from the bench for up to 20 years, effectively ending a career dedicated to holding terrorists and dictators accountable for their crimes. That would please his political enemies, but it would be a travesty of justice. Editorial - New York Times, 09, April 2010
You may be asking yourself, as are many Spanish people today, "what is this all about, hasn't Spain been a democracy since 1978, how can a fascist party, one that would be illegal in most European countries, destroy the career of Spain's most prestigious judge?"

The answer is that Garzón has applied the same standards to Franco as he applied to Pinochet and in so doing exposed the original sin of Spain's democracy, the amnesty of 1977 that made possible the famous, "Spanish Transition".

Another stroll down memory lane:

In 1975, when Franco finally died, and he took his time believe me, he had been in power for nearly 40 years.

Supposedly, when Franco was lying on his deathbed, he heard the noise of people gathered outside the window and asked his subordinates what was going on. "It is the people," he was told, "they have come to say goodbye." "Oh," he said, "where are they going?"(hat to Lenin's Tomb)
Surviving that long in power was quite a trick, the photo-montage that tops this post explains part of it graphically. (*following this post is a short explanatory appendix/long footnote to accompany the photo)

Here would be a good place to make a critical point that will help Americans, not familiar with Spain, to understand the situation today.

We have been talking a lot about Franco, because his head was on the Peseta and his name is a household word, but Franco was no mad and isolated dictator like Mobutu Sese Seku or Papa Doc Duvalier, he was, in fact the temporary leader, the head boy, the community organizer if you will, of a motley coalition that has been around for centuries consisting roughly of: the army, the security forces, the church, the big land owners, the judiciary and the bankers and various samples of the good and the great (the Falange was merely their goon squad).

This was/is an ancien regime for whom  Martin Luther, Voltaire, Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson were/are just as dangerous enemies as Joseph Stalin. This coalition was difficult to handle and Franco used equal measures of guile and brutality to do so. More than a "man on horseback", Franco was a bronco rider from hell.

So what we call "Franco", was in fact a regime which had been in power for nearly 40 years (some would say 500 years) when its titular head shuffled off this mortal coil. This regime had had the time and the absolute power to penetrate and dominate every public facet of Spanish society. In the decade or so immediately after the Civil War they purged, tortured, imprisoned and shot thousands of their defeated countrymen and women and effectively cowed and terrorized the Spanish population into almost total submission.

The problem was that after the war Europe changed and in order to join the Common Market (later the EU) certain cosmetic changes had to be made. These changes could only be made after Franco's death. With the indigestible symbol of Franco, bondsman of Hitler and Mussolini, gone, the Spanish oligarchy was willing to open their hand a little in order to reap the benefits of belonging to the European project.

But before Spain's oligarchy would sign on to even the most superficial changes they required a general amnesty that would cover the "iron years" of repression. They got it an 1977 and thus the quite progressive Constitution of 1978 was allowed to be made the law of the land

The good and the great felt reasonably safe with the arrangement as Franco had once told his associates not to worry overmuch about what would come after he died, because he had left everything, "tied up and well tied up".

Untying the knots that Franco tied has kept Spanish democrats busy since 1975.

Lets see how Franco's coalition, the army, the security forces, the church, the big land owners, the judiciary and the bankers have stood up to all this "un-knotting".

In 1981 there was a failed coup d 'etat, that scared everybody to death,  a near run thing, which the then American Secretary of State, Al Haig, called "an internal Spanish matter" and left the infant democracy out to dry.

The post coup cleaning up process led to a lot of army ultras getting early retirement. Spain's subsequent joining NATO and her armed forces becoming all volunteer, led to professionally more demanding missions outside Spain and abandoning its only previous role, which was to repress the Spanish population. The Spanish army is no longer considered a danger to democracy. (Caveat: Allende's most trusted general was Pinochet).

The Spanish police forces were at first very uncooperative with the new regime, but a major reorganization, the passing of the generations, better professional training, the fight against Eta and decentralization have made the once feared Spanish police as much "family" as the British bobby on the beat is in London. A remarkable achievement.

