The Catalan minister of the interior, Joan Ignasi Elena, took perhaps the most important decision of his term on Monday, with the dismissal of the chief of the Mossos d'Esquadra police, Josep Lluís Trapero. The main reason is the lack of confidence in the person who until this week had been the sole commander of Catalonia's autonomous community police force since 2013, when he was appointed chief commissioner, and since April 2017, designated as chief. One must add that with regard to this second position, which is a lifetime appointment even though he has no command, he has hadn't much chance to enjoy it, since as a result of the imposition by Mariano Rajoy's Spanish government of direct rule over Catalonia, under article 155, he was sacked and charged by prosecutors with, first, rebellion, and later, sedition. At the trial in the National Audience, he was acquitted of all charges in October 2020 and, weeks later, was reinstated by then-Catalan minister Miquel Sàmper. This second period at the top, which has lasted just over a year, has ended with his sudden dismissal.
Although Trapero's poor relationship with the political leadership of the Catalan interior ministry was an open secret, the decision was surrounded by suspense until the last moment. Not because there was any doubt about the decision to be made, but because of a will to reduce its trauma as much as possible. Also, the desire to find a more choral team, with an age that will allow them to make plans for the Catalan police corps of 2030, coupled with Elena's commitment to integrate a woman into the leadership of the force. The exit strategy, which was activated last Wednesday and carried out this Monday, has been cooking on the back burner for many months. Perhaps one of the most tense moments was when it became known that, last July, Trapero visited the Supreme Court and the National Audience, without reporting it to anyone senior at the Catalan ministry. It was also said that he had paid a visit to the Zarzuela royal palace, information that was initially accepted as accurate, and in fact someone close to the chief denied it with little conviction and left a cloud over the matter. All this was enough for the distrust of the ministry to become absolutely irreversible.
Trapero, perhaps due to his personality and his way of understanding police leadership, has been able to switch very quickly from generating affection - for the brilliant performance of the autonomous police in the terrorist attacks of August 2017 in Barcelona and Cambrils - to arousing suspicion. He employed an impeccable approach in the so-called "binomials", pairs of Mossos deployed during the 1st October referendum, and a proportionate police reaction to the avalanche of voters at polling stations. This aroused the wildest indignation of Spanish unionism. On the other hand, his statements to the courts assuring that he had a plan to arrest Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, if the Unilateral Declaration of Independence had finally been executed, distanced him from the pro-independence sectors, with whom he never had a rapprochement.
Trapero's replacement will be Josep Maria Estela, who will hold the position of chief commissioner of the Mossos d'Esquadra, and whose profile is like chalk and cheese compared to his predecessor due to his openness to dialogue, his knowledge of the territory and his ability to form teams. A less vertical team structure can be expected and he has already announced that the proximity of the Mossos to the public will be one of his battles, as well as the strengthening of public order.
PS.- I regret that the Catalan government has decided to return to Covid restrictions without waiting for the conference of autonomous presidents called for Wednesday by Pedro Sánchez. The measures taken are very harsh and will wreak havoc on important sectors of the Catalan economy. Once again it is a case of reacting in the wake of events and at the last minute after denying everything for days. Nothing is learned from the past. Great care will be required with the response of the public, who have gone along to be vaccinated with a level of discipline not achieved in other corners of Europe and the world, only to be told now that even with three vaccine shots they are not sufficiently healthy and safe. There needs to be more political action from the government on such a central issue - and a greater sense of opportunity.