Bullfighters from around the world unite to save Bogotá’s bullring

Professionals and fans stage dual demonstration in Colombian capital and Madrid

People protest the closure of La Santamaria bullring in Bogota.
People protest the closure of La Santamaria bullring in Bogota.LUIS ACOSTA / AFP

Bullfighters from Spain, Colombia and Mexico on Wednesday joined hundreds of supporters to protest the closure of Bogotá’s bullring.

The protests took place in the Colombian capital but also in Madrid, and they mark the first time that leading industry professionals have joined forces in defense of their trade.

Famous figures such as El Juli, José María Manzanares, José Padilla, Héctor Octavio García “El Payo,” Diego Silveti and César Rincón, Colombia’s most famous matador, all showed up at the 83-year-old ring, which Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro has decided to shut down.

Eight young Colombians who are training to be full-fledged bullfighters went on a hunger strike in August to protest the city’s decision to rescind the lease on La Santamaría bullring on the basis that public spaces should be used “for activities celebrating life, not death.”

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The strike gained momentum through the social networks, and three months later has managed to bring together the world of bullfighting like nothing else before – not even Catalonia’s decision to ban bullfighting in the region in 2012.

The movement has been led by César Rincón, now the leading spokesman in the protest against the Bogotá mayor. In September, Colombia’s Constitutional Court revoked the city’s decision and authorized the holding of bullfights at La Santamaría.

The high court ruled that there was “no legal regulation imposing a general ban on bull-related spectacles” and ordered the immediate reopening of La Santamaría as a permanent bullring.

But the mayor is in no hurry to comply, and now insists that the building is in urgent need of repairs that could take several months.

Petro, of the left-wing Progressives Movement, once said he would rather give up the mayoral seat than allow bullfighting to return to Bogotá. Following Wednesday’s protest, he described it as “just the despair of a few businessmen who want to make some money.”

Petro insisted that he wants “a city without spectacles of death.”

But hundreds of supporters on Wednesday cheered the eight striking novilleros and their mission to save La Santamaría.

“This is where I was born and this is where I said goodbye,” said Rincón. “This is my symbol, the symbol of freedom and the symbol of freedom for bullfighting.”

El Juli, a famous Spanish bullfighter who has survived several dramatic gorings, was also there to express his support. “It’s impressive, it’s an incredible gesture that sums up all the values of the art of bullfighting,” he said. “It is thanks to them that our voices are heard. Let’s hope justice is done.”

Bullfighting critic Antonio Caballero read out a manifesto in support of bullfighting signed by several leading cultural figures, including writer Mario Vargas Llosa, singer-songwriter Joaquín Sabina and Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

In Madrid, several hundred bullfighting supporters held their own protest a few hours earlier under the slogan “Madrid looks to Bogotá.”

“Thank you for waking up the world of bullfighting,” read a spokesman in a message to the eight novilleros. “Thank you for being a role model not just to bullfighting aficionados but to all youngsters in a society without values. You have proven that the effort is worth it, that sacrifices can unite continents, and that commitment is the way to reach your dreams.”