There has been no land reform to speak of in Spain, and with the real estate bubble, land has shot up in value, so the landowners are quiet.

As to the bankers, with democracy Spain's major banks have become multinational giants, making crazy money. Good government regulations have saved them from their own greed and they appear to be in good health... for the moment. No complaints from them either, no nostalgia for Franco.

The Spanish Church was making lots of ultra-right noise until recently over the governments loosening of the abortion law and gay marriage, but the pedophilia scandal seems to have taken the wind out of their sails. We'll see how long that lasts.

This leaves the judiciary, where, as we can see in Garzón's case, Franco is alive and well. How does this happen?

As I have had it explained to me, it is all quite simple. To become a judge in Spain, after graduating from law school you must sit for a very difficult competitive examination. To prepare for this examination takes several years of full time study. Obviously, only a person with well off parents can finish university and then spend years studying without an income producing job. This means that most of the Spanish judges are inevitably from well to do, therefore, right wing families. Eh Voilá.

The socialist minister of justice that tried to substitute competitive examinations for judgeship for a masters degree course in university, thus opening up the judiciary to candidates of more modest means was forced to resign... (for going hunting wild pigs with Garzón, of all people).

So evidently it is the Spanish judiciary which is the basket where Franco's  eggs are held today (warning: this is an off-color wordplay in Spanish).

And this brings us to what is perhaps the real, although much more prosaic reason behind Garzón's particular "stations of the cross": the "Gürtel" scandal.

This case was brought to Garzón in February of 2009 by a disgruntled member of the conservative opposition party and involves an amazingly massive and rather colorful political-financial scandal, which is so huge that it might literally sink the ultra-conservative, Popular Party. it is a story of über-funky political larceny on a scale that has even me, a native of Chicago, gasping for breath.

I can find no links in the English language that explains its intricacies, and I certainly am not going to devote much space to describing it. Suffice to say that the sordid transcripts of the telephone conversations recorded by the police have entered Spanish folklore.

In the end it is all the same though. As the New York Times puts it Garzón's professional life is "a career dedicated to holding terrorists and dictators accountable for their crimes." 

A modern Quixote, a white knight, defending the weak against the strong, the powerless many against the powerful few.

Defending the weak against the strong, this is his sin, for this he must be chastised, his ears pinned back, for this he must be taught a lesson so that anyone who might ever think of following in his footsteps will cease and desist.

If they succeed, his professional epitaph might be, "here lies the man who tried to drive a stake through Franco's heart". DS

PS. At last count his Facebook fan page was pushing 122,000 fans. BTW: If you'd like to sign a petition supporting Judge Garzón, click here and then pass the link on.

*Extended footnote explaining the photo-montage:
During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) Franco had been in bed with Hitler and during WWII, between 1941 and 1943, he sent Hitler a division (the "Blue" division) of Falangist volunteers, who as an integral part of the Wehrmacht , wearing German uniforms, fought on the Eastern Front, thereby freeing German soldiers to go west and (to put it bluntly) kill Americans. Soon, seeing that, with the forces lined up against him, Hitler was surely going to lose the war, Franco backed off, blew off Hitler, and Spain remained officially neutral for the rest of the war.

Even having remained neutral, things looked pretty black for Franco at the end of WWII: to give you an idea, a great part of the French resistance movement was made up of Spanish republican loyalists and there were a quite a few Europeans that were very eager to cross the Pyrenees and add Franco to the bag holding the corpses of Hitler and Mussolini.

It was time for Franco to get into bed with someone else, this time... the Americans. Franco positioned himself as the great enemy of "godless communism".

Harry Truman would have nothing to do with Franco, because his wife, Bess Truman, a devout Baptist, wouldn't let him, as  Franco, besides persecuting communists, persecuted Baptists too.

Eisenhower, however, had less scruples, which accounts for the second photo in the series. In exchange for this embrace Franco let Eisenhower store atomic bombs in an airbase on the outskirts of Madrid. (The bombs are gone now, but the AFRS radio station that went with them is much missed.)

