Truth will never be denied.
October 20, 2008 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Don Quixote - or a superhero? Judge Baltasar Garzón has launched a criminal investigation into the fate of tens of thousands of people who vanished during the country's civil war and General Francisco Franco' s dictatorship. This is upsetting some people. The Spanish Civil War left an estimated half a million people dead.

The Spanish Civil War had global resonations. Latin American (and the Philippines) were never “de-Falangized.” Franco and his fascists remained in power in Spain until 1975. The decisive influence of Latin American fascists in the decades following the war (including their intimate collaboration with elements of U.S. intelligence) is a matter of public record. The legacy of the Falange Exterior is very much with us today.
This investigation is taking place with against a rising tide of fascist influence in Europe.
posted by adamvasco (12 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You can never appease the ostriches.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:02 PM on October 20, 2008

Before anybody is misled by Mr. Garzón's title, an "investigating judge/magistrate" in the Napoleonic justice system does not have a precise equivalent in the common law system. His job is not to hand out sentences, but the oversight of a criminal investigation before the case is heard at the tribunal. That makes his job more similar to that of an American DA than to that of a normal judge.

Since in the Napoleonic system state prosecutors, just as police, are directly subordinate to the executive, it is considered necessary to have a judiciary oversight of the investigation itself. This not only to prevent the abuse of suspects' rights, but also to ensure that state prosecutors do not sweep inconvenient cases under the carpet. It is important to note that Garzón has clashed with the state prosecutors both during the Pinochet case and now.

Garzón sure is a primadonna. On the other hand, he's also quite good at his job. Before taking on cases of terrorism and crimes against humanity, he made quite a name for himself going after cocaine smuggling gangs.

I'm not so sure about the appropriateness of bringing up this case, though. The Spanish transition to democracy was clearly based on drawing a line on the past, which may have been hypocritical, but saved a lot of heartache on all sides.
posted by Skeptic at 1:21 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I just got back from living and working in Spain and I can tell you, decades later, they're still weird even talking about it.

Especially in Catalonia, where I lived. It was the rebellion/socialist center, and for this, Franco made an example out of the region during and after the war. Catalan, the local language, was outlawed. Books were burned. Mandatory Franco-approved education was installed. The Catalanes still speak in hushed tones when the subject is brought up in public places, like someone will come arrest them for broaching the still-touchy matter.

I heard stories of insanely-enforced curfews, bare bones public food supplies and general persecution by any and all authority figures. Everyone I knew talked about Franco and his goons the same way most Americans speak about Hitler and the SS. And almost like a boogeyman that could pop up at any time (which maybe explains the Catalan hatred towards the Spanish ruling government). The war was a gigantic part of modern European history.

I'm reading George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia" right now, and it's superbly written and by all accounts extremely accurate. For any of you that don't know, Orwell was a soldier during the war for one of the many socialist/anarchist factions in the Spanish northeast. I highly recommend it for not only a good historical reference, but as a great read, as well.

Kudos for the post, too.
posted by Drainage! at 1:42 PM on October 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

how can someone hunting for real victims who finds real victims be confused with Don Quixote, who hunted giants but found windmills?
posted by krautland at 1:43 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, great post.
Baltasar Garzón has form in historical cases. He did great work exposing GAL (Spanish wiki), a transition-era death squad. Good luck to him.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:30 PM on October 20, 2008

Skeptic: in Spain they called that agreement the "pacto de olvido" and it did work well—or well enough—for a long time. The political background is that when PSOE won the 2004 national election they set about ripping it up, as a process of going through their own Party's skeletons (including their support for extrajudicial anti-terrorist executions, as in my link above). It isn't just Garzón's case, it's historical debate the whole country is having.
Drainage, good comment. I'd add though that the Catalan (and other regional) hostility to Spanish central government long predates the Franco era. The nineteenth century governments of liberal and military dictators were just as keen to crunch autonomy, and the absolutist monarchists have been at it for centuries. Regional animosity with centuries-long enmity is one of the Spanish sports.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:55 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

krautland, rethink the analogy:

giants = justice
windmills = reopening more-or-less scarred-over wounds
posted by DLWM at 4:46 PM on October 20, 2008

Excellent post. People who want the past forgotten have their reasons, and none of them are good.
posted by shetterly at 8:58 PM on October 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I first came here in the Twilight of the Franco era I lived in a little hill village about 20Km out from the city.
There was an old fella up the road who was ignored by everyone and wandered around muttering to himself and could be heard still muttering away even in the middle of the night. In his younger days he was a Falange member and part of the group that towed a few folk out of their houses late at night or early in the morning and shot them at the crossroads. Not a leader just a follower. When he went to the bar he would order whatever the person next to him had just ordered and then swap the glasses – terrified he would be poisoned. No one minded. The mutterings were prayers. When he died it was just the priest and the coffin. No one cared that he lived and nobody cared that he died. The village had moved on in its own way.
posted by adamvasco at 4:27 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Judge Garzón seems to be very keen on investigating torture and deaths that happened in the past, but is notoriously less interested in establishing if defendants in his **own** cases have been subjected to torture.

A month before the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, judge Garzón ordered the detention of 15 pro-Catalan independece activists who, afterwards, filed a complaint about having been ill-treated and tortured while in detention. The allegations were dismissed on the sole grounds of the Spanish police own forensic reports and the request for an investigation of those allegations was turned down by Garzón himself.

After taking the investigation request through all the levels of the Spanish judiciary system, the case ended at the European Court of Human Rights which, in 2004, ruled that the failure to properly investigate these torture allegations was a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Not the type of behaviour you would expect from a self-styled paladin of justice...
posted by blogenstock at 1:37 AM on October 22, 2008

As you don't provide a working link I presume you are referring to the Catalan bombers Tierra Lliure?
posted by adamvasco at 3:57 AM on October 22, 2008

Sorry, I realise now that I somehow managed to f**ck the link, the document I wanted to link to is this European Court of Human Rights judgment.

As far as I know, there was no proof of links between the 15 detainees and any terrorist group, 6 of them were convicted and then acquitted when the trial was reviewed.

Amnesty's 2007 report on torture in Spain also mentions the case as another example of the Spanish autorithies reluctance to investigate torture and ill-treatment allegations.

Investigating the past is probably safer and, undoubtedly, more headline-friendly...
posted by blogenstock at 2:35 PM on October 22, 2008

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