Spanish magistrate* Baltasar Garzón was today found guilty in an illegal wiretap trial, one of three cases currently open against him. The Supreme Court has banned him from working as a judge for eleven years, effectively ending his career as a famed 'crusader for justice'.
The sentence leaves Garzón the only significant loser in the Gürtel corruption case which he was prosecuting. The case involves businessman Francisco Correa and numerous members of the ruling Popular Party. Valencian PP leader Francisco Camps was acquitted on corruption charges a few days ago.
The reason all this is so awful is that no one has any real doubt that Camps, Correa et al are guilty as hell. The evidence is there. Garzón's defence (and I admit only a very shaky understanding of the law here) is that the wiretaps, which listened in on conversations between indicted suspects and their lawyers, were justified on the basis that the lawyers themselves were managing money-laundering operations for their clients. But again, that's not even what's wrong.
What's wrong in Spain is a determination in a large part of the ruling class to stop anyone from challenging their corrupt way of running the country. The PP and the PSOE have both been accused of significant political corruption (though I think it's fair to say that the most shockingly extravagant cases usually involve the PP). The courts are highly politicised and have accepted private prosecutions against Garzón (a poppinjay and ass as ever there was) which would have been dismissed without a thought in most countries.
But of course, Spain is not most countries. Just a few years ago, foreign journalists were impressed by the forward-looking example that Spain was setting for Europe. Garzón, social legislation, a seemingly stable economy with impressively low deficits… it almost seemed as if Spain had managed to get something right.
All this has been a great lesson for me… perhaps one of the most important I needed to learn in my journey towards becoming a Spaniard. This is not a country with a great history of democracy or getting things right. And the left here is generally even more inept than the right. And I love this country more every day, even though I know it's a tough place which will displease me endlessly with its stubborn refusal to get things right. And I'm sticking by it. And I'll do something to try to make it better: however Sisyphean a life's task that might be.
*Via email, the troublesome nomenclature of magistrate/judge/prosecutor has been pointed out. For the purposes of a nicer text, I'm going to stick with what I've already got. But yeah, he's a judge.