LATIN AMERICA

Citizens of Bogotá to get the last word on bullfighting

The Colombian capital has taken a step closer to a referendum on the activity But a court must first decide whether it will be legally binding

An anti-bullfighting activist holds up a sign supporting the referendum in Bogotá.
An anti-bullfighting activist holds up a sign supporting the referendum in Bogotá.Mauricio Dueñas Castañeda / EFE

Activists led by Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro have won a new battle against bullfighting. On Tuesday, the city council approved a referendum to ask citizens whether they want to continue hosting the fights.

A court, however, must decide whether the result will be legally binding. Once that obstacle has been overcome, the city will set a date. Mayor Petro has suggested holding the referendum on October 25, the same day as regional elections.

The court had given the city six months to reopen La Santamaría and resume the fights, but it has failed to do so

With 29 votes in favor and 6 against, the mayor seems to be getting his way for the time being. There has been a fierce debate between bullfighting fans and animal welfare groups ever since the mayor closed down Colombia’s most emblematic bullring, La Santamaría, three years ago. He did this by refusing to renew the lease, and calling for performances that celebrate “life, not death.”

Petro dealt the first blow in June 2012 when he shut down La Santamaría. But the city’s bullfighting association, Corporación Taurina de Bogotá, hit back with a legal complaint that eventually reached the Constitutional Court. After nine months, the court sided with the plaintiff and in September 2014 it ordered the mayor to resume bullfights in the ring.

The court based its ruling on a previous decision, which said mayors could not forbid bullfights in municipalities with a tradition of such performances. Petro’s referendum now aims to establish whether bullfighting is indeed a tradition supported by the people of Bogotá or not.

Meanwhile, the country watched as eight novice bullfighters stationed themselves in front of La Santamaría for 100 days, 24 hours a day, to protest the mayor’s stance that the fights amount to animal cruelty and cannot be considered a cultural tradition.

The demonstration even received international support from well-known Colombian, Mexican, and Spanish bullfighters, including César Rincón, who joined dozens of fans at protests in Bogotá and Madrid in defense of the right to attend bullfights.

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The court had given the city six months to reopen La Santamaría and resume the fights, but it has failed to do so. Petro’s government said the ring was in urgent need of renovations and his request was approved, thus delaying compliance with the court’s ruling. Restoration work began a few weeks ago and may last several months.

For now, while a court decides whether the referendum will be legally binding, Petro has been the first to celebrate on Twitter: “It’s very good that the district council has cleared the way for citizens to decide whether they want bullfights in Bogotá or not,” he wrote to his followers.

Translation by Dyane Jean François