His name is all too well-known for many in Catalonia. Civil Guard colonel Diego Pérez de los Cobos led the Spanish police's violent clampdown on the Catalan independence referendum of October 1st, 2017. As such, he testified against the pro-independence Catalan leaders in last year's Supreme Court case and against Catalan police chief Josep Lluís Trapero in this year's case. Today, the senior officer in the Spanish paramilitary force is back in the news: the interior ministry has fired him from his post as head of the Civil Guard command in Madrid. It had nothing to do with October 1st, but rather with another date: March 8th, 2020. International Women's Day. That was the straw that broke the camel's back, and which also brought into the open an underground war between state institutions. A drama in three acts: a report, a dismissal and a summons.
The reason given by Fernando Grande-Marlaska's interior ministry for removing De los Cobos from his post is simply "loss of trust." Ministry sources point to a trigger: the case opened in a Madrid court against the Spanish government that links the March 8th demonstration with the spread of coronavirus. The judge handed the criminal investigation over to the Civil Guard, and De los Cobos hid this from his superiors by order of the judge. According to these sources, both the "subjective" content of this document and its conversion into public knowledge through a media leak are the reasons behind the sudden dismissal.
What did the Civil Guard investigation report? That the Spanish government had information about the severity of the pandemic before the March 8th demonstration. Specifically, it targets Dr Fernando Simón, health emergency director, who suspended an evangelical congress three days before the Women's Day protest. But in spite of this, asserts the report, the Spanish government did nothing to prevent the mass feminist rally or others, such as the congress of far-right Vox at the Palau de Vistalegre. It also recalled that the World Health Organization had warned of the risk of mass events on 14th February.
This Monday morning, then, came the dismissal of colonel Diego Pérez de los Cobos, who has worked under the orders of five different ministers from both the major Spanish parties, PP and PSOE, due to Marlaska's "loss of trust" in him. A couple of hours later, the investigating judge Carmen Rodríguez-Medel responded to this attack with another: she summonsed the Spanish government's delegate in Madrid, José Manuel Franco (PSOE), on an accusation that he abused his office by allowing the mass events to go ahead. He will have to appear on June 5th. Although the magistrate has ruled that she sees no connection between 8th March and the coronavirus outbreak, she has kept the case open against Franco for malfeasance.
A judge linked to the Civil Guard
The judge in charge of the investigation also has a back story. Known as a conservative, she is the daughter and sister of members of the Civil Guard (her brother is the head of the Malaga command). She was even picked by some to become the new director of the Civil Guard the last time the position came up. She has passed through politics as an advisor to Mariano Rajoy's justice minister Rafael Catalá, although she was also investigating judge against PP politicians Cristina Cifuentes and Pablo Casado in the cases of their allegedly-bogus master's degrees, and did not give them as easy time.
March 8th, a hot button for the Spanish right
Since the outbreak of the pandemic in Spain in all its dimensions, there has been one recurrent right-wing mantra voiced against the Sánchez-Iglesias government: that they failed to prevent the 8th March feminist rally for political reasons. The political emergence of Spain's far right, which forces the discourse towards extreme positions, has contributed to this. And now, their argument has gained ground: the judge is now investigating the Spanish government's delegate for alleged abuses of his office as a result of the complaint of lawyer Victor Valladares, himself convicted of defrauding clients. Even though the judge has not found any evidence for a connection between the rally on March 8th and the spread of Covid-19.