Author`s name Michael Simpson

The Mistakes of Baltasar Garzon

The Spanish Judge urged Argentina to extradite 48 former Armed Forces and demanded 2.6 billion euros for victims of the country's "dirty war". Despite President Kirchner's willing to collaborate, Garzon's requirements may aggravate the strained relationship of the government with the military


While Argentina's new president, Nestor Kirchner, was considering a decree that blocks the extradition of former military leaders accused of human rights abuses during the Argentina's military dictatorship of the 1970's, the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon decided to double the bet. From Spain, he asked Argentina to immediately extradite 48 former military officers accused of torture and murder.


Mr. Garzon also demanded more than €2.6bn compensation on behalf of Spanish victims of the juntas, in still another step with his crusade to confirm the principle that former torturers can be tried outside their own countries.


Garzon's move hit the Argentine government like a ton of bricks. Since Kirchner took office less than two months ago, the military been uneasy about any modification to the amnesty laws passed in the eighties. However, Kirchner's administration looks decided to give a definitive solution to the problem, but needs time. Sources close to the government claim that the Army was very sensitive when it comes to reviewing it darkest files. Any missteps, it has warned, could lead to "an increasing in the level of confrontation". The problem is that two weeks after taking office, Kirchner ordered the retirement of 50 military officials allegedly linked to the illegal repression, reopening the debate on victims’ rights.


Kirchner's close collaborators have expressed irritation with Garzon's move, as try to handle the case as carefully as possible. Recently, during a traditional dinner with Army officers, Kirchner received a cold welcome from his subordinates.


"We have to find a way to resolve this sad part of our history and we don't have 20 years to do it," Kirchner had said in a strongly worded speech. Then, he added that it was time for the military "to sort the wheat from the chaff," in reference to those suspected of abuses.


There are around 110 officers accused of human rights abuses, that are being required by foreign governments as France, Italy, Sweden, USA, Spain, Germany and others. While they cannot be tried in Argentina thanks to the amnesty laws, former President Fernando De la Rua passed in 2000 a decree that automatically blocks extradition on them. Therefore, they can move across the country, but cannot cross any of its border.


These crimes are not mere history. Last week General Antonio Bussi, a notorious leader of the "dirty war" and former governor of Argentina's Tucuman province, was elected mayor of the provincial capital San Miguel, though he cannot leave Argentina.


Last month, the retired Argentine naval officer Ricardo Cavallo imprisoned in Mexico was extradited to Spain to face charges ranging from state terrorism to genocide.