Just to bring you up to date on Franco's heirs, the last photo in the series shows the former rightist prime minister, José María Aznar, who as teenager supported the Falange, in the arms of President Bush.

Aznar, having discovered that the president of the United States was even more right wing than he was, followed the old Franco tactic and tried to become Bush's "new best friend" by helping (against over 90% of Spanish public opinion) to enable Dubya in his quest to invade Iraq. This ended so badly for him that his party was thrown out of power after Al Qaeda's attack on Madrid.


Harry Haller said...

Yes, there is something very shameful about our Constitution not being compatible with human rights. The whole thing is so obvious one wonders whether Garzon staged it on purpose.

But your article is very biased. Being "forced to resign" is the least that could happen to a Minister that goes out hunting with Garzon right after he has arrested two opposition members. And although Garzon has a lot of merit for taking Pinochet and GAL and whatnot, he has also illegally taped lawyers and accepted money from Botin, and so on. Not my idea of a "white knight". I see no attempt to criticize any of these issues in your post, just as I see no concern about our Constitution's incoherence in the stuff the peperos are ranting.

All I can say is I'm glad I won't be in Spain for another month.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

I agree that Gárzon may have laid a trap for the right with this thing. As to taping the lawyers, this is done frequently when there is suspicion that they form part of a criminal conspiracy, such as Eta's or the narco's lawyers often do. In this case a great deal of money is off shore and the lawyers might easily be (probably are) couriers helping Correa cover his tracks. Certainly taping the lawyers is no "smoking gun", as I say they do it all the time in the case of criminal conspiracies.

Taking money from Botín? We'll see how this plays out, but I imagine that two guys who know so much about the law and about money as Garzón and Botin haven't left that many "smoking guns" here either.

As to the caceria with the minister, this is the sort of thing that happens in Spain every day of the year. Monterías like the golf course are where things are done in this world. At least they are not stupid enough to do it by cellphone. This is a game the right invented and they suddenly get very virtuous and Pharisaical when the left plays it too.

Look, none of these guys on either side are virgins. Politics is not for delicate stomachs. To give you an example: Tiger Wood can't control his dick, but he is still the best golfer in the world. You want a hole in one? Who ya gonna call? Saint Francis of Assisi? No, you call the Tiger.

Garzón is the man who nailed Pinochet, ended the impunity of the Argentine junta... all these other guys that are trying to bring him down are not worthy to tie his sandals

Personally, I believe Garzón is squeaky clean, because his vanity is much greater than his greed. As to his vanity, which seems to offend so many sensitive noses among the gomina set: I am reminded what Lincoln said when he was told that General Grant was a heavy drinker, "tell me what brand of whiskey he drinks, I want to send a case to all my other generals."

Garzón is fighting the good fight. For me he is a white knight. I am thinking of all the Argentine grandmothers whose grandchildren were "adopted" by the men who killed their parents and who have been reunited with said grandchildren thanks to Garzón. Put a couple of jabalis on the scale with that.

IMHO we are talking about the only great man produced by the Spanish transition.

This is a huge battle and the name of the game is cleaning Franco out of Spain. Here is a link to the best article I have read in Spanish about this, by Elvira Lindo en El País.

Forensic economist said...

I was hoping Garzon would indict Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld so they would not be able to travel outside the United States.

Anonymous said...

Sad that this post doesn't mention that the promise of impunity allowed a peace transition by allowing all to let bygones be bygones, and that setting this precedent that deals to forgive and forget might yet well make the future of Belarus, Turkey, and perhaps places further afield far more bloody and griefstricken than they need be.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

The big problem is not to forgive and forget. The problem is that everything that was done is still legal, because the present democracy recognizes as legitimate the jurisprudence of the dictatorship. In the case of civil war between citizens of the same ethnic group, it is important for everyone to know the whole story, to know just what it is that they are supposed to "forgive and forget". The mass graves have to be dug up and the bodies must be identified and given a decent burial... and the death penalties stricken from the books.