Full Title Name:  Legal Framework of Bullfighting and Societal Context in Colombia

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Angie Vega Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2018 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal & Historical Center 1 Country of Origin:  Colombia
Summary: 2023 Update: Despite the efforts of animal activists and members of congress, six bills being introduced in the past six years, and many unconstitutional lawsuits, the legal status of bullfighting in Colombia remains the same. Bullfighting is allowed in those municipalities where it is a culturally-rooted tradition. Moreover, Local governments of cities and municipalities that meet this requirement do not have the authority to prohibit bullfighting or to modify the conditions under which they take place. Large cities such as Bogota, Manizales, and Cali meet these criteria. Therefore, bullfights are allowed to take place in them despite the opposition of the local governments. The Constitutional Court’s precedent establishes that as a cultural tradition, bullfighting is constitutionally protected, and congress is the only one that can regulate or prohibit this practice (see Sentencia C-041, 2017; Sentencia C-666, 2010; and Sentencia C-889 de 2012). The national bullfighting statute, enacted in 2004, is still valid. This essay provides an overview of the current situation and the legal framework regarding bullfighting in Colombia. The Spanish conquest of Latin America dramatically transformed cultural practices. Spanish heritage was brought with the colonization of the South American countries and with it the cultural practices of bullfighting that carries a strong element of tradition in the Hispanic culture. The evolution of laws and court decisions regarding bullfighting have been dramatically altered in recent years. Today, the position of the Colombian Constitutional Court is aimed at the abolishment of the practice. However, the Colombian Congress’ position regarding bullfighting is not as clear. Tradition has been one of the main arguments in the justification of bullfighting. However, it is important to understand that the current debate focuses on whether bullfighting should be regulated or abolished.

I. Introduction

Bullfighting is defined by the Royal Spanish Academy as “the art of fighting bulls.” The sport has its origins in Rome, where the first bullfight in history took place around 2000 years ago. Bullfighting as we know it today was born in Spain in the 15th century (Royal Spanish Academy, Dictionary of the Spanish Language, available at http://www.rae.es/consultas-linguisticas (2017)).

Bulls were initially used as a form of entertainment in ancient Rome. Bulls were forced to fight against humans as entertainment for the populous. In Spain, bulls were used as part of hunting shows and then harvested for food. Later, the Spanish elites also used them to prepare for war in the 17th century. Over the years, elites passed this practice on to the lower classes of society, who took over the practice. In Colombia, bullfighting arrived with the Spanish colonization. Since then, it has been one of the most important and traditional celebrations in the country and a majority of the population has been to a bullfight at least once in their lifetime. Currently, due to the high cost that the activity involves, bullfighting in Colombia is primarily attended by the wealthy (RIUS, Toros si, toreros no, (1st ed.) Editorial Grijalbo S.A. de C.V. México (1990)).

Today, bullfighting is permitted in countries such as Spain, France, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. Many consider it an important part of their culture and an art form. It has become a very sophisticated practice, demanding great skill and courage according to those in the industry. Over the years, this practice has evolved and many unique weapons have been developed in order to injure the bull, making sure it is debilitated just enough to be killed in the last phase of the corrida, “the third of the death” (Breve historia de la Tauromaquia. ¿Cultura? o ¿Muerte? Available at www.taringa.com (2011)).

Two of the High Courts of the Colombian Judicial Branch, The State Council and the Constitutional Court have stated to Congress that it is their Constitutional duty to decide the future of bullfighting.

The Constitutional Court, in its decision C-041 of 2017, declared unconstitutional the exceptions to the Statute of Animal Protection Ley 84 of 1989 where bullfighting is one of the activities permitted by the law. The Constitutional Court ordered the legislative branch to decide in a period of two years whether bullfighting will continue to be protected by law.

Bullfighting is one of the seven activities that are outside of the scope of the Statute of Animal Protection. These seven activities are established as exceptions to the duty to protect animals from unnecessary pain and suffering under Article 7 of the Statute of Animal Protection Ley 84, 1989. As a result, bullfighting, together with six other activities that will be explained throughout this document, are legal in the entire country. Bullfighting is deeply rooted in Colombian society, but it has lost popularity in recent years thanks to pressure from various animal activist groups that are gaining attention from the government and society. Many see this as an important time in the legal evolution of bullfighting, with groups supporting the sport clashing with those who seek to abolish it.

In fact, Bill 271 was filed and accepted by Congress in 2017. This bill seeks to eliminate bullfighting in the country. Different polls that have been calculated throughout the country, show the position of the community in this matter. For example, Caracol Radio, one the most well-known radio stations in Colombia, did a poll in 2009 on whether people in Colombia approved or disapproved bullfighting. The results showed that 78% of the 500 people that voted against bullfighting, 19% voted in favor, and 2.6% were indifferent to the topic. All the participants were from some of the major cities in Colombia that have bullfighting seasons (El 78% de los colombianos desaprueba las corridas de toros, revela sondeo de Caracol Radio, available at www.caracol.com.co/radio/. (February 2009)). Corporacion Arcoiris in its weekly poll, asked: “After five years, the capital of Colombia witnesses bullfighting again with the reopening of Plaza Santamaria. In your opinion, this is (multiple choice): Shameful (60%), Inhumane (34%), culture/art (6%) National Pride (0%) (Weekly poll, Resultado de Encuesta: Volvieron las corridas de toros a la Santa María, available at www.arcoiris.com.co. (January, 2017)). El Pais, one of the most well known newspapers, did two different polls through its website where 35,533 people participated. To the first question, “Do you believe bullfighting will disappear," 60,16% of the respondents answered yes, while 39.84% answered no. To the second question, “Do you believe bullfighting should be prohibited 58.10% responded yes, while 41.90% said no (Encuesta ¿Se deben prohibir los toros? Available at www.elpais.com (September, 2017)). These results reflect that a majority of the population hope that Congress will legislate against the constitutionality of this practice and show that society is more likely to be ready to accept the abolition of this practice.

This paper first begins by exploring the roots of bullfighting. It will then examine the evolution of the bullfighting culture in Colombia. Legal measures used to stop the practice are examined as well as the legal measures used to support it. It will then explain the interaction between the legislative and the judicial branch and how it had created an environment of uncertainty in the matter of bullfighting. Finally, it explains the isolated case of Bogota, the capital of Colombia, and how that has affected the rest of the country.

