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Guardia Civil

The Guardia Civil is the Spanish gendarmerie: it is a police force that has both military and civilian functions. It has foreign peace-keeping missions and maintains military status and is the equivalent of a federal paramilitary police. As a police force, the Guardia Civil is comparable today to the French Gendarmerie, the ItalianCarabinieri and the Dutch Royal Marechaussee as it is part of the European Gendarmerie. The Guardia Civil uses as its leading emblem the motto “El honor es mi divisa” (Honour is my emblem) stressing its esprit de corps and pointing out the importance of honour. Their precincts are called “casa cuartel” (army house) and, like other military garrisons in Spain, they appear under the motto “Todo por la patria” (All in the service of the Mother/Fatherland).


The Guardia Civil was founded in 1844 during the reign of Queen Isabel II of Spain by the Basque Navarresearistocrat Francisco Javier Girón y Ezpeleta, second Duke of Ahumada, an 11th generation descendant of Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II. The purpose of their creation was to dismantle any revolutionary sentiment in the rural population, and much focus was given to the Basque provinces. The policing done by the Guardia Civil was carried out earlier by the Holy Hermandad. The first academy of “guardias civiles” was established in the town of Valdemoro, south of Madrid, in 1855.

The Guardia Civil’s first job was to restore and maintain land ownership and servitude among the peasantry of Spain. In the countryside the monarchy’s primary goal was to stop the spread of anti-monarchy sentiment. The end of the First Carlist War had left the Spanish landscape scarred by the destruction of civil war, and the government moved fast to suppress the increasingly-angry peasantry. Based on the model of light infantry used by Napoleon in his European campaigns, the Guardia Civil was born as a police force with high mobility that could be deployed irrespective of inhospitable conditions and that was able to patrol large areas of the countryside. Its members, called ‘guardias’, maintain to this date 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 one.

The Modern Force

Today the Guardia Civil is a police force subject to the checks and supervision expected in a democratic society. Morevoer, the guardias’ proven effectiveness throughout history, whether in controlling banditry or in addressing the subsequent challenges and tasks given them, meant that additional tasks have been added regularly to their job description.

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):

  • highway patrol,
  • protection of the Royal Family and the King of Spain,
  • counter drugs operations,
  • anti-smuggling operations,
  • customs and ports of entry control,
  • safety of prisons and safeguarding of prisoners,
  • weapons licenses and arms control,
  • security of border areas,
  • bomb squad and explosives,
  • security in rural areas and in locations with less than 10,000 inhabitants,
  • anti-terrorism;
  • coast guard,
  • police deployments abroad (embassies);
  • intelligence and counter-intelligence gathering,
  • cyber- and internet crime;
  • hunting permits and
  • environmental law enforcement.


The Guardia Civil has been involved in labours as peacekeepers in United Nations sponsored operations, including operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Angola, Congo, Mocambique, Nicaragua,Haiti, East Timor and El Salvador. That was part of what the Spanish could muster. They served with the Spanish contingent in the war in Iraq, mainly in intelligence gathering, and they lost seven ‘números’. In addition to el instituto armado (“the armed institution”, the Guardia Civil is known as la benemérita (“the good-deserving”). They served in the Spanish colonies, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines andMorocco.

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.


They typically patrol in pairs. Their traditional hat is the tricornio, originally a tricorne. Its use now is reserved to parades or ceremonies, being now substituted by a cap, a beret or the characteristic “gorra teresiana”.

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 corps has been organized into different specialities divided into operative and support specialities:

  • GEAS (Grupo Especial Actividades Subacuáticas) – Divers.
  • GRS (Grupo Rural de Seguridad) Anti-riot unit.
  • Guardia Civil del Mar – Seashore surveillance and security of ports and harbours
  • SEPRONA (Servicio de Protección de la Naturaleza) – Nature Protection Service, for environmental protection.
  • Servicio Aéreo – Aerial monitoring (normally from helicopters)
  • Servicio Cinecológico Unit K-9 Drug detection and explosives and people.
  • Servicio de Montaña – Mountain and Speleology Rescue.
  • SIGC (Servicio de Informacion de la Guardia Civil) – Intelligence Service focused on counter-terrorism.
  • TEDAX (Técnicos Especialistas en Desactivación de Artefactos Explosivos) – Explosive Artifacts Defuser Specialised Technicians (EOD)
  • Tráfico – Control of freeways and highways.
  • GAR (Grupo Antiterrorista Rural) – Antiterrorist Unit. In Basque Country provinces.
  • UCO (Unidad Central Operativa) – Central Operative Unit, a branch of the Policía Judicial focused on organized crime.
  • UEI (Unidad Especial de Intervención) – Special Intervention Unit, a Special Forces Unit.
  • PMA (“Policia Montada Armados”) – Armed police on horseback
  • UVP (Unidad Vestidos de Paisano”) – Plain clothes internal security unit


  • Good standard or native Spanish speaker
  • Between eighteen and twenty-nine years of age

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