A critical vote on the ban on bullfighting awaits in Colombia

VILLAPINZON, Colombia — A 61-year-old matador nicknamed “America’s Little Gypsy” fell headfirst into the dust when a bull gored him. He recovered to the applause of the crowd and killed the bull with a sword thrust into the back of his head.

He was among six veteran bullfighters who performed for free on a recent Saturday for about 150 people at an emerald green hacienda in the Colombian Andes. The festival was meant to raise money for a foundation hoping to save the centuries-old tradition from a national ban pushed by politicians who say bullfighting is cruel and unethical.

“Colombia’s art and culture must survive,” matador Jelain Fresneda said after the tough bout, shaking the dust off his tight suit. – We must ensure that our freedoms are respected.

Colombia is one of eight countries where bullfighting is still legal.

However, the tradition has recently taken a hit around the world: courts and municipalities in cities such as Barcelona, ​​Medellin and Mexico City have issued rulings that have discouraged the events.

The Colombian Senate approved the nationwide ban in December. The House of Representatives, which narrowly voted down the previous ban in November, could take up the latest legislation in the coming weeks when it returns from a three-month recess.

It will be a closely watched vote in Colombia, where bullfighting has been held since colonial times but where public opinion has shifted against the practice on ethical grounds, as it has in other parts of the world.

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“We’re talking about sentient beings,” said Andrea Padilla, the recently elected senator and longtime animal rights activist who drafted the anti-bullfighting law.

“These mammals have a nervous system that allows them to feel pain and suffering with the same intensity as humans, and who should not be subjected to a slow and painful death.”

Padilla’s law proposes to ban all bullfighting within three years. He also says that bullfighting should be amended immediately so that the animals are not killed in the arenas and attacked with pikes and hand harpoons called banderillas.

Bullfighting enthusiasts say the measures would effectively end the tradition of fighting and taunting a bull in three stages, each lasting about six minutes. First, a rider wounds the bull with a long pike. Swift-footed assistants then rush to the bull to drive sharp harpoons into the animal’s upper back. Finally, the bull was killed with the matador’s sword.

Bullfighting supporters say a ban would eliminate an art form, deprive rural residents of a popular pastime and deny street vendors a livelihood at bullfights. They also argue that politicians like Padilla are trying to force their beliefs on others.

“Almost all human-raised cattle go to the slaughterhouse,” said Gonzalo Sanz de Santamaria, a bull breeder who attended a recent festival in the Andean town of Villapinzon, about a two-hour drive northeast of Bogotá.

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“But the bull dies in the temple, is admired, applauded, shows its courage and fights for its life.”

Santamaria is a fourth-generation rancher and director of the Cultural Freedom Foundation, a group that supports bullfighting, cockfighting, rodeos and other traditional events involving animals.

Santamaria said that for breeders like him, the bulls are like “gods” raised with the utmost care on free-range pastures where they are “admired and revered.”

According to surveys, bullfighting enthusiasts like Santamaria make up a small portion of Colombia’s population. According to a November poll by Datexco, 85% of Colombians agreed with the banning of bullfighting, while 13% opposed the banning of the tradition.

However, many politicians in Colombia’s House of Representatives were reluctant to vote against bullfighting. In November, a bullfighting ban introduced by Congressman Juan Carlos Losada was narrowly defeated by just three votes, and some lawmakers said they favored a bill that would “moderate” bullfighting by making some of the weapons used in the events less dangerous. makes it invasive.

In parts of Colombia, such as the city of Manizales, bullfights still attract thousands of spectators each year. The town’s bullring is owned by the local chapter of the Red Cross, and the town’s annual bullfighting festival raises thousands of dollars for a children’s hospital.

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“It’s sad that people who know nothing about our sector want to make laws about us,” said Sergio Alzate, 22, a student at the city’s bullfighting school and aspiring matador.

Still, Senator Padilla and thousands of others in Colombia argue that there is no ethical justification for events where animals are killed for entertainment.

“Any society that wants to move forward in nonviolence, peace and respect for life must ban these cruel spectacles,” Padilla said. He added that his bill directs the government to help create new sources of income for bullfighting workers.

Some advocates focus on the future of Colombia’s herd of fighting bulls, whose market value would plummet following a ban and many breeders would be forced to sell them to slaughterhouses.

Miguel Aparicio, a businessman who runs a shelter for farm animals outside Bogotá, says he has already received eight young bulls from breeders who are reducing their operations as the number of bullfights declines in Colombia.

He said bull farms should consider reinventing themselves as eco-tourism sites or bull fighting sanctuaries so people can enjoy these animals without seeing them killed.

“Banning bullfighting alone will not protect the bulls,” Aparicio said. “We need to find a solution that takes into account the interests of these animals.”

Source: https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/bullfighting-ban-faces-critical-legislative-vote-colombia-98005342