II. Origins of Bullfighting

The first bullfights in history took place in the Roman Colosseum. The Romans brought animals of the Urus species, a large bull with sharp horns that has since become extinct. The breed was commonly known by Spaniards as angry bulls, or “toros bravos," from the Iberian Peninsula. These bulls were brought to fight against Roman prisoners who were forced to fight for entertainment. Roman Circuses with bullfighting were intended to keep the people entertained with barbaric and bloody shows notably during the Fall of Rome.

Initially in the Coliseum, prisoners did not have great success fighting against lions, as was commonplace. Roman leaders concerned that onlookers would be displeased, began to bring the “angry bulls” to Rome for use in the Coliseum. The bulls provided a more entertaining show because fighters generally remained alive longer and would have a chance to fight back. Bulls all but guaranteed a slow death show, giving the Romans the kind of entertainment that they were looking for. Roman Circuses disappeared with the fall of the Roman Empire (.RIUS, Toros si, toreros  no, (1st ed.) Editorial Grijalbo S.A. de C.V. México 1990).

While bullfighting was done in Rome as a form of entertainment, in Spain, the Spaniards hunted bulls with the purpose of nourishment rather than for show. Around the year 1400, the Spaniards began to create a show out of bull hunting, much like the Englishmen practiced with fox hunting and Germans and Italians did with deer and other animal hunting. In Spain, bulls after capture, were placed in large corrals to be dramatically chased down and killed in a dramatic show (.RIUS, Toros si, toreros  no, (1st ed.) Editorial Grijalbo S.A. de C.V. México 1990).

In the 18th century, the Spanish noble class embraced bullfighting when the Arabs were expelled from Spain. Soldiers practiced and prepared for war by killing the bull while skillfully maneuvering on horseback. The noble class had servants to assist in practice by distracting bulls with a cape when the riders fell from their horses. These practice scenarios were very similar to the bullfights as we know them today (.RIUS, Toros si, toreros  no, (1st ed.) Editorial Grijalbo S.A. de C.V. México 1990).

The practice became so popular that special enclosures were built by the nobility. In 1701, Felipe V, the new anointed King of Spain, prohibited the activity, believing that such sport did not meet standards of the nobility. King Felipe left this practice in the hands of servants who from then would partake in the sport. This was an important moment in the history of bullfighting. “La fiesta brava” (Spanish for bullfighting), went from being considered a noble sport to becoming a vile plebeian spectacle to which the aristocracy attended for entertainment. “La fiesta” evolved and gradually employed new weapons to kill the bull in a drawn-out fashion. Today, the torero or matador puts all his efforts into weakening the bull’s neck muscles. This action is conducted with the purpose of forcing the bull to lower his head to give the torero an opportunity for a final sword thrust between the shoulder blades (.RIUS, Toros si, toreros  no, (1st ed.) Editorial Grijalbo S.A. de C.V. México 1990).

III. Bullfighting in the Colombian Culture (How did this practice arrive in Colombia?)

Bullfighting in Colombia traces its roots back to the time of colonization. Spanish bulls brought to South America exhibited a famous character and distinct features. Those unique genetic features passed on the “toro de lidia," which is the breed used in bullfighting today (Newspaper article, Periodico el pais, “Feria taurina/Historia Toreo”, EL PAIS S.A.).

Bullfighting served as a distraction for the Spanish nobility, but also became a spectacle popular with the lower classes. These celebrations were the perfect scenario for the populous to display their economic status in society.

A. Colonization and the Arrival of Bullfighting to The New Land

In Colombia, written records exist of at least six bullfights in the first half of the 16th century. By the time of the colonization, bullfights took place to celebrate the arrival of the Crown and a royal audience. In the first half of the 16th century, councils of cities and villages were in charge of organizing and promoting bullfights. Members of the councils selected townsfolk that were tasked to sponsor the construction of bullrings with balconies in the “Plaza Mayor.” At that time, permanent bullfighting stadiums did not exist. The wooden balconies were to provide safety and comfort for the wealthy. The craftsmen were tasked to build a bullring in the Main Square or “plaza principal,” putting up a wooden fence to protect the public. However, this enclosure was no guarantee of safety, as cattle would occasionally run over the fence and scare people away. The celebration would conclude at night, with the torched bull spectacle or “espectaculo del toro encandelillado.” This event entailed wrapping up a bull’s horns in oil soaked rags that would be lit on fire. The pain would agitate the animal, which would chase down foolish drunken viewers that dared to enter the ring (BERTRAND, Annie “La fiesta de los toros en Colombia-siglos XVI-XIX*”, Paris, (1999), available at http://www.bdigital.unal.edu.co/1328/8/06CAPI05.pdf).

At the end of the 16th century, complying with Pope Pius V’s order to forbid bullfights and other similar sports with wild animals, the Colombian ecclesiastical authorities were forced to prohibit bullfighting. Nevertheless, the Church and the people did not fully comply with this order. The mandate did not apply to other regions outside the capital Bogota. Bullfighting was reestablished in Colombia a hundred years later by the President of the Audience, Don Diego de Cordoba, subject to a condition that it could not be celebrated at night or during worship. It appears that throughout the 18th century bullfighting continued. Despite the papal mandate, society did not comply with the mandate. (BERTRAND, Annie “La fiesta de los toros en Colombia-siglos XVI-XIX*”, Paris, (1999), available at http://www.bdigital.unal.edu.co/1328/8/06CAPI05.pdf).

B. The Viceroy and Expansion of Bullfighting In The 1700’s

Bullfighting’s popularity in Colombia increased significantly in 1739, under the power of Viceroy Jose Solis. After his election, the council mandated there would be five days of bullfights to honor the Viceroy. Carlos III, the King of Spain at that time, banned bullfights because he considered them to be barbaric and of the lower class. After this prohibition, other sports such as “coleo” (a sport consisting of two horsemen chasing down a bull while riding, grabbing him by the tail to turn him over) were born. Viceroy Pedro Messia de la Cerda, who was Jose Solis’ successor, was a big proponent of bullfighting. However, he never promoted this activity from his office, out of respect for Carlos III. The Viceroy would have novillada bullfights for his own enjoyment at his country house with friends and members of the elite from the capital. During this time, while bullfighting was prohibited in the capital, citizens from different colonies practiced it without restrictions (BERTRAND, Annie “La fiesta de los toros en Colombia-siglos XVI-XIX*”, Paris, (1999), available at http://www.bdigital.unal.edu.co/1328/8/06CAPI05.pdf).

