Return of Bullfighting to Bogotá Spurs Protests

After a four-year absence, bullfighting returned to Bogotá, the capital and largest city of Colombia, on January 22 amid controversy and protests. Gustavo Petro, the former mayor of Bogotá, effectively banned bullfighting from the city in 2012 by refusing to rent the Santamaría Bullring to the bullfighters association. However, Colombia’s constitutional court later restored the legitimacy of bullfighting as part of Colombia’s cultural heritage and a form of artistic expression.

According to Colombian magazine Semana, 1,200 police officers gathered outside of the bullring in anticipation of protests in order to ensure the safety of all participants and fans. Despite the police presence, however, some protesters turned violent, shouting insults and throwing objects such as bottles and stones at spectators attempting to enter the ring. Police used pepper spray and tear gas to maintain order.

After hours of violence, bullfighting enthusiasts were escorted from the stadium by the police in order to ensure their safety. The fierceness of some demonstrators forced restaurants near the Santamaría Bullring to close, and some protesters threw stones at cars attempting to leave.

Afterwards, Bogotá authorities reported 18 arrests and 30 injuries. Seven people, including three police officers, required hospitalization due to the severity of their injuries.

Both Petro and current Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa joined the anti-bullfight protesters. Peñalosa opposes bullfighting but allowed the bullfighters association to rent the Santamaría Bullring in accordance with the ruling of the constitutional court. According to Colombia Reports, the demonstrators included a majority of young people, reflecting a divide between older and younger Colombians regarding the legitimacy of the bullfight.

Natalia Parra Osorio, an opponent of the bullfight who joined the protesters outside the Santamaría Bullring on January 22, described bullfighting as the torture of a sentient being. Natalia continued by criticizing the hypocrisy of the supporters who call upon the idea of freedom but “forget that their own freedom ends where the [bull’s] begins.” However, the validity of this argument continues to be questioned by the scientific community in Colombia. Sociologist and bullfight proponent Alfredo Molano refuted the idea of animal sentience, stating “there is no solid evidence of this thesis.”

Although the court permitted the tradition’s return, current judicial deliberations indicate it may not remain for long. The Colombian constitutional court is currently debating whether bullfighting violates current laws against the mistreatment of animals. For now, the future remains unclear while the issue is discussed at the judicial level.