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Civil Guard (Spain)

The Civil Guard (Spanish: Guardia Civil; [ˈɡwaɾðja θiˈβil]) is the oldest law enforcement agency covering the whole of Spain. It is organised as a military force charged with police duties under the authority of both the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defence. The corps is colloquially known as the benemérita (reputable). In annual surveys, it generally ranks as the national institution most valued by Spaniards, closely followed by other law enforcement agencies and the military.[3] It has both a regular national role and undertakes specific foreign peace-keeping missions. As a national police force, the Guardia Civil is comparable today to the French National Gendarmerie, the Italian Carabinieri, the Portuguese National Republican Guard and the Dutch Royal Marechaussee as it is part of the European Gendarmerie Force.

Civil Guard
Guardia Civil
Emblem of the Spanish Civil Guard.svg
Badge of the Spanish Civil Guard
ActiveMay 13, 1844
(175 years ago)
Country Spain
Allegiance Spain
RoleLaw enforcement
  • Highways, roads, and-or traffic.
  • National border patrol, security, and integrity.
  • Coastal patrol, marine border protection, marine search and rescue.
Size77,928 officers[1]
Part of
Garrison/HQCalle de Guzmán el Bueno, 110, 28003 Madrid, Spain
PatronOur Lady of the Pillar
Motto(s)El honor es mi divisa
(Honour is my badge)
MarchHimno de la Guardia Civil
("Hymn of the Civil Guards")
AnniversariesOctober 12
DecorationsLaureate Cross of Saint Ferdinand
Minister of the InteriorFernando Grande-Marlaska
Director-GeneralFélix Vicente Azón Vilas [es][2]
Deputy Director of OperationsLt. Gen. Ángel Gozalo Martín
Colonel Francisco Javier Girón, for being the founder
Lt. Col. Antonio Tejero., for attempted coup d'état
MonogramMonogram of the Spanish Civil Guard (Variant).svg
Ship racing stripeSpanish Civil Guard racing stripe.svg

As part of its daily duties, the Guardia Civil patrols rural areas (including highways and ports) and investigates crimes there, whilst the Policía Nacional deals with safety in urban situations. Most cities also have a Policia Municipal. The three forces are nationally coordinated by the Ministry of the Interior. The Guardia Civil is usually stationed at casas cuartel, which are both minor residential garrisons and fully equipped police stations.


The Guardia Civil was founded as a national police force in 1844 during the reign of Queen Isabel II of Spain by the 2nd Duke of Ahumada and 5th Marquess of Amarillas, an 11th generation descendant of Aztec emperor Moctezuma II. Previously, law enforcement had been the responsibility of the "Holy Brotherhood", an organization of municipal leagues. Corruption was pervasive in the Brotherhood, where officials were constantly subject to local political influence, and the system was largely ineffective outside the major towns and cities.[4] Criminals could often escape justice by simply moving from one district to another.[4] The first Guardia police academy was established in the town of Valdemoro, south of Madrid, in 1855. Graduates were given the Guardia's now famous tricorne or Cavaliers hat as part of their duty dress uniform.

First ever photograph taken of a Guardia Civil, somewhere between 1855 and 1857 in Reinosa, Spain.

The Guardia was initially charged with putting an end to brigandage on the nation's highways, particularly in the province of Andalusia, which had become notorious for numerous robberies and holdups of businessmen, peddlers, travelers, and even foreign tourists.[5][6][7] Banditry in this region was so endemic that the Guardia found it difficult to eradicate it completely. As late as 1884, one traveler of the day reported that it still existed in and around the city of Málaga:[8]

The favorite and original method of the Malagueño highwayman is to creep up quietly behind his victim, muffle his head and arms in a cloak, and then relieve him of his valuables. Should he resist, he is instantly disembowelled with the dexterous thrust of a knife...[The Spanish highwayman] wears a profusion of amulets and charms...all of undoubted efficacy against the dagger of an adversary or the rifle of a Civil Guard.[8]

Civil Guard during the Catalan Tragic Week in 1909.