C. Arrival of The “Professional” Bullfighters: 1800s

The first group of professional Spanish bullfighters arrived from Spain in 1890. People from Bogota witnessed for the first time how the bullfights were performed in Spain. People learned that in bullfighting, the audience had to enjoy the show from wooden stands, not from the streets where they previously had direct interaction with the animal. After the death of Carlos III in 1788, bullfighting started to be publicly practiced again (BERTRAND, Annie “La fiesta de los toros en Colombia-siglos XVI-XIX*”, Paris, (1999), available at http://www.bdigital.unal.edu.co/1328/8/06CAPI05.pdf).

This historical context is a main reason why bullfighting is considered to many as an important part of Colombian culture; it remained a common practice of citizens throughout the country ever after the declaration of independence from Spain. Bullfights were present in the celebration of major historic events. The Declaration of Independence on July 20, 1810 was followed by a bullfight and a Catholic mass. The installation of the first Republican congress, the election of the first elected president Antonio Nariño, and the Liberation of Bogota in 1826 are other events that were followed by bullfights. In 1819, after the revolution against Spain, bullfighting was legitimized as a custom. Key historical events all concluded with a bullfight. (BERTRAND, Annie “La fiesta de los toros en Colombia-siglos XVI-XIX*”, Paris, (1999), available at http://www.bdigital.unal.edu.co/1328/8/06CAPI05.pdf).

D. The First Bullrings in Colombia: The 20th Century

In the 19th century, advertising of bullfights throughout the country and the construction of the bullrings was up to individual owners, who often times were the same bullfighters. Indeed, these men became celebrities that were worshipped by members of the local privileged class.

In the 20th century, businessmen that belonged to partnerships took over the tasks of advertising and the construction of the plazas. The businessmen built strong buildings with remarkable architectural designs, many of which remain standing to this day (BERTRAND, Annie “La fiesta de los toros en Colombia-siglos XVI-XIX*”, Paris, (1999)).

E. Where Bullfighting Stands Today In Society

Today, bullfights still occur in certain cities throughout the country. However, the Constitution has limited the requirements under which bullfighting can be celebrated. Now, only cities that have historically and traditionally celebrated bullfighting seasons can continue to have them, as it is their constitutional right. (This topic will be discussed further later in the paper). Bullfighting is an ongoing controversial and deeply divisive topic in Colombia. People are passionate about bullfighting, regardless of which side they align with. This is a major reason why these interests are so hard to reconcile. The future of bullfighting in the Colombia is currently in the hands of Congress. In Bogota, in January 2017, the current Mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa, ordered the reopening of the most important bullfighting stadium, Plaza Santamaria. Different animal groups convened public protest, pressuring the politicians and the courts to rule on this matter. Mayor Peñalosa stated that it was his duty as the Mayor to comply with the mandate of the Constitutional Court.

Currently, bullfighting is not prohibited under any law. In fact, it is exempted from the Animal Protection Statute. However, there are recent decisions that threaten to change the status of legality that bullfighting has in the Colombian legal system. In 2017, the Constitutional Court declared bullfighting unconstitutional as the court found this practice unnecessary and cruel. Nonetheless, this decision’s effect was delayed two years. The court stated it was part of Congress’ duty to rule in this matter, and gave Congress an allotted  time period to address the issue (discussed further in Section V).

Animal groups are demanding that bullfighting be declared illegal by the Colombian legal system. The judicial branch has had to decide on significant number of unconstitutionality claims on the taurine regulation, which is the act that regulates the practice of bullfighting in Colombia (discussed further in section V), and decisions that limit and define bullfighting. As Colombia is a civil law country, the Court has been reluctant to issue a final decision regarding this matter. In 2017, the Court held bullfighting and some of other practices that involve animal cruelty to be unconstitutional, but gave Congress two years to rule on the matter after deciding two lawsuits brought against the exceptions of the Animal Protection Statute. The Court held that it was the legislative branch’s duty to legislate on bullfighting and that, in case that it did not do so, the court would declare bullfighting, coleo, corralejas and cockfighting illegal because they are abusive and cruel to animals.

At the same time, the Bogota State Council ordered the City of Bogota to call for a popular consultation or referendum, so people in the capital could weigh in on whether they want the bullfights to continue in the city. The popular consultation has been upheld and Bogota is now waiting for the date on which they will have the opportunity to express their formal opinion.

IV. Supporting and Opposing Arguments Concerning Bullfighting

There are many arguments over the pros and cons of bullfighting in Colombia. These debates range from arguments over animal cruelty, tradition of the practice, culture, and bullfighting as a form of art. Both parties refer to these issues in debating bullfighting’s future.

A. Is it Animal Cruelty?

Bullfighting supporters argue that pain and suffering are not the main purpose of bullfighting. Bullfighting is a ritual where the matador and the bull fight for their lives, therefore when a bull is killed, it is killed with dignity. Bullfighting is what the “toro de lidia” breed was created for. Without bullfighting, this breed would disappear as it is bred for combat. Without the practice, years of tradition and effort for the evolution of the species would be for naught. Bullfighting supporters maintain certain animal species including the bull exist for serving humans. One of the bullfighting supporters’ main argument is that bullfighting is a cultural activity with deep roots in Hispanic traditions that go back 300-400 years to the time of colonization (Carlos Contreras, “la quasi penalización de los espectáculos con animales por parte de la Corte Constitucional.” Barcelona (2017)).

On the other hand, bullfighting opponents state that bullfighting is a cruel activity where the bulls are victims. Bullfighting is a practice where the parties involved are not held to the same conditions. During the bullfight, bulls are stabbed several times to induce bleeding and, as a result, their lungs are flooded with blood making breathing difficult. Other common injuries include muscle tearing, and skull fractures just to name a few. Bulls also experience many other physical and mental traumas during the bullfight. A bullfight is not a fair contest, according to critics. If it took place in an open field, the bull’s instinct would be to run away and escape. The “fighting bull” is not naturally aggressive. Bullfighting opponents claim that its erratic behavior is due to the horrific abuses it has been victim of for two days preceding the bullfight. The bull is trying to defend itself while being tortured.

