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Civil Guard / Guardia Civil

Patterned after the French rural gendarmerie when it was formed in 1844, the Civil Guard has long maintained its own traditions and style of operation. Until the first civilian director general of the Civil Guard was installed in 1986, its head had been an army lieutenant general. The total complement of the Civil Guard as of 1986 was 65,000; in addition, about 9,000 auxiliary guardsmen performed their military service obligation in the Civil Guard.

The Civil Guard was grouped into six zones, matching the six army regions, each commanded by an army brigadier general. These were divided, in turn, into commands coinciding with provincial boundaries and further subdivided into about 300 companies, 800 lines (lineas) corresponding to platoons, and about 3,200 posts. A post typically consisted of six to ten guardsmen, headed by a corporal or a sergeant. Posts were responsible for organizing two-member patrols to police their areas, generally by automobile. To deploy forces more flexibly, this traditional system had been augmented by radio-controlled mobile patrols of three or more members.

A separate traffic group patrolled the main roads to assist in cases of breakdown or accident. A Rural Antiterrorist Group of four companies, stationed in the Basque Country (Spanish, Pais Vasco; Basque, Euskadi) and Navarre (Spanish, Navarra), concentrated its efforts against Basque extremists. This force could be supplemented by a helicopter unit and by a Special Intervention Unit as needed. Mountain Units guarded the Pyrenees frontier against terrorists and smugglers, in addition to providing general police and rescue services.

The Civil Guard generally enjoyed greater popularity than other police elements, in part because of its reputation for courtesy and helpfulness to motorists. Nevertheless, it had not completely shed its earlier reputation as the primary instrument of the Franco regime's efforts to root out and crush any evidence of opposition. Numerous cases of torture and ill treatment were attributed to members of the Civil Guard, especially in the handling of suspected Basque dissidents. The persistence of reactionary tendencies was underscored by the participation of a senior officer of the Civil Guard, Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero Molina, in the dramatic coup attempt of 1981, backed by nearly 300 guardsmen who made prisoners of cabinet ministers and deputies of the Cortes.

Most members of the Civil Guard were housed with their families on compounds that formed part of the stations from which they operated. A high proportion of recruits were the sons of guardsmen. Entrance was at the age of sixteen years or seventeen years, when recruits began a two-year course at one of two "colleges" or, alternatively, at ages nineteen to twenty-four at the other college where the course was of eleven months duration. Promotion to officer rank was possible after fourteen years of service. A minority of officers gained direct commissions by attending the General Military Academy at Zaragoza for two years, where they followed the regular military cadet curriculum. After an additional three years at the Special Academy of the Civil Guard at Aranjuez, these cadets entered the service as lieutenants.

Under the 1986 organic law, the Ministry of Interior was assigned responsibility for operational matters, pay, assignments, accommodations, and equipment. The Ministry of Defense was responsible for promotions, military missions, and wartime mobilization. Recruitment, training, weapons, deployment, and conduct of the system whereby compulsory service could be performed in the Civil Guard were matters of joint responsibility. The regulations introduced in early 1988 enabling women to serve in certain categories of the armed forces also cleared the way for eventual recruitment of women into the Civil Guard.

The 1986 law set out a new functional division of responsibilities between the Civil Guard and the National Police Corps. In addition to its rural police functions, the Civil Guard was to be responsible for firearms and explosives control; traffic policing on interurban roads; protection of communication routes, coasts, frontiers, ports, and airports; enforcement of environmental and conservation laws, including those governing hunting and fishing; and interurban transport of prisoners.

The Emergency Military Unit (Unidad Militar de Emergencias, or UME), aiming to contribute to the well being and security of Spanish citizens within national territory, was created in 2005 with an initial investment of some €900 million in the first 4 years and an operation cost of €150 million per annum.

The Guardia Civil and the Policía Nacional are the two police forces with national deployment in Spain (sharing duties on anti-terrorism, drug trafficking and smuggling, illegal immigration, etc). In addition, some autonomous regions (Basque country, Navarre, Catalonia) have developed their own forces or are aiming to do so, with varying degrees of devolution.

The Policía Nacional is responsible for the security of citizens within main cities and urban areas, whereas the Guardia Civil exercises control over the remainder of national territory and territorial waters. Its remit includes responsibility for the control of arms and explosives, security of critical infrastructures and borders, environmental protection, and international peacekeeping missions.

The “Mossos d’Esquadra”, with some 12,000 officers deployed across the Catalan Principality, have every law enforcement responsibility except for firearms licensing, issue of ID cards and passports, and patrolling of ports and airports.

The Basque “Ertzaintza” (8,000 officers) have almost the same degree of responsibility than their Catalan counterparts –except for control of the penitentiary system. Both forces account amongst the best-equipped police bodies in Europe and are well supplied by the well-reputed British industry.

The Guardia Civil was the first public security force to be created at a national level in Spain. It was established right after the beginning of reign of the Queen Elisabeth II and it was fostered by the moderate government of Gonzalez Bravo in consensus with the other political forces. They understood that the liberal Spanish State needed a public security force to carry out their tasks in all the inland Spanish territory in order to combat the alarming lawlessness in the roads and lands of the country due to the activities of bandits since the War of Independence.

The Force was established by means of the of 28th March and 13th May 1844 Royal Decrees, setting up a public security force of military nature, depending on the Ministry of Interior for its operational activities and on the Ministry of Defence in regards to its organisation, discipline, personnel, equipment and salaries. Keeping a broad organisational autonomy, this Force was centralised at the General Headquarters (called Dirección General or Inspección General depending on the period).

The Duke of Ahumada was appointed to organise this new Institution. He was a close collaborator of General Narvaez, a conservative and reputable military man, with a deep knowledge of the Spanish reality and the "inheritor" of the first security project with nation-wide scope designed in 1824 by his father, the Marquis of Amarillas. He took as a model the pattern set in France by the Gendarmerie and in Catalonia by the existing Mossos de Escuadra. The Duke of Ahumada personally shaped this new force, endowing it with strict regulations and its famous Code of Practice (Cartilla). This document established the character of the Guardia Civil: strong discipline, sense of sacrifice, meritorious spirit and loyalty. These features provided it with great effectiveness when implementing the tasks entrusted to it. As a consequence, the subsequent governments relied totally on it and the Force was consolidated and later implemented in the overseas colonies and from 1874 to 1940 it had the exclusive control of the public order.

This character of permanent armed force conferred on the Guardia Civil a wide autonomy in implementing its tasks, but, on the other hand it also gave rise to an abusive interpretation of the public order concept by the political class in power during the Restoration. Due to this, the prestige of the Guardia Civil, solidly established during the Nineteenth Century, was seriously damaged, to the extent that, in 1931, some left wing parties asked for its dissolution. This did not happen, but during the Second Republic, the Guardia Civil was split from the Ministry of Defence and was included in the Ministry of Interior. At the beginning of the Civil War, the Force was transformed into the National Republican Guard (Decree 30-VIII-1936). After the civil struggle, the Guardia Civil took over the functions of the Carabinieri Force (Act of 15-3-1940), while the influence of the Army became increasingly stronger with the establishment of the General Staff. Under the auspices of the democracy, the Institution was provided with new regulations according to the Constitution (Basic Law for the Security Forces and Bodies of 2-1986).

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Page last modified: 28-11-2011 14:47:01 ZULU