Two years after the city’s mayor banned bullfighting in Bogotá, a high court ruling has reinstated the controversial practice in the Colombian capital.
In a surprise decision, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday that the city government did not have the right to outlaw bullfights, striking down a 2012 mayoral decree that made the practice illegal on the grounds that it constituted animal cruelty. The court ruled in favor of the city’s bullfighting entity and the “preservation of bullfighting culture,” and gave the government six months to reopen the city’s Santamaría bullfighting ring and make it available for fights.
According to the court, the city government’s bullfight ban constitutes an infringement on the right to free artistic expression of Bogotá bullfighters and the Corporación Taurina de Bogotá, which organizes the events, and an “undue intervention in the artistic content and staging” of the events.
The Corporación had argued that the mayor’s decree violated its contract with the city, which allows the entity to stage bullfighting events in the ring through 2015.
The ruling comes as a setback for Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro, who had made outlawing bullfighting an important goal of his administration and implemented the decree banning the practice in 2012. The leftist mayor had even said that he would rather resign than see bullfighting return to the capital.
Petro’s office has not yet released an official response to the court ruling, but activists on both sides of the issue are anxiously waiting to see what the city government will do.
The case, which had been awaiting a court ruling since the beginning of 2014, had received increased attention since August 5, when a group of apprentice bullfighters began a hunger strike outside the Santamaría ring to protest the local government’s stance on their profession.
“If a bull gores you, you’re happy because you’re practicing your profession, but it’s sad that they’re killing us this way with the absurd stance of the mayor’s office,” said one fighter.
Though the ruling favors them, the fighters say they will continue their strike until Petro officially reopens the ring.
Bullfighting has been practiced in Colombia since the 1800s, and there are about 100 bullfights held in the country each year. However, it has recently become a hot-button political issue in the South American nation, with animals rights activists facing off against defenders of the traditional practice. Opponents say the corridos amount to animal torture and an inhumane bloodsport that should have been outlawed long ago, while those on the other side see it as a cultural tradition worthy of preservation.
Like many political topics, opinions on bullfighting tend to fall along generational lines, with some older residents arguing in favor of tradition, while most youth are vocally opposed to a practice that they see as an embarrassing and cruel vestige of the past.
The Plaza de Bolívar, an important square in the center of Bogotá not too far from the bullfighting ring, has been the site of multiple protests against corridos, including one demonstration in which activists painted their bodies and lay on the ground to form the shape of an injured bull.
Prior to the decision, local opponents set up a Change.org petition to gather signatures opposing the reinstitution of bullfighting, which was turned in to the court Tuesday morning. The organizers also included letters written by local schoolchildren voicing their opposition to the practice.
Even if the city is forced to reopen the Santamaría ring, the fight is far from over. With intense political pressure on the city government to uphold its decision to ban bullfighting, the mayor’s office will undoubtedly try to institute a new ban after its contract with the Corporación expires next year, and Bogotá will return to the culture-vs.-cruelty debate once again.