Spain’s Interior Minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, has dismissed the commanding officer of the Guardia Civil in the Madrid region, Diego Pérez de los Cobos, due to “loss of trust and confidence”, EFE reports quoting ministry sources. The same sources have denied that the security operation set up at Pablo Iglesias’ home has played any role in the decision to fire Pérez de los Cobos (1). Instead, sources familiar with the matter have indicated that the reason for the dismissal might be the report which the Guardia Civil sent to the Madrid court currently probing the Spanish government’s representative in the region, the official who authorised the street march on occasion of International Women’s Day earlier this year (2). Indeed, a Madrid judge is considering bringing charges against José Manuel Franco for neglect of duty following a complaint by lawyer Víctor Valladares. The Guardia Civil’s document makes a number of accusations against Fernando Simón, the head of the Coordination Centre for Health Alerts and Emergencies, claiming he is responsible for several crimes.
The report argues that Simón was aware of the gravity of the impending public health crisis three days before the march was staged because he had referred to data about it in a meeting with the organisers of an evangelical congress that was due to be held in Madrid between March 19-21 and the Health Ministry had decided not to allow. The Guardia Civil pointed out a contradiction between the caution that Simón advised in the case of the religious event and the laxity he showed with the demonstration on IWD. The document also mentions that on February 14 the WHO had issued a warning against holding public events that might draw large crowds. Furthermore, the report claims the Guardia Civil had asked the Centre for Health Alerts to share all the information they had on Covid-19 ahead of the march, all to no avail.
The PP and Ciudadanos will request Marlaska’s appearance in Parliament
After hearing the news about Diego Pérez de los Cobos, the PP rushed to announce that they will be asking the Spanish government —specifically, minister Marlaska— to appear in the lower chamber to explain the decision. PP leader Pablo Casado stated that “we demand transparency and reject arbitrariness” and he went on to accuse the Minister of the Interior of dismissing Pérez de los Cobos because of the Guardia Civil investigation into the case of the demonstration on March 8. The conservative leader praised the work of the Guardia Civil and warned that the Spanish government “cannot be so toxic as to ruin the good name of the Guardia Civil”. In fact, he stated that dismissing Pérez de los Cobos was “an attack” on the Guardia Civil.
Ciudadanos also insisted that Marlaska must appear before the Spanish parliament to explain “the real reasons” for sacking Pérez de los Cobos. Edmundo Bal, the Ciudadanos spokesman in the lower chamber, claimed that there are many unanswered questions. EFE reports that in a press conference Bal wondered about “the real reasons why the head of Madrid’s Guardia Civil has been fired in the current situation, precisely when we need certainty rather than the opposite and law enforcement agencies are playing such a key role in keeping the pandemic in check”.
Pérez de los Cobos led the Spanish police operation against Catalonia’s independence vote
Pérez de los Cobos was appointed commanding officer of Madrid’s 4,800-strong Guardia Civil in April 2018, when he was promoted by the PP government. Prior to that he had been tasked with coordinating the Spanish police effort aimed at preventing Catalonia’s independence referendum on 1 October 2017 and, ultimately, his testimony in court was key to the conviction of the Catalan independence leaders.
On 23 September 2017 Colonel Pérez de los Cobos was ordered to oversee the coordination of the various police forces in Catalonia (Spanish Police, Guardia Civil and Catalonia’s Mossos d’Esquadra) with a view to preventing the independence vote from going ahead. In the days leading up to October 1, it became apparent that Pérez de los Cobos and Major Josep Lluís Trapero, the commander of the Catalan police force (Mossos d’Esquadra), did not see eye to eye. In fact, the various law enforcement agencies acted in their own separate way on the day of the vote.
When Pérez de los Cobos was called to testify as a witness in the trial against the Catalan leaders, he questioned the performance of the Catalan police and blamed police chief Josep Lluís Trapero for the Catalan officers’ “lax attitude”. In contrast, Pérez de los Cobos played down the baton charges by Spanish police and Guardia Civil [against unarmed Catalan voters] and he declared that “at no point” had they taken action against “peaceful voters, elderly members of the public or children”.
(1) Spanish VP Pablo Iglesias has recently seen a number of rowdy protestors gather outside his home in Galapagar, near Madrid, which has prompted the Spanish authorities to assign him a Guardia Civil security detail.
(2) On March 8 this year large crowds marched in the streets of Madrid city to celebrate International Women’s Day. The demonstration possibly contributed to Madrid’s massive Covid-19 outbreak and some have argued that the regional authorities should have stopped the event.