After an absence of four years, bullfighting returned to Bogota on Sunday – but the event was not without controversy. Protests against the fiesta began a full three hours before it was due to start, with around a thousand people from animal rights and environmental groups, among others, turning out to voice their opposition to the event.
A previous mayor of the Colombian city, Gustavo Petro, had in effect prohibited bullfighting from taking place in the city, by refusing to lease out bullrings to bullfighting organizers, according to the Colombia Reports website. However, a Constitutional Court ruling paved the way for the activity to return to the city, on the basis that the de facto ban violated the right to expression of the bullfighters.
Around 1,200 police officers were at the Santamaría bullring waiting for the protestors on Sunday morning, there to “guarantee the constitutional right of [bullfighting] fans” to see their heroes in the ring. They included El Juli, the most popular man of the moment, Luis Bolívar, seen as the best torero in Colombia, and Andrés Roca Rey, who, aged just 20, was the sensation of the last bullfighting season.
Tensions rose just before the action started in the ring, with several incidents between spectators and protestors, who were shouting “Murderers!” at those in attendance, as well as throwing red paint and other objects at those trying to get into the bullring.
Faced with the skirmishes, riot police intervened, firing tear gas at the crowds in a bid to disperse them. Inside the bullring the crowd responded with an “olé” every time they heard a tear-gas round being fired, as if it was all part of the day’s action.
Several arrests were made as a result of the scuffles between fans and protestors, with insults flying between the two sides. One public worker had to be taken from the scene on a stretcher for medical treatment within the bullring after being pelted with stones.
While in the ring 20-year-old Roca Rey allowed the apprentice bullfighters, known as novilleros, to participate while he faced the sixth bull of the day. The gesture was to recognize their actions after bullfighting was banned in the city, when they chained themselves to the bullring and went on hunger strike in protest.
English version by Simon Hunter.