Wednesday, October 22, 2014

'A Place for Nobody': The Closing of the Plaza de Toros

When Gustavo Petro became mayor three years ago, he vowed to end bullfighting and convert the historic Plaza de Toros Santamaria into a center for arts and culture, as well as a tourist attraction.

The Plaza de Toros would be transformed into a Plaza de Todos, a 'stadium for everyone.'
A threat? Bullfighters staging a sit-in in front of the plaza.

For a while, Petro seemed to keep his word. He allowed no more bullfights after Feb. 2012 and for a while the plaza was used for sports events, concerts and even, most memorably, ice skating.

However, about a year ago, the sports and cultural events stopped. The only activities which continued there were morning bullfighting practices and visits by tourists, including Bogotá Bike Tours. We'd visited the stadium for years, thousands of time, and never experienced a single problem. Foreign and Colombian tourists enjoyed exploring the handsome old Moorish-style building and learning about la fiesta brava, as well as the building's dramatic political history.

About three months ago, a group of young bullfighters began a (pseudo) hunger strike in front of the stadium, and their morning practices inside ended.

Tourists by a statue of famed Colombian bullfighter Cesar Rincon.
Then, about three weeks ago, the District Institute for Sports and Recreation (IDRD), which administers the city-owned building, changed the building's administrator. The new administrator shut the historical monument to visitors. When I talked to her, she cited the hunger strikers camped out in front of the building.

"When the tension subsides, we'll reconsider," she said.

We had never noticed any tension, with the bullfighters, who are quiet and friendly - or anybody else. Days passed, and the imaginary tension didn't disappear. The stadium remained shut.
Tourists on the plaza's arena.

We sent a letter and called the IDRD. An IDRD official also mentioned the hunger strikers to justify the closure. I pointed out that the strikers are very friendly people, and, in any case, are on the sidewalk outside the stadium - so what possible relevance do they have to what goes on inside the stadium? No reply.

The IDRD did, however, reply to our letter., They justified the closure on the "ongoing process of structural reinforcement for the stadium." Mayor Petro has argued that the old building needs repair work. Many suspect that's an excuse he invented to not allow bullfights. But, whatever the truth, the fact is that no work of any kind has started there - and may never. The handsome old building sits empty and used by nobody.

The Petro administration, rather than turning the old plaza into 'a place for everyone,' has transformed it into 'a place for nobody.' A brilliant move for a city which aspires to make itself into a tourist destination

It's really absurd that one of Bogotá's historical monuments is closed to the public - and even the bureaucrats who made the decision don't seem to know why.

The Moorish-style building was designed by a Spanish architect.
Ride that bull!

The stadium's backside.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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