The Chief of Defense Staff (Jemad), General Miguel Ángel Villarroya, resigned this Saturday in the face of the scandal caused by the news that he himself and other military commanders under his orders had already been vaccinated against covid-19 despite not be part of the priority immunization groups. The hitherto head of the military leadership has sent a letter to the Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, in which he requested the dismissal at his own request (equivalent to the resignation of the active military) in order not to “damage the image” of the Armed forces. Robles has accepted the dismissal, which must be approved by the Council of Ministers on Tuesday, according to sources in his department.
In the letter, General Villaroya defends the decision to vaccinate both himself and other soldiers assigned to the Defense General Staff (Emad) who are not part of the priority groups for immunization. It assures that, “in compliance with its obligations, in accordance with the established protocols and with the sole purpose of preserving the integrity, continuity and effectiveness of the chain of command of the Armed Forces” it had made “recently decisions that it considers correct”, but that they are “deteriorating the public image” of the armies and “doubting” their personal “own honesty”. Although he stresses that “he has never tried to take advantage of unjustifiable privileges,” he calls for his dismissal as Chief of Defense Staff, “with a clear conscience” and “not to damage the image” of the Armed Forces, according to a note from the State. Defense Major
Defense Minister Margarita Robles asked General Villarroya for a report on Friday after it was published that he and other generals of the Defense Staff had already been vaccinated against covid-19. The minister did not want to anticipate what measure she would take: “Depending on what the report says, we will see.”
Sources close to General Villarroya assure that he decided to voluntarily request his dismissal yesterday, in view of the avalanche of criticism that his vaccination has provoked in public opinion. Defense sources affirm that Robles decided to relieve him on Friday night, when he returned from Toledo, after reading the report he had requested.
In any case, the replacement of the head of the military leadership and highest active military position (the job of Captain General of the King is only institutional) will not take place until Tuesday, when it is approved by the Council of Ministers. Unlike the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Jujem), the Jemad is appointed and dismissed at the proposal of the President of the Government himself, not the Defense Minister.
This is the first time that a Chief of the Defense Staff resigns since the post was created in 1984. The most abrupt change occurred in December 1992, when the then head of the military leadership, Gonzalo Rodríguez Martín-Granizo , passed away in charge of a stroke.
A few hours before his resignation was made public, it was learned that the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, had dismissed the Lieutenant Colonel of the Civil Guard assigned as a liaison at the General Headquarters of the Operations Command (Cemops), in Retamares (Madrid), for having been vaccinated against covid-19 without any other member of the armed institute having done so yet. Although the decision of his colleague from the Interior seemed to increase the pressure on the defense minister, sources from his department assure that the replacement of Villarroya had already been decided.
Sources from the Defense General Staff confirmed on Friday that Villarroya and other generals in the chain of command of the Armed Forces (such as the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Chief of Operations Command) had already received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. -BioNtech. The Defense vaccination plan ordered to administer it, in the first place, to military health personnel; and then to the troops that must be deployed on international missions. That is why the crew members of the amphibious assault ship Castilla and the mine hunter Tajo, who are due to set sail in the coming weeks, have been vaccinated.
Only later should the military in critical positions, difficult to replace, be vaccinated. However, sources from the Defense General Staff explained that it received a dose quota and that, once the scarce medical personnel that depends on said agency and the military that must soon join international missions had been covered, the integrated group was transferred by members of the operational chain of command. In this group, they added, the generals were prioritized “for being the oldest.” According to the same sources, vaccination in the Defense Staff did not have to follow the same pace as in the rest of the Armed Forces or in society as a whole.
The news caused discomfort among many military personnel and also in the Defense Ministry itself, by giving the image that the generals are privileged and not the personnel who are more exposed to contracting the disease. In addition, it fell like a bomb in full controversy over the irregular vaccinations of mayors and regional councilors, who skipped the vaccination shift.
Robles was upset that Villarroya, her main military collaborator, did not tell her that he had been vaccinated, according to sources in her department. The minister stressed on Friday that the Defense vaccination plan is coordinated with Health and that no one in the central body of the ministry has been vaccinated, although the Secretary of State, Esperanza Casteleiro, has had to isolate herself after testing positive. In the two military hospitals, Gómez Ulla and Zaragoza, the health protocol of the autonomous communities of Madrid and Aragón is followed, so in the first one the vaccination of health personnel has been suspended, in response to the decision of the regional government.
When EL PAÍS published last Monday that it was vaccinating the military who were going on an international mission, Defense sources assured that their immunization plan, with a “reduced quota” of vaccines that Health has provided, was in line with the general criteria and only departed from it in “exceptional cases.” The number of vaccines that the Ministry of Defense has received so far and how many were attributed to the Defense Staff has not been made public. When the entire vaccination process is complete, Defense should have immunized 120,000 military personnel and about 25,000 civilians.