Bullfighters seek cultural shield

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2007:
LISBON– The Spanish-based
pro-bullfighting Platform for the Defence of the
Fiesta Nacional debuted just in time to give a
publicity boost to the International
Anti-Bullfighting Summit held in Lisbon,
Portugal, three weeks later.
PDFN director Luis Corrales in late April
2007 introduced half a dozen artists, actors,
and other celebrities who pledged support for his
petition to the United Nations Educational &
Scientific Organization seeking World Heritage
status for bullfighting.
UNESCO recognition, if conferred, would
amount to an internationally influential
declaration that bullfighting is an art form of
global significance.
Corrales claimed to have 1,300 Spanish
signees on a petition favoring bullfighting. He
told Barcelona correspondent for The Independent
newspaper group Graham Keeley that he hopes to
attract 5,000 signees by year’s end.

But 5,000 is not an impressive number of
petition-signers in the Internet era, especially
since 250,000 Catalonians signed petitions in
2004-2005 in opposition to bullfighting in
The pro-bullfighting PDFN celebrities
were hugely outnumbered and exceeded in
prominence many times over by the celebrity
spokespersons for some of the 22 organizations
participating in the International
Anti-Bullfighting Summit.
The World Society for the Protection of
Animals wrote “to all relevant contacts in
UNESCO” in opposition to the scheme to give
bullfighting World Heritage recognition, WSPA
program officer Alyx Dow said. So did the other
International Anti-Bullfighting Summit
participants, many of them from organizations
with more than 5,000 active members.
Convened by the Portuguese animal
protection group ANIMAL, the British-based
League Against Cruel Sports, and the
Anti-Bullfighting Committee of The Netherlands &
Belgium, the International Anti-Bullfighting
Summit on May 17, 2007 brought together
activists from Europe and Latin America for four
days of intensive strategy discussion.
“Bullfights are rapidly coming to an end
in Europe,” declared ANIMAL vice president Rita
Silva, hoping that the summit would become “a
defining moment to make the end of bullfights
happen even more rapidly then we had previously
The surest signs that it may soon be history are economic.
The owners of the last bullring in
Barcelona, the Monumental Plaza de Toros, in
December 2006 announced that the ring would close
after the 2007 season due to lack of attendance.
“The company admitted that it lost more
than £16,000 each time it held a bullfight,”
reported Daily Telegraph Madrid correspondent
Fiona Govan.
“Two years ago,” Govan recalled,
“Barcelona declared itself an anti-bullfighting
city, following a series of public protests.
Another 38 Catalan municipalities have since
followed, and the Catalan Parliament has debated
a bill to extend existing animal cruelty laws to
include bullfighting.”
Catalonian political separatists have
made bullfighting a symbol of Spanish dominion,
to be rejected as part of re-establishing
cultural independence lost more than 500 years
ago. Attributing the collapse of bullfighting in
Barcelona to the Catalonian independence
movement, the Spanish bullfighting industry
claims to still be strong in Andalusia,
Extremadura, and Madrid. However, an October
2006 Gallup poll found that only 27% of Spaniards
expressed any interest in watching bullfights,
while 72% were either disinterested in
bullfighting or opposed to it.
“Over the past 30 years interest has
steadily fallen,” Govan wrote, “starting at a
high of 55% in 1971, dropping to 46% in 1980,
and 31% in 1992.”
Bullfighting has been sustained at many
of the biggest arenas by tourism, but tourist
interest has also declined.
Apparently learning that bullfight
imagery no longer conveys the image that it did
to past generations, both the Irish national
airline Aer Lingus and Coca Cola recently
withdrew television ads featuring bullfighting
and running with bulls en route to the Pamplona
bull ring, at request of the Irish Council
Against Blood Sports.


