More blood in the sand in Bogota? Constitutional Court rules in favor of bullfighters

Posted on Sep 3 2014 - 4:03pm by Today News


COLOMBIA NEWS – Colombia’s Constitutional Court overturned a 2012 ban on bullfighting in Bogota on Wednesday amidst a drawn-out battle between the government, animal rights activists, and bullfighters.

The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the Bullfighting Corporation of Bogota on Wednesday, reinstating its license to organize bullfighting events in the capital after a 2012 ban enacted by Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro.

The court found that the ban was in violation of bullfighters rights to the freedom of artistic expression.

“Violence of every kind seems to be concentrated in the DNA of the Colombians. It is a step back to allow a cruel and merciless activity where the viewer rejoices in the superiority of the matador. Where is the coexistance of man with his environment?” Livy Vargas, Marketing analyst, Medellin


The court order immediately re-instated Plaza de Toros Santamaría in Bogota as an official centre for bullfighting and ordered the local authorities to assist the Bogota Bullfighting Corporation in organizing events and promoting bullfighting culture in the capital. The IDRD Bogota district board of sports and recreation was granted 6 months to comply with the order.

Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro banned bullfighting in 2012. Taking advantage of the fact that the famous bullring Plaza de Toros Santamaría is owned by the state, he terminated the contract with the Bullfighting Corporation of Bogota until 2015.

Petro argued that he would not allow the public space to be used for a “spectacle of death.”

In a statement to Caracol radio this afternoon, Petro said he had not read the Constitutional Court´s ruling, but that his legal team would quickly make a response and present it when ready.

In a slightly veiled jibe at the ruling, he reminded the public that he had been sacked as a result of a Constitutional Court ruling and regained his position soon afterwards.

What ensued were years of fierce battles between the bull-fighting community and the Bogota local government, firmly supported by animal rights groups.

Public protests

“It seems to me to be a bad decision, since culturally we had advanced on this topic. I see the advance from the point of view that we no longer see barbarism as a form of entertainment. I also think it speaks very badly of the constitutional court.” Gabriel Megia, Computer System specialist, Medellin.

In a dramatic public spectacle, eight young bullfighters began a hunger strike in front of the historic Santa Maria bullring on August 4th, pledging to not wash or eat until the Mayor revoked the ban. Almost immediately after, animal rights activists began rallying in the nation’s capital in support of the ban.

The pro-bullfighting protesters argued that aside from banning a sport which they saw as being part of Colombian culture, the ban was seriously affecting many families whose livelihoods depended on bullfighting.

They claimed that 36,000 jobs had been lost due to the ban, and was taking food from families’ mouths as well as from the Colombian economy.

The hunger strike has continued for more than a month and has seen more than one participant hospitalized, including one who suffered a brain hemorrhage.

In response to the ruling today bullfighter and protest organizer Pepe Manrique told W radio that he was happy with the decision, but would continue the protest until bullfighting has resumed in Santa Maria.

MORE: Bullfighters continue hunger strike in Colombia´s capital.

The ongoing strike/ protest has seen clashes between animal rights groups and pro-bullfighters. The Bogota police needed to set up cordons to keep the two groups at a safe distance after there were reports of violent clashes.

Naturally, animal rights groups have been in full support of Petro´s ban.

“I saw this coming because of the economic interests involved, and because the upper class who hold a lot of the power love this ‘art’. I think that what should be done is concentrate more… on a spectacle of animal abuse being portrayed as something cultural. ” Carolina Dueñas, Sociologist, Cali.

Animal rights activist Diana Magally told the Bogota Post that “Bullfighting is a joke, one of the most ridiculous spectacles that I’ve seen. I think murder is not a right of man, so what they are demanding is beyond any limit.”

Medellin’s bullfights

Over 180 people staged a public protest in Medellin’s Parque de los Deseos on Saturday against continued bullfighting in the city.

Funding to the 23 year old Medellin bullfighting festival was cut in 2012 by then mayor Anibal Gaviria, who followed Petro’s lead but stopped short of banning the practice.

Last year, Medellin local authorities spoke out against the practice, supporting Antioquia governor Sergio Fajardo who said he would not allow the funding of bullfighting events with public funds.

The half-naked protesters covered themselves in fake blood and positioned themselves in the shape of the word STOP with banderillas – the colourful sticks with which bullfighters impale bulls during bullfights- attached to their backs to call for a countrywide ban on the sport.

The protesters endured the baking sun for more than 2 hours in an artistic display called “putting themselves in the bull’s hide.”

Although there is growing pressure on the government to act on bullfighting, Bogota was the only city to impose a ban, and bullfighting remains a popular sport throughout Colombia.

In 2012 bullfighting was banned in the autonomous region of Catalonia in the bullfighting mecca of Spain, and only remains legal in eight countries worldwide.

Closer to home, sub-members of the local government of Mexico city, which boasts the largest bullring in the world, approved a bill to ban bull-fighting in the Mexican capital in 2012, but it still hasn’t been passed.

Economics of bullfighting

Despite protests against the sport, bullfights are still bringing in large crowds and generating money for local economies through ticket sales and advertising.

The La Macarena bullring in Medellin -which has a capacity of 10,000 seats- has 3500 season ticket holders. With season tickets ranging from $286 to $1,381 per seat it is clear that there is a lot of money to be made. In 2014 there were two sold out shows, with all 10,000 seats occupied.

Bullfights are universally well-attended in other Colombian cities too:

  • In Duitama 20,000 people attended bullfights in 2014.
  • In Cali 60,000 attended the 2014 feria del Señor de los Cristales.
  • In Manizales more than 90,000 attended Bullfights in the 2013 season.
  • This year Cartagena will host 3 events, each expected to attract around 10´000 attendants.

Although the opinions in Colombia are polarized on the ethics of bullfighting, festivals and local events are regularly attracting large crowds who are willing to pay considerable amounts for tickets.

While the Bogota hunger-strikers beg for the opportunity to earn a basic living through the sport, it is obvious that there are many others in Colombia who are not short of cash and would like to see the events continue solely as a means of entertainment.


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