Crisis in Catalonia

Special police contingent in Catalonia halved as region remains calm

Number of officers deployed in Operation Copernicus has dropped from 6,000 to 3,000 in recent days

Interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido in Catalonia on October 7.
Interior minister Juan Ignacio Zoido in Catalonia on October 7.EFE

The Spanish Interior Ministry is reducing its special police contingent in Catalonia by half, given the absence of street unrest after emergency powers were rolled out in the region to contain the illegal secessionist push.

Around 6,000 members of the National Police and Civil Guard had been stationed in the northeastern region as part of Operation Copernicus since mid-September, ahead of the unconstitutional independence referendum held on October 1. In recent days, nearly half of these officers have returned to their regular posts.

High-ranking ministry sources told EL PAÍS that the plan is to keep the remaining 3,000 officers in Catalonia until after the regional election of December 21, which was called by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy using special powers granted by Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.

At the height of the crisis, the Interior Ministry sent two-thirds of Spain’s 2,700 riot police officers to Catalonia

This contingent will provide backup for the 2,929 police officers and 3,164 civil guards who are stationed permanently in Catalonia.

Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido and his team consider that their tasks have been reduced to protecting state-owned buildings and critical infrastructure in the region. Public order duties fall to the regional police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, who now answer directly to the Spanish Interior Ministry rather than the Catalan government following the application of Article 155.

This ship that served as living quarters for Spanish police in Catalonia made world headlines because of its Looney Tunes characters.
This ship that served as living quarters for Spanish police in Catalonia made world headlines because of its Looney Tunes characters.Carles Ribas

The Mossos’ loyalty was questioned after the October 1 referendum, when they failed to stop the vote from taking place despite orders from the Spanish government to do so. The agency was found to be divided over the independence issue, with some members pledging allegiance to separatist Catalan leaders rather than national authorities.

At the height of the crisis, the Interior Ministry deployed two-thirds of Spain’s 2,700 riot police officers in Catalonia as a precautionary measure. But their upkeep is a financial burden on the ministry’s budget, and the situation in Catalonia remains peaceful despite fears that invoking Article 155 – a move that included removing the entire Catalan government from office – would trigger street revolts by separatist sympathizers.

The officers who remain in Catalonia have been assigned two moored ships as living quarters. A passenger ferry that had been used for this purpose – the Moby Dada, made famous because of the Looney Tunes cartoon characters painted on its hull – left the port of Barcelona last week.

The first officers started to go home on November 16, when their superiors deactivated several emergency measures, including one preventing any member of the National Police or Civil Guard in Catalonia from taking leave.

English version by Susana Urra.

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