B. Tradition

Tradition has long been a strong argument for bullfighting supporters. It seems to be a belief among people that those practices deeply rooted in societies are deemed untouchable. The legal analysis goes to whether this long-standing tradition is justifiable by the morals of the modern Colombian society.

Bullfighting opponents state that culture and tradition do not exist in perpetuity. A practice that is considered part of a culture is not necessarily good or fair. Not all the traditions are just, and customs are valid as long as they do not impair the rights of third parties. In this case, the bulls that are tortured and killed for entertainment is not a valid tradition. Culture and tradition are subject to revision by society. As society evolves, it judges what practices are accepted under its new moral values and guidelines (Carlos Contreras, “la quasi penalización de los espectáculos con animales por parte de la Corte Constitucional.” Barcelona (2017)).

C. Bullfighting Supporters as a Minority

Bullfighting supporters see themselves as a minority. They claim that there is a violation of their rights when people are denied their right to attend to bullfighting events. They argue that it is an uncivilized and undemocratic position as minorities enjoy of special constitutional protection; therefore, the prohibition of bullfighting is a violation of the constitution.

The bullfighting opposition states that the duty of protection of constitutional rights of minorities applies in the context of those minorities that have been excluded and are vulnerable to abuses. The taurine guild is indeed a minority, but a privileged one that has social, economic and political power. Thus, the constitutional protection does not apply to this group. Moreover, the Constitution does not protect bullfighting or any other activity that requires the use of animals (Carlos Contreras, “la quasi penalización de los espectáculos con animales por parte de la Corte Constitucional.” Barcelona (2017)).

D. Extinction of Fighting Bulls

Bullfighting supporters argue that the “fighting bull” breed has a genetic classification that is different from the rest of the cattle species. It is the result of a generic evolution over hundreds of years. This breed would diminish with the prohibition of bullfighting due to the necessary breeding and growth of the “toro de lidia” that demands financial investment and time. These bulls are raised in large pastures for more than four years and they are fed with high quality food. To maintain this breed would be unprofitable as cattle for human consumption are raised in very different conditions at a significantly faster rate before they are taken to the slaughter house (Interview. “Fiesta brava en Bogotá: ¿Sí o no? Debate con Vicky Dávila.” (Debate within Hollman Morris, council member of Bogota and José Félix Lafaurie, President of the Colombian Federation of Rangers “FEDEGAN” on whether bullfighting should be allowed) Colombia (2017), available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3R5SvbjPYE).

Bullfighting opponents contend the extinction of the “Toro de Lidia” is an anthropocentric view, and the torture of a species cannot be the justification for its perpetuity. Animals should not be raised for the purpose of being tortured and killed for entertainment.

E. Animal Consumption

Bullfighting supporters claim that those that are against bullfighting do not truly care about the animal’s wellbeing. They point to a conflict of interest in condemning bullfighting, but not to suffering of animals who are used for consumption. To this premise, bullfighting opponents respond that bullfighting and other activities that involve animals for entertainment are especially cruel, as it promotes the torture and death of the animal. Bullfighting is not a priority for the Colombian society; bullfighting events are a luxury to which only a small sector is privileged enough to attend. Animals destined for human consumption do suffer, but their death is not a public a spectacle. Bullfighting and the conditions of animals for consumption are separate issues that require individual reform, opponents contend.

F. Bullfighting as a Source of Employment

Bullfighting supporters maintain that bullfighting generates significant employment opportunities for people of various economic statuses and education. The prohibition of bullfighting would leave hundreds of people without a job, and it would lead to in a substantial negative impact upon the Colombian economy. Others contend bullfighting is not necessary as an employment generator. Prohibition advocates maintain that there are many ways to make a living without harming animals. They state bullfighting is an unjust practice that must be prohibited regardless of those that gain profit from it. The Colombian government has an obligation to give unemployment assistance. Bill 271 of 2017 proposes that the government and the departments work together to create a plan of employment substitution for those that can prove that are affected by the prohibition of bullfighting. If so, they are guaranteed options of employment integration. Bullfighting opponents state that bullfighting is occasional. The bullfight colosseum is only used during the taurine season and sporadically to have “novilladas” in Bogota along with cities festivals. Opponents argue that the colosseum can be utilized for other non-bullfighting activities. Those activities can be monetized to provide for upkeep and staff salaries, from events such sports games and concerts.

G. Bullfighting as a Form of Art

Supporters of bullfighting claim that bullfighting is an expression of art. They describe this practice, the interaction of the matador’s skills and his graceful movements along with the ferociousness of the bull, as an exciting and inspiring moment. The ritual between the matador and the bull have been the inspiration for other expressions of art such as literature, dance, poetry, music and painting. Prohibiting bullfighting would be a loss for culture in society.

The opposition asserts that there is no beauty in cruelty and bullfighting is not worth its cost. Bullfighting’s moral price is too much to ignore in modern society critics claim. Bullfighting as a form of art is an outdated discussion; it is not a valid argument to permit this practice. Animal advocates argue that modern society goes beyond the beauty of those inspiring practices and invalidates everything that undermines dignity and promotes disrespect for the different forms of life.

H. Bullfighting and Economy

Proponents argue bullfighting is a lucrative business that has a significant impact on the economy. Bullfighting generates millions of pesos per season. Financial gains are likely a reason why Congress and the Court are reluctant to prohibit it. The Taurine Guild lobby in favor of bullfighting because they have great financial interest in the sport continuing to prosper. The data show an estimate of how much bullfighting generates per season (Carlos Contreras, “Y que paso con el coleo, las corralejas y las rinas de gallos?” (2017)).

The taurine season in the main Colombian cities involves many different sectors of the Colombian economy. It takes a major logistical effort for industry to operate. According to the website for finance, economic and business “Sector," bullfighting generates per season more than 16,000 jobs in Bogota. Among the various sectors, bullfighting generates jobs for cattle raising, bullfighters, doctors and veterinarians (Revista Portafolio, “Industria Taurina, Motor de Empleo en Colombia” Bogotá, Colombia (2012), available at http://www.portafolio.co/economia/finanzas/industria-taurina-motor-colombia-107622).

The most important colosseums of Colombia are in Bogota, Manizales, Cali and Medellin. Each of them hold around 15,000 people. Tickets for bullfights vary between $45 and $250 USD. Profits are used to pay participants in the bullfight, as well as transportation of the animals. Bogota and Medellin have bullfighting seasons, while in Cali and Manizales bullfights take place daily during the city’s annual festivals (Revista Portafolio, “Industria Taurina, Motor de Empleo en Colombia” Bogotá, Colombia (2012), available at http://www.portafolio.co/economia/finanzas/industria-taurina-motor-colombia-107622).