The Guardia Civil was also given the political task of restoring and maintaining land ownership and servitude among the peasantry of Spain by the King, who desired to stop the spread of anti-monarchist movements inspired by the French Revolution. The end of the First Carlist War combined with the unequal distribution of land that resulted from prime minister Juan Álvarez Mendizábal's first Desamortización (1836-1837) had left the Spanish landscape scarred by the destruction of civil war and social unrest, and the government was forced to take drastic action to suppress spontaneous revolts by a restive peasantry. Based on the model of light infantry used by Napoléon in his European campaigns, the Guardia Civil was transformed into a military force of high mobility that could be deployed irrespective of inhospitable conditions, able to patrol and pacify large areas of the countryside. Its members, called 'guardias', maintain to this day a basic patrol unit formed by two agents, usually called a "pareja" (a pair), in which one of the 'guardias' will initiate the intervention while the second 'guardia' serves as a backup to the first.

The Civil War (1936-1939)Edit

Republican Civil Guard emblem (1931–1939)

During the Spanish Civil War, the Guardia Civil forces split almost evenly between those who remained loyal to the Republic, 53% of the members[9] (which changed their name to Guardia Nacional Republicana - "National Republican Guard")[10] and the rebel forces.[11] However, the highest authority of the corps, Inspector General Sebastián Pozas, remained loyal to the republican government.[12] Their contribution to the Republican war efforts were invaluable, but proved effective on both sides in urban combat.

The proportion of Guardia Civil members that supported the rebel faction at the time of the 1936 coup was relatively high compared to other Spanish police corps such as the Guardias de Asalto and the Carabineros (Real Cuerpo de Carabineros de Costas y Fronteras), where when the Civil War began over 70% of their members stayed loyal to the Spanish Republic.[13]

Loyalist General of the Guardia Civil José Aranguren, commander of the 4th Organic Division and Military Governor of Valencia, was arrested by the victorious Francoist troops when they entered the city of Valencia at the end of March 1939. After being court-martialed, General José Aranguren was given the death penalty and was executed on 22 April in the same year.[13]

During Francoist era (1939–1975) and attempted coup d'état 1981Edit

Following the Civil War, under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco (1939–1975), the Guardia Civil was reinforced with the members of the Carabineros, the "Royal Corps of Coast and Frontier Carabiniers", following the disbandment of the carabinier corps.[14]

The involvement of Guardia Civil figures in politics continued right up until the end of the twentieth century: on 23 February 1981, Lt. Col. Antonio Tejero Molina, a member of the Guardia Civil, participated with other military forces in the failed 23-F coup d'état. Along with 200 members of the Guardia Civil, he briefly took hold of the lower house of the Cortes before the coup collapsed following a nationally televised address by King Juan Carlos, who denounced the coup.

Colonial serviceEdit

Locally recruited units of the Guardia Civil were employed in Spain's overseas territories. These included three tercia (regiments) in the Philippines and two companies in Puerto Rico prior to 1898.[15] Over six thousand Civil Guards, both indigenous and Spanish, were serving in Cuba in 1885 and smaller units were subsequently raised in Ifni and Spanish Guinea.[16]

Modern forceEdit

The Guardia Civil as a police force, has had additional tasks given to it in addition to its traditional role.

A Nissan Patrol GR of the Guardia Civil.
Horse Guards of the Guardia Civil during the ceremonies of the Dos de Mayo 2008 in Madrid

It is the largest police force in Spain, in terms of area served. Today, they are primarily responsible for policing and/or safety regarding the following (but not limited to) areas and/or safety related issues (given in no special order):

  • law enforcement in all Spanish territory, excluding cities above 20,000 inhabitants,
  • highway patrol,
  • protection of the King of Spain and other members of the Spanish Royal Family,
  • military police as part of military deployments overseas
  • counter drugs operations,
  • anti-smuggling operations,
  • customs and ports of entry control,
  • airport security,
  • safety of prisons and safeguarding of prisoners,
  • weapons licenses and arms control,
  • security of border areas,
  • bomb squad and explosives (TEDAX),
  • high risk and special operations unit (UEI),
  • coast guard,
  • police deployments abroad (embassies),
  • intelligence, counterterrorism and counter-intelligence gathering (SIGC),
  • diving unit (GEAS),
  • cyber and internet crime,
  • mountain search and rescue (GREIM),
  • hunting permits and
  • environmental law enforcement (SEPRONA).
Guardia Civil's CASA CN235 surveillance aircraft

Peacekeeping and other operationsEdit

The Guardia Civil has been involved in operations as peacekeepers in United Nations sponsored operations, including operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Angola, Congo, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Haiti, East Timor and El Salvador. They also served with the Spanish armed forces contingent in the war in Iraq, mainly as military police but also in intelligence gathering, where seven of its members were killed.

