The Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) is a Spanish police force created in 1844, whose primary task nowadays consists in patrolling rural areas, frontiers and highways. Still organized along military lines, since 1986 it has been commanded by a civilian director general. This dualism is reflected in the fact that it is both responsible to the Ministry of the Interior regarding operations, and the Ministry of Defense regarding personnel. Always associated with state repression by the Left, it was one of the main targets of the separatist Basque terrorist gang ETA, which finally disbanded in May 2018. In total, between 1968 and 2009 214 members of the Guardia Civil were assassinated all over Spain.
On April 19th 2020, at the Moncloa Palace, the official residence and workplace of the Prime Minister, the chief of staff of the Guardia Civil, General José Manuel Santiago, issued a very controversial statement. During the daily press conference hold by the Technical Committee in charge of fighting the coronavirus in Spain, he openly said that his organization is controlling and monitoring those critical of the Spanish government’s handling of the pandemic. He assured that the objectives of such a policy were two: first, to avoid any social stress fake news might cause, and second, to minimize anti-governmental mood, by denying them through the force’s social networks.
The Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, who wasn’t himself present at the event, soon afterwards called those declarations a slip of the tongue. Together with Defense Minister Margarita Robles he emphasized that criticism was a basic pillar of the State of law, no matter how harsh, including hoaxes and misrepresentations, and an untouchable right even during a state of alarm. Just an hour later, the Guardia Civil Directorate General pointed out that its activities were exclusively focused on detecting fakes related to health topics, and declared itself one of the main freedom of speech guarantors.
The conservative opposition spoke of rotting institutions and demanded that General Santiago urgently appeared in person before Parliament to explain what had happened, together with the secretary of state for security and the Guardia Civil director general.
The head of the Partido Popular, Pablo Casado, requested that Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez himself should explain if he had asked the State security bodies to restrict citizens’ freedom of speech to hide his mistakes. Through its representatives in Brussels, his party will ask the European Commission to remind the governments of all member states to respect their common norms and values.
In a formal democracy, this is indeed a very serious incident, and further proves that the current Spanish leaders will stop at nothing to silence its numerous critics in the country. Considering that since February 2020 a prominent communist like Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias is a member of the commission that controls the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, the official intelligence agency, there is more to come in an increasingly intolerant Spain. Only 45 years after the death of General Francisco Franco, a new dictatorship seems to be creeping in.