Raising bulls is one of the most lucrative jobs within the industry. The price for a single bull could reach COP$5,000,000, and an average of six bulls are used per bullfight. Foreign bullfighters are paid up to $150,000 dolars per bullfight, and local bullfighters around $20,000. The city of Bogota receives around $300,000 dollars per bullfight for leasing property to the organizers. Management must pay a gambling tax, a public event tax, and additional taxes up to 35% for the participation of foreign bullfighters (Revista Portafolio, “Industria Taurina, Motor de Empleo en Colombia” Bogotá, Colombia (2012), available at http://www.portafolio.co/economia/finanzas/industria-taurina-motor-colombia-107622).

In addition, many business benefit from bullfighting as well. Advertising through radio television and media promote the event in various cities. Restaurants around the colosseum fill up before and after the bullfights, as well as hotels. Bullfighting attracts tourists from all over the world and the economic impact resembles large-scale sporting events.

With all the profits that that bullfighting generates, bullfighting supporters have a strong argument to present to the government and society that bullfighting is beneficial for the economy of the country.

Animal groups present alternative activities that could replace bullfighting in public coliseums to reclaim profits and employment. Concerts, and other cultural events, according to the bullfighting opposition could create a use for the colosseums in place of bullfighting. Admittedly, the economic argument plays a strong role against the outlawing of bullfighting.

V. Current Social Context of Bullfighting in Colombia

Bullfighting is a much-debated topic in Colombia nowadays. There is a significant, but decreasing, number of people that still support this practice.  As this activity has been able to survive in the country after four-hundred years, supporters of this practice hold that it cannot be prohibited as since it is part of their roots and an important component of their culture. On the other hand, there is the group that demands the abolishment of this practice, as they argue it is inhumane to animals. The country is certainly very polarized in this matter.

Bullfighting used to be a common practice accepted by the majority of Colombian citizens.  Although the number, of people that is opposed to animal cruelty and that demand governmental protection for them seems to be increasing rapidly, there is the apathetic part of the population. This group does not necessarily support bullfighting, but it does indeed accept it as part of Colombian culture.

The controversy escalated when the ex-mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro, unilaterally ordered the closing of Plaza Santamaria in 2012. Located in the capital, it is the most important bullring in Colombia. In January 2017, after five years, two lawsuits against the Capital District, and protests, that included hunger strikes, the Plaza Santamaria was reopened under the new administration of Enrique Peñalosa. The new Mayor ordered the reopening of the colosseum which complied with the decision of the Constitutional Court that ordered Gustavo Petro (former Mayor of Bogota) to renew the leasing contract of the Plaza Santamaria, and to respect the freedom of artistic and cultural expression of the minorities in 2015. (The current situation in Bogota will be discussed in Section IX) The power struggle in Bogota shows how the cultural conflict over bullfighting is complicated by local versus national politics.

VI. The Current Legislative Context of Bullfighting

Colombia has become more progressive with its animal protection laws. In fact, several laws have been passed that establish duties toward animals and penalties for abuse. These laws are quite progressive and reflect that animals are sentient creatures. However, several of these laws specifically exempt bullfighting from their reach. In addition, Colombia has laws that specifically regulate activities associated with bullfighting, particularly the National Taurine Statute or Ley 916 of 2004, and Ley 1272, 2009 that declared “Corralejas” (traditional bullfighting festivities that are celebrated every year in the Caribbean Coast of Colombia where the public participates in the bullfight) as cultural heritage of the nation. To add to this seeming contradiction, in 2017, the Constitutional Court held bullfighting and all the other exceptions of the Statute of Animal Protection to be unconstitutional. However, it postponed the effects of this decision, as the court considered that it was Congress’s duty to rule in this matter, giving Congress a two-year period to do so. The country seems at odds, finding bullfighting cruel on a national level, but a local tradition that must be protected in certain local districts.

A. Laws Protecting Animals

Colombia has gained ground in advancing animal protection in the past few years. The development in the recognition of animal protection as a constitutional value comes primarily from jurisprudence. The high courts, deciding on unconstitutionality claims, have been creating a normative body where the recognition of animals as sentient beings has gained importance, as there are just a few laws that regulate the matter. Despite this, Congress has been reluctant to legislate against bullfighting. It was Congress in 2004 that issued the National Taurine Statute or Ley 916 of 2004 and that declared “Corralejas” as a heritage of the nation in 2009 through the Ley 1272 de 2009. This apparent conflict creates a legislative uncertainty as to the practice of bullfighting.

An examination of the relevant laws is instructive. There are two major bodies of law in animal protection. The first one is the Ley 84 of 1989, or National Statute of Animal Protection. This statute establishes that “all the animals in the national territory enjoy special protection against suffering and pain caused directly or indirectly by humans.” The main purpose of this law is to punish and to eradicate animal cruelty. It establishes the general duties of humans towards animals. Among these duties is the duty to provide animals with enough food, water, and medicine to guarantee their wellbeing; the duty to provide animals with appropriate space so they can move adequately; and the duty to provide appropriate shelter. Ley 84 also regulates the slaughter of animals for non-consumption, animals in experiments and research, animal transportation, as well as hunting and fishing, among others. This statute also establishes the sanctions for those that cause harm to an animal, ascribing jail time, and subsequent fines.

Unfortunately, not all activities involving animals are subject to these protections. There are seven exceptions established in Article 7 of this statute that are exempted of the protection of this law. These exceptions correspond to:

  • bullfights;
  • rejoneo (a variation of bullfighting, where the bullfighter executes the bull while riding on horseback);
  • coleo (a sport similar to rejoneo, where cattle is pursued by men on horseback, who have to grab the cattle by the tail and make it turn over while going at high speed);
  • novilladas (another variation of bullfighting where young beginners “novilleros” that have not yet gained the title of “matador” participate in the bullfight);
  • corralejas (a type of bullfight in the Caribbean coast of Colombia where the public is allowed to engaged with the bull in the bullring);
  • becerradas (which has the same structure of a regular bullfight, but they use a calf instead of a grown bull);
  • and tientas (where both female and male bulls are tested at age two to see if they are suitable for breeding, bullfighting, or meat for consumption. Males are judged based on their aggression towards horses, as they are not allowed to confront a human on the ground until the day they enter a bullfighting ring. Females are often fully tested by a bullfighter and capes to determine their courage and suitability for breeding. Male bulls who pass the tienta will return to their pastures and females who pass will be used to bear offspring. Those who do not pass are slaughtered);
  • and cockfighting, with all the procedures used in this practice

(Bullfighting Vocabulary, available at http://donquijote.org).