In the Afghan war effort the rapid reaction branch of the Guardia Civil; the Grupo de Acción Rápida (GAR) were deployed to the Kabul area in 2002 shortly after the invasion and served as the protective team for the High Representative of the European Union. They maintained their services until 2008. In that period, the Agrupación de Tráfico (Traffic Group), Jefatura Fiscal y de Fronteras (Customs and Revenue Service), Policía Judicial (Judicial Police), and Seguridad Ciudadana (Public Order and Prevention service) have also had their deployments to Afghanistan for the peacekeeping efforts. [17]

After 2009, the mission of the Civil Guards in Afghanistan shifted focus to training up local security forces in the country. In that period, the counter-terrorism branch of the Guardia Civil; the Unidad de Acción Rural (UAR) were deployed to Afghanistan to train the Afghan National Police[18] as part of ISAF's Police Advisor Team (PAT) formerly the Police Operative Mentoring and Liaison Team (POMLT) [19]

In addition to el instituto armado ("the armed institution"), the Guardia Civil is known as la benemérita ("the well-remembered"). They served in the Spanish colonies, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Spanish Guinea and Spanish Morocco.

The Guardia Civil has a sister force in Costa Rica also called the Guardia Civil. The Costa Rican 'guardias' often train at the same academy as regular Spanish officers.

During the Iraqi Civil War, the GAR have been deployed to Iraq to train and assist Iraqi federal police in the fight against ISIS militants. [20]


Members of the Guardia typically patrol in pairs.

Members of the Guardia Civil often live in garrisons (casa-cuartel) with their families.

Since the Guardia Civil must accommodate the families of its "guardias", it was the first police force in Europe that accommodated a same-sex partner in a military installation.

The symbol of the Guardia Civil consists of the Royal Crown of Spain, a sword and a fasces. The different units have variations of this symbol.

The sidearm of the Guardia Civil from the 1970s to the early 1990s was the Star Model BM chambered in 9mm until its replacement with the Beretta 92, and in recent years the Beretta has been replaced with the H&K USP.[21]


two agents of the Spanish Guardia Civil wearing their teresiana (caps) at the Academia de Valdemoro south of Madrid.

The traditional headdress of the Guardia is the tricornio hat, originally a tricorne. Its use now is reserved for parades or ceremonies. For other occasions a cap, a beret or the characteristic "gorra teresiana" is worn.[22] A wide range of clothing is worn according to the nature of the duties being performed. The historic blue, white and red uniform of the Guardia is now retained only for the Civil Guard Company of the Royal Guard and the gastadores (parade markers) of the Civil Guard Academy.[23]

A modernised new style of working uniform was announced for the Civil Guard in 2011, for general adoption during 2012. This comprises a green baseball cap, polo shirt and cargo pants. The historic three-cornered hat is to be retained for ceremonial parades and duty outside public buildings, together with the army-style tunic and trousers previously worn. The kepi-like "gorra teresiana" is, however, to be abolished.

Uniforms of the Civil Guard

Road waistcoat

Traffic Group

Motorcyclist ATGC












Military Police

Service Dress


Service Dress


Full Dress
Mess dress

Solemn acts

Ranks and insigniaEdit

NATO Code OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1
Teniente General General de División General de Brigada Coronel Teniente Coronel Comandante Capitán Teniente Alférez
Lieutenant General Divisional General Brigade General Colonel Lieutenant Colonel Major/Commandant Captain Lieutenant lit. Knight
NATO Code OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-6 OR-5 OR-4 OR-3 OR-2 OR-1
Suboficial Mayor Subteniente Brigada Sargento Primero Sargento Cabo Mayor Cabo Primero Cabo Guardia Civil de Primera Guardia Civil
Warrant Officer
Warrant Officer
1st Class
Warrant Officer
2nd Class
First Sergeant Sergeant Master Corporal Corporal Lance Corporal Civil Guardsman First Class
(Rank in abeyance)
Civil Guardsman

