Guardia Civil chief in eye of political storm over comments about 'minimizing criticism' of government
Opposition parties outraged after high-ranking officer says police are working to dampen "climate against" leftwing coalition executive's handling of health crisis
The Chief of Staff of Spain's Guardia Civil police, General José Manuel Santiago, tried on Monday to calm the political storm his words had caused the day before when he said the body he oversees is working to "minimize the climate against the government's management of the crisis."
General Santiago's words drew a furious response from opposition parties on the right, particularly the PP, Cs, and Vox parties, while a Guardia Civil professional body, the JUCIL, called for Santiago's immediate sacking for "casting doubt" on the work of officers "in the defense of the rule of law."
Referring to his words at a press conference on Monday, Santiago insisted that what he said had been misinterpreted and he added that in his 40-year career he had "learned that people come first."
"There are no ideologies. People come first. All of us here and all of you are a team,” he added.
Opposition threatens legal action and wants explanation in Congress
However, also on Monday, the leader of far-right Vox, Santiago Abascal, warned that his party will begin legal action against the general for "devoting Guardia Civil resources to 'minimize' the climate against the government's management."
Meanwhile, the PP and Cs opposition parties reacted to Santiago's words on Sunday by calling for the Socialist interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, to give an explanation of the general's words, which they described as "extremely serious and worrying," in the Spanish parliament.
Yet, Grande-Marlaska played down the incident, attributing Santiago's words to a "slip of the tongue" and the minister accused PP, Cs, and Vox of using the incident for political profit. "All I ask is that they leave the general alone," he said, adding also "that they leave the Guardia Civil alone."
As for the Catalan government, its spokeswoman, Meritxell Budó, said on Monday that she believes there was more to the general's words: "I think that he let it out by accident but it does not distract from the reality behind these statements," she said.
Orders to track down fake news campaigns
Yet, Santiago's appearance does not seem to have put an end to the controversy, as Cadena Ser radio reported on Tuesday that the general sent an email to all police stations calling on them to identify fake news campaigns.
According to the outlet, the email sent on April 15 calls on commanders to compile reports based on the disinformation campaigns they find that "provoke social stress and disaffection in the institutions of government."