Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bullfighting: Fiesta Brava or Fiesta Cruel?

Anti-bullfighting protesters on Jimenez Ave.
Prospective bullfighters practicing in Bogotá's Plaza Santa Maria

Bullfighting dates from time immemorial and enacts something primordial about men (and sometimes women) risking their lives in confrontation with a savage beast. In modern times, when our biggest worries may be getting phished by e-mail, bullfighting seems like a savage holdover from another era. Or, maybe it's an important reminder of something real we're missing in today's safe and secured world. Or both.

Pepe Caceres, a bullfighter who was killed by a bull at age 53.

Today, bullfighting is practiced in only a few countries, and Colombia is one of those. Reportedly, it's the third-most active nation in Spanish-style bullfighting - in which the bull is almost always killed - after Spain and Mexico. (Following independence, some Latin American nations banned bullfighting because it represented the influence of the mother country). In Colombia, all major cities have bullfighting stadiums, as do many small towns. The sport - if it is a sport - has many aspects: tradition, skill, cruelty, injury, torture, killing, courage, pageantry. Bullfighting advocates speak reverently of the bulls, but that doesn't stop them from using the poor, confused animals as vehicles to show off the bullfighter's skills, which are almost always killed in the end. (Very occasionally, a bull considered to be very courageous is given an 'indulto' or 'forgiveness' and allowed to live.

Main entrance to the Plaza Santa Maria, with its dramatic moorish architecture.
As in other countries, in Colombia there are lots of protests against bullfighting, because of its cruelty and its celebration of violence. And, bullfighting is evidently in retreat: The legislature of Cataluña, Spain just banned bullfighting, although many observers say that was motivated more by separatist nationalism than concern about animals. In Colombia, a legal complaint recently called for the banning of bullfighting, cockfighting and other related practices. Colombia's legal prohibition against cruelty to animals includes exceptions for bullfighting and cockfighting, because they're traditional. But that doesn't make them any less cruel (and cockfighting is much worse than bullfighting, in which at least the people take risks.) The Constitutional Court will apparently rule in bullfighting's favor, but that won't change the fact that the practice's years are numbered.

On Aug. 29, the court ruled that bullfighting, cockfighting and other practices can continue - but should be phased out.

This blog written by Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

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