Organization and specialitiesEdit

A mountain rescue group (GREIM) from the Civil Guard in an avalanche rescue training exercise.
1939–1977 Civil Guard emblem

The Corps has been organised into different specialties divided into operational and support specialties:[24]

  •   UAR (Unidad de Acción Rural) - The counter terrorism branch of the Guardia Civil
  •   Seguridad Ciudadana - Public Order and Prevention service, which makes up the bulk of the Guardia Civil
  •   GEAS (Grupo Especial de Actividades Subacuáticas) - Divers
  •   GRS (Grupo de Reserva y Seguridad) - Riot control
  •   SEMAR (Servicio Marítimo) - Guardia Civils Naval Service, tasked with seashore surveillance and fisheries inspections
  •   SEPRONA (Servicio de Protección de la Naturaleza) - Nature Protection Service, for environmental protection
  •   SAER (Servicio Aéreo) - Guardia Civil Air Service
  •   Servicio Cinológico - K-9 Unit, for Drugs and explosives detection and people finding
  •   GREIM (Grupos de Rescate e Intervención en Montaña / Servicio de Montaña) - Mountain and Speleology Rescue
  •   Jefatura Fiscal y de Fronteras - Customs and Revenue Service
  •   SIGC (Servicio de Informacion de la Guardia Civil) - Intelligence Service
  •   TEDAX (Técnicos Especialistas en Desactivación de Artefactos Explosivos) - lit, Explosive Artifacts Defuser Specialised Technicians (EOD)
  •   Agrupación de Tráfico - Traffic Group, The Guardia Civils Highway Patrol, tasked with the control of highways and trunk roads
  •   GAR (Grupo de Acción Rápida) - Rapid Reaction Group. Special antiterrorist unit, operating within all of Spain and participating in some foreign missions
  •   UCO (Unidad Central Operativa) - Central Operative Unit, a branch of the Policía Judicial focused on complex or nationwide investigations
  •   UEI (Unidad Especial de Intervención) - Special Intervention Unit


  • Spanish citizenship
  • Good standard or native Spanish language ability
  • Cadets at sixteen and adult service between eighteen and thirty-one years old.
  • More than 1.65 metres (65 in) tall (men) and 1.55 metres (61 in) (women)
  • Having obtained Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO)
  • No record of chronic illness and general good health.
  • Ability to swim



Peugeot 307 of the Civil Guard.
BMW R1200RT of the Highway Patrol of the Civil Guard.

On 23 July 2007, Roberto Flórez García, a retired GC officer assigned to the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, was charged with spying for a foreign power (allegedly Russia).[25]

Political involvementEdit

Throughout the nineteenth century, the Spanish Army regularly became involved in politics; the Guardia Civil was no exception. For this reason, the guardias were seen historically as a reactionary force. On 3 January 1874, General Manuel Pavía y Rodríguez de Alburquerque stormed congress and ended the Spanish First Republic with a company of thirty guardias civiles.

The first three decades of the 20th Century in Spain was a time of great political turmoil. During this period the Guardia Civil served frequently in the restoration of order remaining mostly loyal to established regimes. Thus, it supported the dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923–1930), but it also supported the Second Spanish Republic (1931–1939).


At the end of the nineteenth century, the Guardia Civil conducted a campaign against criminal and anarchist elements of the Andalusian population, a campaign in which numbers of otherwise innocent members of the public found themselves accused them of being members of the secret society Black Hand. For this reason the 'guardias' of that era were portrayed negatively in the literature and popular history, particularly by Spanish expatriate artists and writers. Under the pre-1931 monarchy, relations between gypsies and the Civil Guard were particularly tense.[26]

