Wednesday, September 28

The boy who wore the Civil Guard uniform for 50 years … and was happy

Manuel Peláez’s life was forever marked on June 21, 1971, when he was only 14 years old. That day, his father, a civil guard stationed in a modest barracks in Zamora, died of a fatal heart attack. The family was left in a very precarious economic situation and the only possible way out for the boy was to enter the College of Young Guards of Valdemoro (Madrid). There was a problem; He did not turn 15, the minimum age to enter, until December 27. A special grace had to be requested for him to be admitted – otherwise he would have lost a year, with what that meant added hardship for the family – and there was

luck; the answer was yes …

On Monday, the first-class civil guard Manuel Peláez, simply Peláez in the Armed Institute, retired when he turned 65 after 50 and four months of service, the last 44 in the GAR, the former Rural Antiterrorist Group, today the Rural Action Group. He is, therefore, not only a living history of that glorious unit, but also the person who has worn the Civil Guard uniform the longest … He left, he confesses to ABC, “With the pain of retirement” but with the recognition and affection of his bosses and colleagues: “I will be from the GAR for ever and ever, I have been happy,” he assures; And he means it seriously, because he has written that when he dies he wants to be buried with his usual uniform and a Spanish flag covering the coffin. It even has its epitaph: “Everyone loved him”. Furthermore, it is true.

Peláez during a National Athletics military championship, representing the Civil Guard – ABC

«At 14 I was a skinny boy, with very thin legs... On September 13, 1971 my mother left me at the door of the old school in Valdemoro, with my cardboard suitcase. That imposed, more at my age, but I did not cry; I entered without question … That made me hard, although I am also very sentimental. I had a hard time with those of the previous promotions, I suffered hazing, but I got over it. And the classmates of the 56th class, in which I was the ‘little one’, became my new family ».

Special promotion

The 56th class of the College of Young Guards was, indeed, a special one. «The then Princess Sofia delivered the Flag to the center on the day we were sworn in, in June 1974. And when we made the silver wedding anniversary she also attended, then as Queen. Besides, I am here », he rivets between laughs. Peláez’s youth made him stay there as an attaché until December 27 of that year after finishing school, and in January 1975 he was assigned to the La Rioja Mobile, based in Logroño. He never moved from there anymore.

About ETA: “In 1978 the band was already very strong, with ambushes in the mountains”

Like so many civil guards, the ETA murderers marked their trajectory. In those hard years, in La Rioja he felt very closely the blows of terrorism and Peláez saw how one day in and another also his companions fell under the cowardly fire of the ETA members. «In 1978 the band was already very strong, with ambushes in the mountains. The General Directorate ordered my captain, Miguel Astrain, to choose a group of people to take a course on guerrilla warfare at the Jaca Mountain School, with professors from the Armed Institute and the Army COEs. Peláez immediately signed up and trained there for four months, until April. «Along with the day I left the school civil guard, it was the happiest moment of my professional life … I have been lucky, it is in my blood and we have helped many, street citizens and colleagues. ‘There is the GAR, today we can sleep peacefully’ I heard them say when we arrived at a barracks in the Basque Country … It’s the best; one of the best units in the world, ”he says proudly.

In August of that same year there was another milestone. The then general director of the Civil Guard, General Antonio Ibáñez Freire, attended an exercise, with live fire, of those 30 pioneers. Excited by what he saw, he ordered the recruitment of 400 men to receive the same training in Argamasilla de Alba (Ciudad Real). Peláez and the rest of his colleagues were designated instructors. Today this decision would be classified as good talent management; then it was only a matter of making the most of the few means available in a Spain in the midst of an economic crisis.

Attack against six Civil Guards in an ambush in Ispaster on February 1, 1980
Attack against six civil guards in an ambush in Ispaster on February 1, 1980 – EFE

The cowardice of ETA

But once again ETA crossed the path of Peláez. When they had been in the course for three months, on February 1, 1980, six civil guards were vilely assassinated in Ispaster (Vizcaya), after being surprised by terrorists armed with cetme from both flanks, in a perfect ambush typical of a guerrilla war. «The Directorate ordered us to immediately lift the camp to deploy in the Basque Country; the first company, in the Biscayan town of Munguía and then in Guipúzcoa, Navarra and Vitoria ». The GAR had been created, initially the Rural Antiterrorist Unit.. “Never, until Monday for retirement, did I abandon my destiny.”

His 44 years in the GAR go a long way. When saying goodbye to him, Colonel Cubel, chief of the La Rioja area and friend, whom he had as a lieutenant, “asked me to write what I experienced before he left and gave me a notebook.” “My colonel, what a compromise”, He replied, with the same shyness and modesty with which he answers ABC’s questions.

Peláez, of course, has lived a lot. He has had days of enormous emotion, such as when his colleagues from Information, the GAR and the Special Intervention Unit took out of the grave Jose Antonio Ortega Lara, after an anguished dawn in Mondragón. «I was only a witness, because I was my boss’s driver, so I have no merit in that, but pride of the Civil Guard. Also, of course, there were days of atrocious sadness, such as on November 11, 1978 when his close friend, the guard Leucio Revilla, died along with Corporal José Rodríguez de la Lama when his Land Rover was hit by a bomb that exploded in his wake. by Ezkio, in Guipúzcoa. Seconds before, a first vehicle belonging to the Benemérita had passed by, which miraculously emerged unscathed. There was also a very serious injury. “He was from Zamora, like me, and we spent the summer together.”

He himself, just a year earlier, had escaped another attack. With several companions, he went up to the Aránzazu monastery, in Oñate, in two vehicles: “We were always a few meters apart, so that in the event of a bomb they would only hunt those in a car. When we left, another Land Rover took over, this one from the post. The ETA members set off a bomb in their path and three guards were killed ”.

Peláez has known how to live with fear, but he knows what it is to suffer it: «In the 80s you had it in many moments. In my case, especially when we were driving on the roads of the Basque Country, seeing a gutter under a bridge … He felt a chill because he feared an attack at any moment. But in the North the danger was constant, although ETA preferred to avoid the GAR and we have not had as many deaths as other units ».

Direct witness

Always as the driver of the shift chief, this man has witnessed many of the most important operations against the gang. He keeps a great memory of each and every one of his controls. From the current one, Colonel Javier Molano, of course; but also of the unforgettable Lieutenant Colonel Jesús Galloso, also a personal friend, died from the murderous virus on March 20, 2020. At 64, one day he told him that he wanted to reward him for his career: «You have the record of wearing the Civil Guard uniform. I’m going to give you a gift; send you to the Embassy of Spain in Nicaragua“He said to him one fine day. Seven years earlier he had already served in Colombia, on that occasion by seniority.

“My colonel, what the … am I doing there, I replied. But he sent me anyway. When I arrived, the first thing I said to my colleagues was that I am not a grandfather, that I was treated like everyone else. The truth is that I am very well physically, I do everything. I came back from there on October 3, and now it’s my inevitable retirement.

He has never wanted to be promoted, and if he is a first-rate civil guard, it is because it is a discretionary decision of the command. There is an explanation: “I did not want my family to have to live what I did as a child, when my father changed his destination every so often and lost my friends.” This “general of the troop,” as he laughs at himself, has no stripes but has been able to advise many young lieutenants, now generals at the top of the ladder. “It’s not that I’m very smart,” he says. is that many things have happened to me.

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