Opposition to bullfighting in Latin
America gathered legal momentum in early April
2007, when the Venezuelan parliament approved on
first reading a new national “Law for the
Protection of Domestic, Tamed, Wild and Exotic
Animals at Liberty and in Captivity” which would
restrain bullfighting, cockfighting, circus
animal acts, and the Venezuelan version of
rodeo, reinforce the existing law against
dogfighting, and reform animal control.
Authored by Tchira state deputé Luis
Tascon, whose district is a reputed bullfighting
stronghold, the draft law declares that, “All
animals are born into life as equals and have the
same right to existence.”
It stipulates that if animals are killed
for any purpose, including consumption, the
killing should be “instantaneous, painless, and
should not cause distress.”
“This law seems to be backed by
supporters of President Hugo Chavez, who does
not seem to like bullfighting,” the League
Against Cruel Sports assessed. “Due to his
victory in the last elections, it is now more
likely that this Bill will become an Act. This
would put Venezuela ‘up there’ with Cuba, a
political ally [of Venezuela], which banned
bullfighting a long time ago.”
Like Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and
like the Catalonian nationalists, Chavez appears
to associate bullfighting with the epoch of rule
by a Spanish elite and their privileged
descendants. Also like Castro, whose regime
converted bullrings into baseball stadiums,
Chavez is a baseball enthusiast, inclined to
favor the sport as a participant rather than
professional pastime.
The Tascon bill “is now going to several
committees for discussion, and eventually, if
the committees approve it, with or without
amendments, it will be sent to the plenary for a
vote,” continued the League Against Cruel
Sports. “It is possible that amendments would
give bullfighting an exemption, as has happened
with other animal protection legislation in Latin
America, but it is equally possible that the
bill will be passed as it is, and become one of
the most advanced pieces of animal protection
legislation in the world.”
“All 167 members of the Venezuelan
parliament support Chávez,” acknowledged
Inter-Press Service News Agency writer Humberto
“However,” Marquez warned, “there is no
unanimity with regard to spectacles involving
“Under the new law,” Marquez elaborated,
“bullfights could technically be held, but
without the preliminary lancing of the bull by
mounted picadors, nor the planting of barbed
sticks or banderillas into the bull’s neck,
unless the bull is protected with body armor.
And the bull must not be killed.
“The law would also regulate
bull-tailing, in which riders on horses grab the
tail of a running bull and pull the bull down,”
Marquez noted. “Cockfighting will only be
permitted if the birds’ talons and spurs are
“In addition to regulating bull
fighting,” Marquez wrote, “the draft law rules
out trade or export of local fauna; sets out
measures that municipalities must take to
regulate the duties of pet owners and the
creation of shelters for abandoned animals; and
establishes fines of up to $1,800, or business
closures, depending on the case, for violators.”
Association for the Defense of Animals
president Cristina Camilloni, in a wheelchair,
on April 26, 2007 led about 200 supporters of
the Tascon bill on a march through Caracas.
In Tijuana, Mexico, bullfighting
defenders resorted to an appeal based on culture
and history just to obtain a public monument to
the oldest and largest of the two bullrings
there. Opened in 1938, rebuilt and expanded in
1957, the downtown ring was almost completely
demolished in March 2007, but the work was
halted on March 28 by intervention from the
Instituto de Cultura de Baja California.
“Although the institute doesn’t have the
authority to prevent the ring’s demolition,”
explained San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer
Anna Cearley, “it argues that it has the power
to put it on hold through June, when a committee
will decide whether the structure is a landmark.
Bullfight fans and members of historical groups
say they hope a compromise can be reached with
the owner to include a memorial to the bullring
when the property is redeveloped.”
The site reportedly belongs to a
consortium including Alberto Bailleres,
identified by Cearley as “one of Mexico’s richest
men. Bailleres runs a mining company, Industrias
Peñoles,” she wrote, “and a holding company,
Grupo Bal, that includes Grupo Nacional
Provincial and the high-end El Palacio de Hierro
department stores,” for which the bullring
location might be attractive.
While Cearley was unable to obtain any
comment from Bailleres, Baja Resort Advisors
managing partner Gabriel Robles acknowledged that
his company was involved in buying the property,
and “said the land might be used for upscale
high-rise housing.”
Bullfighting, Robles said, is a
“spectacle that is brutal to animals, where we
make them bleed in public.”

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