Critics of the Guardia Civil, particularly Republican sympathisers, have alleged numerous instances of police brutality because of the organisation's association with Franco's regime. The fact that the Guardia largely operated in mostly rural and isolated parts of the country increased the risk of police violations of individual civil rights through lack of supervision and accountability. García Lorca's poems have contributed to the Guardia Civil's reputation as, at least at the time, a heavy-handed police force.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "España tiene un déficit de casi 30.000 policías y guardias civiles". abc (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 2018-12-01. Retrieved 2018-12-01.
  2. ^ "Dirección General de la Guardia Civil" [General Direction of the Spanish Civil Guard] (in Spanish). Spanish Civil Guard. 2012-03-17. Archived from the original on 2017-03-29. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
  3. ^ LaRazó (5 July 2015). "La Guardia Civil, la institución más valorada". La Razón. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 24 February 2016.
  4. ^ a b de Rementeria y Fica, Mariano, Manual of the Baratero (transl. and annot. by James Loriega), Boulder, CO: Paladin Press, ISBN 978-1-58160-471-9 (2005)
  5. ^ Quevedo, A. and Sidro, J., La Guardia Civil: La Historia de esta Institución, Madrid (1858)
  6. ^ de la Iglesia, Eugenio, Reseña Histórica de la Guardia Civil, Madrid (1898)
  7. ^ Driessen, Henk Driessen, The ‘Noble Bandit’ and the Bandits of the Nobles: Brigandage and Local Community in Nineteenth-century Andalusia, European Journal of Sociology 24, (1983), pp. 96-114
  8. ^ a b Scott, Samuel P., Through Spain: A Narrative of Travel and Adventure in the Peninsula, Philadelphia, PA: J. P. Lippincott Company (1886), pp. 130-131
  9. ^ Muñoz-Bolaños, Roberto (2000), "Fuerzas y cuerpos de seguridad en España (1900–1945)", Serga, 2
  10. ^ Decreto de 30 de agosto de 1936, 1936-08-30
  11. ^ The International Bridgades Archived May 27, 2008, at the Wayback Machine - Colodny, Robert G. Accessed 2008-05-12.
  12. ^ Hugh Thomas (1976); Historia de la Guerra Civil Española, Ed. Grijalbo, p. 254
  13. ^ a b Ramón Salas Larrazábal (2001); Historia del Ejército Popular de la República, Volumen I. De los comienzos de la guerra al fracaso del ataque sobre Madrid, pp. 58-60
  14. ^ "Ley 15 de Marzo de 1940", Boletín Oficial del Estado, 1940-03-15
  15. ^ Field, Ron. Spanish–American War 1898. pp. 98–99. ISBN 1-85753-272-4.
  16. ^ Bueno, Jose. La Guardia Civil. pp. 76 and 98. ISBN 9-788486-629342.
  17. ^ "La Guardia Civil finaliza su misión de asesoramiento a la Policía afgana". Archived from the original on 2018-08-18. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  18. ^ "The bodies of the Guardia Civil officers and their interpreter killed in Afghanistan yesterday arrive in Spain". Archived from the original on 2018-08-17. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  19. ^ "La Guardia Civil finaliza su misión de asesoramiento a la Policía afgana". Archived from the original on 2018-08-18. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  20. ^ "Guardia Civil terrorism experts fly to Iraq to train federal police in DAESH fight". Archived from the original on 2018-08-18. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  21. ^ "Gun Review: Spain's Star Modelo B Pistols". 4 September 2015. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2017.
  22. ^ "Orden General número 1", Boletín Oficial de la Guardia Civil, 3, 1998-12-29
  23. ^ José María Bueno, pages 164 and 168 "La Guardia Civil, su historia, organización y sus uniformes, ISBN 84-86629-34-9
  24. ^ "Orden General 16", Boletín Oficial de la Guardia Civil, 30, 1999-10-21
  25. ^ "La fiscalía acusa de un delito de traición al ex espía doble destapado por el CNI", El País, 2007-07-24, archived from the original on 2008-05-22, retrieved 2008-05-13
  26. ^ Arturo Barea, page 193 "The Forging of a Rebel", Viking Press Inc. 1972, SBN 670-32367-5
  27. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2019-04-02. Retrieved 2019-04-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)


  • de la Iglesia, Eugenio, Reseña Historica de la Guardia Civil, Madrid (1898)

External linksEdit