Bolivian president backs embattled Spanish judge
Bolivia's left-wing President Evo Morales met Wednesday with crusading Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon in a show of support for the embattled official, who faces trial for alleged abuse of power.
Speaking at a news conference after their meeting at a hotel in the Spanish capital, Morales said that in Latin America, Garzon is considered to be "a great defender of democracy and justice".
The 54-year-old judge also met with Argentina's centre-left President Cristina Kirchner on Monday at the Latin American country's embassy in Madrid.
During their meeting Kirchner said Garzon had "transformed this country into a reference point when it comes to human rights" when in October 1998 he ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet in London.
Both Morales and Kirchner were in Spain this week to attend a summit between the European Union and countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Garzon also met with Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla and the Dominican Republic's President Leonel Fernandez, prompting conservative daily newspaper ABC to dub the gathering a "Latin America-Garzon summit".
The body that oversees Spain's judiciary suspended Garzon from the bench at the National Court on Friday, two days after the Supreme Court cleared the way for the judge to stand trial over a probe of Franco-era crimes, although no date has been set.
Garzon is accused of abuse of power for opening an investigation in 2008 into the disappearance of tens of thousands of people during the 1936-39 civil war and General Francisco Franco's ensuing right-wing dictatorship.
The case follows a complaint by far-right groups that the probe ignored an amnesty law passed in 1977, two years after Franco's death, for crimes committed under the general's rule.
Garzon has argued that the disappearances constituted crimes against humanity and were therefore not covered by the amnesty.
If convicted he would avoid prison but could be suspended for up to 20 years, which would effectively end his career.
Garzon is highly popular among the Spanish political left and international human rights campaigners for using the principle of "universal jurisdiction" to open probes into high-profile atrocities that have gone unpunished.
Universal jurisdiction holds that crimes like torture or terrorism can be tried in Spain even if they had no link to the country.
He looked into the deaths of Spaniards in Argentina during the military regime of 1976-83 and indicted Osama bin Laden in 2003 over the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
© 2010 AFP