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| 2/1/2011 12:00:00 AM

The controversial judge

The announcement that President Juan Manuel Santos will have the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón as a human rights adviser sparked harsh reactions in some influential sectors of the country. Unwanted or uncomfortable?

The only thing that everyone agrees about Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón is that he is a controversial man. Even though he has achieved a historical event in human rights by arresting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, he has also drawn harsh criticism at home and abroad because some people think that he has put a certain dose of ‘show’ into justice.

So last week, when it was published that President Juan Manuel Santos invited Baltasar Garzón to advise him on human rights, some questions raised: Is it good that judge Garzón comes to Colombia? How useful could it be for the country?

The reactions were immediate. The hardest came from Prosecutor Alejandro Ordóñez. “It would be like appointing an investigated intelligence functionary of the Security Administrative Department (DAS) as an intelligence adviser in other State”, he said. The Prosecutor also gave two of the arguments that are being used against Garzón and his visit. The first one, that he is a “questioned judged”, and the second one, that his “well known political agenda” will feed the country’s polarization. From a conservative point of view, his ideas have some truths, but its scope has nuances.

Garzón was recently expelled as a member of the National Court of Spain, where he achieved international fame by going after half the world’s dictators. There are several cases against him. One, that have not been ruled, has to do with some orders that he gave to make wiretappings in a notorious case of corruption that, it is alleged, were illegal. That was why Prosecutor Ordóñez made the comparison with DAS case. The paradox is that this version has not even been supported by the Attorney’s Office in Spain. The other has to do with Garzón’s radicalism when seeking for justice, that made him go over a political settlement of the country, in which it was defined that excesses committed during Francisco Franco’s regime would not be taken to court.

In Spain, this attempt to prosecute the responsible for those crimes divided the country, made some people said that he had a ‘political agenda’ and cost him the removal of his duties as magistrate. Still, his position gave him the unanimous support of the most prestigious human rights organizations worldwide.

Beyond the polemical character, one wonders how much he can contribute to Colombia. President Santos said that he wants to bring Garzón because “he has great experience” in human rights. And Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín said that Garzón will come to help prepare the “answers to requests or inquiries made by any international organization and, in general, as judicial cooperation”. No doubt, despite all the legal experts that the country has, the advantage of Garzón is that he enjoys a privileged global position and is an advisor to the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. This may eventually result in conflicts of interests when advising on cases that may come, for example, to that court.

What Santos’ government seems to look for is a strong ally like this one, who will be able to understand the peculiarities of Colombian violence that, sooner or later, will lead to the government giving explanations in multiple courts.

But the government can make a mistake with this purpose. According to his background, Garzón will not be unconditional. Not only he will not assume indefensible causes, but he will report them. Hence, he will be uncomfortable for those with outstanding bills as he will meet with them as a ruthless lawyer who has an obvious desire to be in such high profile cases.

That he is a controversial judge does not disqualify him, as the most radicals think. Neither being a world famous defender of human rights make him necessarily the most appropriate consultant for a state. Garzón has been more confrontational than a pro-government man. And, after all, in court the judge will always be in one place and the government, in another.

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