The second Animal Protection Statute is Ley 1774, 2016. This law is a great step forward in the recognition of animal legal protection. Through it, Congress modifies the Civil Code. Animals were previously in the category of goods and chattels in the Civil Code. This statute modifies the provision Article 665 in the civil code that categorized animals as ‘assets’ and recognizes that animals are ‘sentient beings’ subject to special protection against suffering and pain, and typifies animal cruelty as punishable in the legal system. Even though animals are still considered property, they are now part of a different category that affords them special protection. It also creates criminal and judicial procedures as tools to assert its animal protection goals.

Ley 1774, 2016 states that the principle of animal protection “is based on respect, solidarity, compassion, ethics, justice, care, prevention of suffering, eradication of captivity and abandonment, and any other form of abuse, mistreatment, violence and cruel treatment.” It also regulates principles such as animal wellbeing and social solidarity, where “the government, society and its members have the duty to assist and protect animals with diligent actions in situations that put in danger the life, health or physical integrity of animals” (Ley 1774 of 2016, Congress of the Republic of Colombia, Bogota (2016), available at http://www.alcaldiabogota.gov.co/sisjur/normas/Norma1.jsp?i=64468).

Ley 1774, 2016 also modifies the statute of Animal Protection (Ley 84, 1989) that had typified only 25 acts of cruelty against animals. Ley 1774, 2016 goes beyond those 25 acts and adds that any act that is harmful against animals, but that does not cause their death or severe injuries, will be subject to fines. Fines for animal cruelty in comparison to Ley 84 were significantly increased. Now, penalties for committing animal cruelty can go from seven to fifty minimum wages (a minimum wage is the lowest amount of pay that an employer is required to pay an employ on a monthly basis. It is established annually through the law, and once approved, it applies to the entire country. The minimum wage established for 2017 is COP$737,717 (USD$ 251)).

The Criminal Code is modified as well, adding the Title XI-A “Of the Crimes Against Animals.” Animal negligence and abuse are typified as punishable in the legal system. This statute also sets up what circumstances are subject to punitive aggravation. Criminal and judicial procedures are implemented as tools to assert the animal protection goals. The judicial and the policing authorities now have the power to enforce the rules in this statute, and therefore, to avoid impunity. It provides municipal criminal judges the power to hear these cases and the police the power to know of all the violations in this matter. It allows the preventive confiscation of animals that have been abused or neglected and establishes that animal cruelty claims must be addressed by authorities within 24 hours after a claim is filed.

The main purpose of Ley 84, 1989, and Ley 1774, 2016 is to guarantee legal protection of animals, However, these laws have certain limitations; there is a group of activities involving cruel and inhumane treatment of animals that is exempted. These activities are in Article 7 and people who practice are not subject to penalties for incurring in animal maltreatment. These activities are bullfighting, rejoneo, coleo, novilladas, corralejas, becerradas, tientas and cockfighting (briefly explained in section VI). Although this statute was an enormous step in the journey for the recognition of animal rights, it still maintained the exceptions established in Article 7 of the Statute of Animal Protection.

B. Laws Protecting Bullfighting

Not only do the exceptions to animal protection laws exempt bullfighting, but Colombia has laws that specifically enshrine the activity as a cultural tradition. Congress has also made a few statutes that regulate activities where animals participate, more specifically bullfighting and corralejas, disregarding the principle of animal protection. The most significant of these laws is Ley 916, 2004, the “National Taurine Statute," which regulates bullfighting, its preparation, requirements, organization, among other activities inherent to bullfighting. This statute applies to the entire country. Everything that is established in this statute is to guarantee the rights and interests of the public and everyone who participates in this activity. However, there is not any regulation concerning the treatment of bulls and horses during, or after, the bullfights.

The Taurine Statute discusses topics such as the characteristics of the bullring, the name of different areas in the ring, and their purposes. It has an extensive glossary explaining the different methods utilized during the different phases of the bullfight, procedures to weaken and kill the bull, and the moves of the animal and the bullfighters. This statute defines the name of the weapons and how and when to use them. It notes requirements such as that every bullring stadium must provide medical assistance for the participants, with all least four specialized doctors in every bullfight. While on-site medical care is outlined for the human participants, no veterinarian is required to be present during the execution of the bullfight.

In addition to the Taurine Regulation, there are other laws that indirectly promote bullfighting in the country. Ley 1272, 2009 is the statute where Congress declares “la fiesta corralejas” celebrated every January 20th in Sincelejo, the capital of Sucre, as a cultural heritage of the Nation.

“Fiestas Corralejas” are traditional celebrations that take place every January in many towns along the Caribbean coast of Colombia. During these celebrations, specific type of bullfights take place and they are center of the local celebrations. These bullfights are different from the traditional style in which only trained bullfighters are allowed to participate. The bullfights that take place in these celebrations allow the public to actively participate. These regional bullfights are similar to the ones that took place before professional bullfighters from Spain during the colonization. In these events, the public has direct interaction with the bull. They provoke the bull that becomes enraged and charges the spectators. These bullfights typically end with the lynching of the bull, which is beaten to death by the attendees. It is important to mention that many people are injured due to their drunkenness and careless interaction with the bulls during the celebrations as well (Fiestas tradicionales de corralejas, available at https://www.ecured.cu/Fiestas_tradicionales_de_Corraleja).

A controversy lies in the argument that “corralejas” are considered a major tradition on the northern coast of Colombia. Customs that were inherited from the Spanish culture and have been around for centuries. People that attend corralejas are generally part of the lower economic strata. They have grown used to celebrating the local tradition and that custom seems to have been the argument for Congress to declare corralejas a National heritage, which means that these celebrations have been recognized at the legislative level to have an important cultural significance that highly contributes to the historical heritage of Colombia.

