Taking the bull by the horns… judgement day for Colombian bullfighting
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Taking the bull by the horns… judgement day for Colombian bullfighting

Bogotá’s Santamaría bullring has witnessed more than just bloodshed since it was built in 1931. Once again, the redbrick structure finds itself in the midst of a debate involving animal rights protestors and cabinet members alike; will Colombia finally ban bullfighting?

Back in August 2014, a group of eight bullfighters underwent a gruelling 42 day hunger strike outside the ring, crammed into makeshift tents under the capital’s gloomy skies.

The bullfighters argued that closure of Santamaría violates law 916 from 2004, which declares that bullfighting should be protected and preserved as part of Colombian national heritage.

“I want to fight in this ring, I grew up around here and my dream was to fight in the Santamaría.” José Luis Vega, a 20 year-old  bullfighter told Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper.

Bullfighting has been put on hold in Bogotá since June 12 2012, following current Mayor Gustavo Petro ending the contract held with the capital’s bullfighting corporation.

New use of the Santamaría sees the council proposing a 37 billion peso (approximately $14 million) overhaul, transforming the ring into a theater and performing arts space. The works will provide the capital with another cultural space in its historic center.

Falling behind?

Latin America has a surprisingly long history of bullfighting, with the first toreo recorded in Mexico City in 1526.

Considering that Buenos Aires banned the practice in 1891, neighboring Venezuela stopped Caracas-based bullfighting in  2009 and finally with Ecuador slapping on a countrywide ban in 2011, is Colombia falling behind?

Certainly if the numerous protests by the capital’s animal rights groups are anything to go by.

“No more olé, the bullfighting ring shouldn’t be a place of cruelty and torture, we love the bulls, but we want to see them alive in the countryside, in a pen. We don’t want to see them in the ring covered in blood.” Animal rights protestor Esperanza Sánchez told radio RCN during a July protest.

Age old tradition

Still, for those who have grown up with bullfighting in their blood like Myriam Moreno, who lost a brother during a fight, close ties still remain.

“It’s an age old tradition, from many centuries ago, I was practically born wearing a “capote” (bullfighting cape) as my father was a “torero”. Bullfighting has been my life, my passion, what has kept me going and what I have lived on, its an art form,”

Potential candidates for the mayor position have voted against continuing bullfighting in the Colombian capital, as Petro could be outed following Santamaría’s planned re-opening for a new bullfighting season in January 2017, following maintenance works.

Current city counsellor Lucía Bastidas, has entered into the debate, as culture and animal rights go head to head; “we have to all live together, be it if you are for or against bullfighting, differing races, colors, cultures and thoughts. This is a democracy.”

The final decision will be opened to referendum vote, set to be cast in October.

In a continent where illegal dog fights and bets on roosters still go on behind closed doors, a ban on bullfighting could just be the start of an even longer debate in Colombia and beyond.