The battle to save the bulls of Bogotá is over — at least for now.
This Wednesday, Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the capital’s bullfighting organization, stating that the city did not have the right to ban the activity based on its status as a cultural tradition, and saying the mayor’s office had infringed on the corporation’s right to artistic expression. The close decision, which was decided by a 5-4 vote, came as a blow to Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro, who effectively banned bullfights in the city in 2012.
In its official decision, the Court ruled that mayors and other local officials do not have the power to ban bullfights in places where the activity is a tradition. The ruling was the final step toward reopening the city’s Santamaría bull ring and resuming fights, though it remains to be seen whether there will still be a large audience for such events.
In September 2014, the same court commanded the city to reopen the ring and allow bullfights to resume within six months. Yesterday’s ruling supported that decision, striking down a final challenge from the city’s legal representatives.
However, the ring itself is not slated to reopen for at least another year, as the district government is in the midst of much-needed repairs to the structure, set to begin in March and slated to take at least 15 months. In the years since the mayor’s office declined to renew the official local bullfighting entity’s contract, effectively prohibiting the events, the ring has been used for concerts and other cultural events.
The popular reaction to the court’s ruling was swift and overwhelmingly negative — bullfighting faces significant opposition throughout the city, especially among younger generations, who see it as a barbaric and outdated practice.
After the ruling, Petro tweeted his own response to the court’s decision, saying “”Because of one vote this barbarity is still maintained: enjoying the death of an animal.”
Por un voto se mantiene aún una barbarie: divertirse con la muerte de un animal
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) February 4, 2015
Bogotá’s Bullfighting Corporation, which oversees and manages these events, praised the decision. A number of bullfighters staged a hunger strike in front of the ring last summer to protests the mayor’s action, saying it negatively affected their cultural expression and livelihoods.
Felipe Negret, president of the Corporation, called the decision “a call to the Mayor that he submit to justice and comply with the law, like any government official.”
Colombia is one of the few countries in the world that still hosts bullfights. Others include Spain, Mexico, Venezuela and Peru, as well as Portugal, France and Ecuador, although the last three do not allow the animal to be killed. There are currently more than 300 bullfighting rings throughout the country, and roughly one hundred fights take place each year.