Animal advocates argue that the legislative body on bullfighting is outdated. In fact, constitutionality claims have challenged the antiquated regulations before the Constitutional Court. As it stands today, the judicial body regarding bullfighting is more extensive than the laws. The most relevant determinations on the matter have been adopted through judicial decisions, especially during the past few years. The following is a compilation of the most relevant court decisions that regulate this topic.

VII. Court Decisions Impacting Bullfighting

In 2017, the Constitutional Court held bullfighting unconstitutional. However, it is still permitted as the court deferred the effects of its decision and urged Congress to make a decision on whether bullfighting would be regulated or prohibited. This section highlights the chronology of cases litigating bullfighting issues.

Sentencia C-1192, 2005:

Decision C-1192/05 decides on a claim of unconstitutionality against articles 1, 2, 22 and 80 of the Taurine Regulatory Statute ley 916 of 2004. The Court upheld the constitutionality of this law confirming bullfighting as an artistic expression allowed by the Constitution: “A manifestation of Colombia’s diversity, an intangible good that symbolizes one of the many historical-cultural traditions of the Nation.”

The Court stated that since bullfighting is a cultural manifestation of the nation, children do not need to be protected from this practice. The Court believes “children should be provided the opportunity to attend these events so that they can learn and judge for themselves if bullfighting is an art form, or an outdated violent practice. For that reason, the statute does not violate the fundamental rights of children. The court also held that bullfighting is not part of the interpretation of Article 12 that corresponds to the prohibition of torture. The text of the norm speaks about violence and cruel treatment as an “anthropological vision of the human being.”

Sentencia C-367, 2006: 

Decision C-367 decides on the unconstitutionality of some of the provisions of the Taurine Regulatory Statute. The Court held the provisions constitutional, but added a limitation to the participation of minors in the practice of bullfighting. With this decision, children under 14 cannot participate in the “cuadrillas.” The term “cuadrillas” is used to describe the group of people that accompany and assist the matador in the bullring throughout the duration of the bullfight. Sentencia C-367 imposes the principle of impartiality on the behavior of Mayors. Mayors have to act in strict accordance of the Law and the Constitution, and must be impartial when it comes to making decisions that affect this activity. According to this principle, “Mayors have the duty to act, recognizing that the purpose of the different procedures is to assure and guarantee the rights of all the people without any level of discrimination.” The Court also reaffirmed that Congress has complete power to legislate on bullfighting on the national level.

Sentencia C-666, 2010:

The Constitutional Court decided on an unconstitutionality claim against Article 7 of the Statute of Animal Protection Ley 84 of 1989 that corresponds to the exceptions to the duty of animal protection. This providence established the conditions that must be met for the exceptions of Article 7 to apply. Put in different words, through this decision, the court limits the scope of the legality of bullfighting, establishing certain requirements. In its holding, the Court stated that the seven practices in Article 7 would not violate the Constitution, so long as they were done within the following parameters:

  1. As long as it is understood that these animals should, in all cases, obtain special protection against suffering and pain during the execution of these activities. This exception allows the continuation of cultural expressions and entertainment with animals, so long as exceptionally cruel acts against these animals are eliminated, or lessen in the future in a process of adaptation between cultural expressions and duties of protection to animals.
  2. These practices can only take place in municipalities and districts in which the practices are themselves a manifestation of a regular, periodic, and uninterrupted tradition, and therefore their execution responds to a certain regularity.
  3. These practices can only take place during those occasions in which they have usually taken place and in the municipalities and districts where they are authorized.
  4. These are the only practices that are authorized to be part of the exception in Article 7 to the constitutional duty to protect animals.
  5. Municipal authorities cannot economically support the construction of installations for the exclusive execution of the activities listed in Article 7 with public funds.

Sentencia C-889, 2012: 

Decision C-889 grants constitutional value to animal protection. It establishes the parameters for tradition and social roots. It limits the scope of bullfighting in the national territory.

On this opportunity, the court decided on the constitutionality of Arts. 14 and 15 of the statute of Taurine Regulation. It establishes the criteria that must be met in order for bullfighting to be legal:

  1. Bullfighting has to meet the legal conditions established for public shows in general.
  2. Bullfighting must meet the legal conditions established in the statute that regulates the taurine activity ley 916 of 2014.
  3. Bullfighting must comply with the constitutional conditions, restrictions, and limitations established in decision C-666 of 2010 to satisfy the mandate of animal welfare, animal protection and to avoid suffering and pain, social ingrain, location, opportunity, no financial funds, and exceptionality.

Sentencia C-283, 2014:

In decision C-283, the court held that Congress has the power to prohibit certain cultural manifestations that involve animal cruelty. The Court stated that “culture needs to be permanently reevaluated so it can adapt to human evolution, to guarantee of rights and the fulfillment of duties. Especially when the purpose is to eliminate the traces of a marginalized society that has excluded certain individuals and collectives.”

Sentencia C-041, 2017:

Sentencia C-041 is one of the most important court decisions on bullfighting. On this occasion, the court held unconstitutional Article 5 of Ley 1774 of 2016 that referred to the Article 7 of the Statute of Animal Protection. As a reminder, Article 7 contains the seven activities that involve animals for entertainment permitted. The practices permitted correspond to rejoneo, coleo, bullfighting, novilladas, corralejas, becerradas, tientas, cockfighting and all the related practices. The court held that the legislature had fallen into a lack of constitutional protection towards animals, as this law had ignored the limits established by the court in this matter in its decision C-666 of 2010 (Carlos Contreras, “Y que paso con el coleo, las corralejas y las riñas de gallos?” (2017)).

The court considered that Ley 1774 ignored the principle of legality and that this law had reproduced material content previously held to be unconstitutional. However, even though the court was clear in holding these exceptions unconstitutional, it deferred the effects of this decision and urged Congress to legislate in this matter in a two-year period as it considered it was Congress’ duty to legislate on the legal status of bullfighting. The holding of this decision will be upheld if no action is taken by the Congress on this matter within this period.

Over the past 10 years, Courts have turned from regulating the practice of bullfighting and its spectators to examining the constitutionality of the sport under the Animal Protection Act. The court has recognized that bullfighting is a cruel practice that should not be justified under the umbrella of cultural traditions. The court has also stated that Congress can prohibit cultural manifestations that imply animal cruelty. The recognition of a duty of animal protection, as a constitutional value derived from the duty of environment protection and the acceptance that animals are sentient beings, might be a reflection of the evolution of the moral values in the Colombian society. While C-041 did not immediately invalidate the practice of bullfighting, it held bullfighting unconstitutional. However, the court stated that in matters of such importance, Congress is the one that has the last word. Congress was given a limited time to make a decision on this matter, to avoid that the issue stays unresolved.

