Friday, January 13, 2012

Sunset for La Fiesta Brava?

}the Moorish Santamaria Plaza,
with Las Torres del Parque behind.
Tomorrow begins the 2012 bullfighting season in Bogotá's Plaza de Toros Santamaria. It will be the bullring's 81st - and perhaps final - bullfighting season.

Just-inaugurated Mayor Gustavo Petro said that Bogotá should reconsider public spectacles which involve death. He's also barring public entities such as the phone and electricity companies from financing bullfighting with their advertising.

The mayor's is a sensible, humane perspective - but banning bullfighting here would mean the end of a long and storied tradition, as well as eliminate the jobs of people who breed and raise fighting bulls, work in the stadium and sell bullfighting paraphernalia - as well as the bullfighters themselves. And the aspiring bullfighters who train in the Santamaria plaza would be left without a profession.
A protester stands before a line of anti-riot police outside the bullfighting stadium.

La Santamaria is South America's most important bullfighting stadium and Colombia is the world's third biggest bullfighting nation, after Spain and Mexico. So, shuttering La Santamaria would be a real blow to bullfighting.

Fans buy tickets outside
Santamaria Plaza. 
Much crueler than bullfighting, in my opinion, is cockfighting, which is also legal and practiced throughout Colombia. But while bullfighting is a big public spectacle involving lots of people and infrastructure, cockfights can be held in a backyard - and undoubtedly would continue even if  banned.

Tied up with the anti-bullfighting campaign is undoubtedly a class issue, since bullfighting fans tend to be wealthy, and the ranchers who raise fighting bulls belong to the traditional landowning elite. In contrast, cockfighting is more of a blue collar activity. Also, bullfights attract lots of media, while cockfights go unreported.

Detail from a poster advertising a bullfight. 
And, if elected officials are really concerned about animal rights, they ought to look at the living and dying conditions of the countless animals which are raised and slaughtered every day to feed this carnivorous nation. Bullfighting bulls live well (and for much longer than animals raised for meat or milk) and a bullfight lasts only about 20 minutes. But animals raised in industrial agriculture often live their whole lives crowded into stalls and standing in their own wastes. But their suffering happens outside of our sight and sensibilities.

And if it's the public morality that's worrying the new mayor, he might also look at all the gratuitous violence in movies, television and video games. 

Most bullfighting fans, such as this woman walking past riot police and protesters outside of the stadium, are upper class Colombians.
The mayor proposed that the plaza's bullfights could leave out the final, killing blow. That would be rather hypocritical, since the bulls would be killed anyway out of sight after leaving the plaza. And the death stab, which if done skillfully is relatively humane, is considered the climax of the fight. Perhaps surprisingly, a French bullfighter quoted by El Tiempo sounded open to that change. But Spanish and Colombian bullfighters are more likely to oppose it.

In any case, bullfighting's days are numbered: the sport or art was recently restricted in Ecuador and prohibited in Spain's Catalunia province. And it's simply not something which many young people are fans of. So, if politics and animal rights activists do not eliminate la fiesta brava, then chronology likely will.

Poster advertising a bullfighting school.
Mayor Petro is right to say that the city should seek more uses for the handsome Santamaria Plaza, which is located near the center of town, near museums, Independence Park and the hip La Macarena neighborhood. Now, the plaza is seldom used for anything besides bullfighting, which occupies the plaza only about eight weekends each year. The other 350 days or so, it generally sits empty, except for tourists and aspiring bullfighters. Once, Camilo Villegas held a golfing demonstration there, and two years ago Colombia and the United States played a Davis Cup tournament match in the plaza. And very occasionally concerts are held there.

Bullfighting paraphernalia for sale. 
Putting the plaza to more use is especially relevant right now, when the city is talking about spending a fortune and impacting wetlands to build a new concert stadium near Simon Bolivar Park, as well as possibly demolishing and rebuilding the El Campin soccer stadium.

Of course, Santamaria Plaza, with seating for only 13 - 14,000 spectators squeezed in, won't do for megaevents. But for small concerts and artistic events it's an attractive, centrally-located venue.

Nevertheless, getting more use out of the place won't be so easy. It is managed by the Corporacion Taurina, which will surely resist any use which threatens the bullfights. And the economically and socially influential residents of the Torres del Parque apartment buildings behind the plaza object strongly to the noise from concerts.

The Santamaria Plaza has a handsome Moorish arquitecture. 

Fight to the death: Bullfighting poster. 
'Bullfighting is art and culture.' Bullfighting advocates put up these posters calling on Mayor Petro to preserve la fiesta brava
Related entries: 'Why I want to be a bullfighter.'

A bullfighter's philosophy

No More Olé!

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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