Bogotá bans arena bullfights, but participant bullfights continue in Colombian hinterlands

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2012:

Bogotá bans bullfights, but “corralejas” continue in Colombian hinterlands

BOGOTA, Colombia— Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro “has stated that he will end bullfighting after bullfight organizers Taurine Corporation refused to agree that animals would not be killed during the fights,” announced Animal Defenders International chief executive Jan Creamer on June 15, 2012.

“We are close to seeing an end to bullfighting in Bogotá, thanks to cultural and social change,” said ADI Colombian representative Eduardo Peña. Added ADI spokesperson Matt Rossell, “It is envisaged that the Plaza La Santamaría, where bullfights are currently held, and the surrounding area will developed into a cultural hub.” The Petro administration has already published a four-year plan for redeveloping Plaza La Santamaría.

Bogotá is the second major city in Colombia to abolish bullfighting. Zapatoca mayor Octavio Gutiérrez Rueda in January 2008 signed a declaration authored by Councellor Reynaldo Díaz Rueda proclaiming that both bullfighting and cockfighting are prohibited, and that the city bullring was henceforth to be used only for events “to celebrate life.” The declaration was issued a year after the last bullfight held in Zapatoca in January 2007.

Encouraged, Anael Virsan Chez Arias of San Antonio del Tequendama, Colombia, initiated an online petition asking Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos to ban the notorious amateur public bullfights held in Sincelejo, the capital of Sucre province, and in surrounding villages.

(The petition is posted at <www.change.org/petitions/salvemos-los-caballos-y-toros-masacrados-en-las-abominables-corralejas-no-son-cultura-son-tortura-y-muerte>.)

Recounted New York Times correspondent Simon Romero after witnessing a public bullfight in Sincelejo in January 2008, “Men arrived [at a medical station] with wounds out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting: intestines peeking out of a belly, bone protruding from a fractured shin, blood spurting from a gash in the buttocks. They were participants in the corraleja, a bullfighting ritual in northern Colombia pitting hundreds of amateur matadors, many in advanced stages of inebriation, against a 900-pound bull. Looked upon in other parts of Colombia as a bizarre and even grotesque spectacle, the corralejas are passionately defended by residents of the northern savannas. Dozens of towns hold such festivals. Deaths are not uncommon.”

At the six-day Sincelejo festival, Romero wrote, “Periodically, a bull was released into the crowd, a total of 40 bulls over the four hours” of the event each day. “The bulls were harassed by about two dozen horsemen carrying barbed sticks called banderillas, used to prod them into lunging madly into the throng. The bulls are not killed in the corralejas,” Romero said, “but if a bull is exhausted or, as often happens, tripped up by a rope held by the participants, the crowd swarms in, pelting him with rocks, kicking him, slapping him, spitting on him, and pulling his tail. Observing this in the stands are cattlemen and others of the moneyed classes,” who toss money and liquor to the manteros.

The Sincelejo corralejas were suspended for more than 15 years, after the wooden bleachers collapsed in 1980, killing 222 spectators, but were revived by enthusiasts including attorney Inis Amador. “I recognize that one cannot avoid the comparison with the Roman Colosseum,” Amador told Romero.

Similar participant bullfights continue in other nations from Spain to India. Catalonia, the onetime hub of arena bullfighting in Spain, banned arena bullfights in 2010, but exempted participant events featuring toros embolados, who are released to race through the streets with flaming balls of wax or fireworks attached to or close to their horns. Such an event in the village of Navajas, population 730, ended in January 2012 when the bull fatally gored a 45-year-old man who had reportedly traveled from Alboraia, 45 miles to the south, to take part.

The Madras High Court in January 2012 ruled that the Indian version of participant bullfighting, called jallikattu, is legal as a part of traditional Pongal harvest festivals. But the justices warned that they might change their minds, adding that “Pongal “is not a festival for human beings alone, but for four legged creatures as well. Hence sufficient care should be taken in conducting the event.”

New rules for jallikattu required, The Hindu reported, that “All bulls will be checked by veterinary officials. Certified bulls only will be allowed to take part. Administering steroids, applying chilli powder, and smearing mud on the body of the animal is totally banned. Sharp horns of bulls should be covered with wooden shields. Only four persons will be allowed to overcome a bull. Special veterinary camps and general medical camps will be set up near the ground to treat injured animals and tamers.”

But the rules proved ineffective. ANIMAL PEOPLE received reports of at least three human deaths during jallikattu events during January 2012. Nor were the jallikattu events held only in connection with Pongal. Forty-nine humans and an unknown number of bulls were injured on February 15, 2012 at Pugaiyilaipatti village, Tamil Nadu, during the St. Sebastian Church festival.

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