I was in Barcelona for the weekend, and between gasping at Gaudí and marvelling at the other wonders of a city that has a chocolate museum, I found myself thinking quite a bit about Baltasar Garzón. In case you’re not familiar with him, he was one of Spain’s leading judges before being suspended from the bench for eleven years earlier this month after being found guilty of illegally tapping telephone conversations between suspects on remand for massive fraud and their lawyers who were believed to be moving their money beyond the reach of the court.
Señor Garzón’s debut on the world stage was in 1998 when he issued an international warrant for the arrest of former Chilean president General Augusto Pinochet, for the alleged deaths and torture of Spanish citizens. (Pinochet was arrested in London in October 1998, extradited to Chile in March 2000, indicted in September 2006, and died in December 2006 without being convicted.) But before then he was already notorious in Spain for his hard line dealing with the Basque separatist group ETA – which was why my Barcelona trip brought him to mind, as I struggled with my schoolgirl Spanish to decipher menus in Catalan (I dread to think what we ate). And he had little time for drug traffickers either, overseeing the dismantling of several Galician gangs used as European distribution operations by Colombian cartels.
No-one could accuse Señor Garzón of a lack of ambition: as well as Pinochet, he has proposed bringing actions (with varying degrees of success) against General Franco, six senior members of George W Bush’s government, and Henry Kissinger. As reported by the Beeb, “[Garzón’s] supporters on the left view him as a champion of human rights and justice, but his detractors believe he is a politically-motivated publicity-seeker”. Either way, he is planning to appeal against his suspension from the bench, and I for one hope he succeeds: he may not always be right, but his passion to see wrongs righted is something to admire.