VIII. Pending Bills on Bullfighting

After seeing the context in which the laws and court decisions regarding bullfighting have developed, it can be concluded that many of the significant changes concerning bullfighting have taken place in the last year. One important measure does seek to eliminate bullfighting, thereby eliminating the practice as an exception to the Animal Protection Act. However, It is pertinent to note that many bills have been filed in 2016-2017 that seek to regulate bullfighting on the national level.

A. Proyecto de ley 271, 2017: Elimination of Bullfighting

This bill was filed after the Constitutional Court through decision C-041 of 2017 urged Congress to legislate on the constitutionality of bullfighting in Colombia and give it within a deadline of two years. The bill seeks to eliminate bullfighting, and some of the practices established as exceptions to the duty of Animal protection in Article 7 of the Statute of Animal Protection. Article 1 of this bill establishes that the purpose of the law is “to strengthen civic culture for peace, respect for life and integrity of sentient beings.” This bill seeks to eliminate bullfighting, as it is an expression of violence and cruelty for entertainment. The bill reads, in Article 4, that territorial entities with government support recommend an attention plan and a proposal with alternatives so people that are benefited by bullfighting have other options of labor integration.

B. Bills Regulating the Practice of Bullfighting

The following bills intend to regulate bullfighting instead of prohibiting it. In the event the bills become law, bullfighting would still be considered constitutional, but subject to certain changes.

Proyecto de ley 164, 2016: This bill seeks to establish special measures against animal suffering and pain during the practice of bullfighting and other activities related to it.

Proyecto de ley 224, 2016: This bill seeks “to prohibit the use of items that lacerate, mutilate, injure or kill animals in public shows.”

It is pertinent to mention those bills that have been presented by the taurine supporters. Their purpose is to keep the practice of bullfighting as it currently stands at worst, or to only negotiate slight modifications.

Proyecto de ley No. 237, 2017: This bill proposes a modification of the Statute of Taurine Regulation. It was withdrawn with the purpose to be improved and be presented during the next legislative period.

Proyecto de ley 228, 2017: This bill proposes a new regulation of “corralejas.”

IX. Current Situation of Bullfighting on the National Level and the Isolated Case of Bogota

The legal situation of bullfighting in Colombia can be analyzed based on what is happening on the national level and in the Capital District of Bogota.

A. Bullfighting status as of 2017

On the National level, the Constitutional Court in its decision C-041 of 2017 held the seven exceptions of the Statute of Animal Protection unconstitutional and ordered Congress to legislate on the issue within two years. It could have made a final decision on this matter, but did decide to uphold Decision C-666 of 2010. This decision held that the legislative power was the only one with the authority to decide on bullfighting, as Congress has the constitutional obligation of making the laws.

This situation created an environment of legal uncertainty, even though the Constitutional Court was clear when it held the exceptions of the article 7 to be unconstitutional. They are still allowed until Congress legislates on the matter.

On May 11, 2017, the former Minister of the Interior of Colombia, Juan Fernando Cristo, with the endorsement of the government, filed Bill No. 271 of 2017 in the General Secretary of the House of Representatives. This bill seeks to eliminate the exceptions of the Animal Protection laws in Colombia established in the statutes of Animal Protection. It was presented after the Constitutional Court Decision C-041 of 2017 gave Congress a timeline of two years to legislative on the matter. The bill has been approved in first debate by the seventh commission of the House of Representatives; now it will proceed to a second debate in the plenary of the senate (Press release, Coalición Colombia sin Toreo, “Proyecto de ley Colombia sin toreo ha sido aprobado en primer debate en la comisión séptima de la cámara de representantes.” Bogotá (2017)). This bill is very important because in the event it passes the remaining debates and is signed by the president, it will have national scope and all the territorial entities will have to abide by the terms of the new law.

B. Bullfighting in Bogota and the Plaza Santamaria

When it comes to the capital, there is a unique situation that has been developing for the past five years. As previously mentioned, Colombia is organized under a unitary model, which means that departments, districts and municipalities must report to the central authority. So why is the bullfighting situation different in Bogota? The epicenter of the problem is Plaza Santamaria. This is the most important bullfighting stadium in Colombia. It was inaugurated in 1931 and it is known for its outstanding architectural design. The Santamaria can hold close to 15,000 people, and it is the arena where the bullfighting season takes place in Bogota every year (La Apasionante historia de la plaza de toros, available at http://www.semana.com/gente/articulo/plaza-de-toros-la-santamaria-clave-para-colombia/509754).

The local government had the power to decide on the future of bullfighting in this city because Plaza Santamaria belongs to the city. Therefore, the city has the power to decide what is the best use that could be assigned to it, as it is a public space of which all the citizens of Bogota are entitled. Since many of the bullfighting stadiums in the country belong to the private sector, the government does not have the power to make any decision on how they can be used. However, in 2012, the court held that mayors did not have the power to ban bullfighting in those cities where it takes place on a traditional and regular basis.

The issue escalated in 2012, when former Mayor Gustavo Petro requested the Taurine Corporation, which is the managing authority of the Plaza, to cease the use of the javelins, swords, and knives used to injure and kill the bull during the bullfight. He basically asked the Taurine Corporation to stop the traditional Spanish-style bullfight and instead opt for the bloodless-style. The reason behind of the request was to stop the cruelty of these acts towards the animals, and to stop bulls from being killed in the bullring. However, the Taurine Corporation answered that it would be disrespectful to the tradition and refused to comply. Following this response, Petro revoked the leasing contract of Plaza Santa Maria between the Capital District of Bogota and the Taurine Corporation through Resolution 280 of 2012, and announced that the stadium would be used for cultural activities like poetry and theater performances. (Newspaper article, Turismo, Perfil.  “Corridas de toros en Colombia, diversión a la antigua y polémica” Bogota, Colombia (2017), available at http://turismo.perfil.com/).

The former Mayor’s argument was that the District had power to revoke the leasing contract, but also that there was a mandate contract between the District and the Taurine Corporation. The mandate was to manage the Plaza Santamaria and the bullfighting events. However, when the Taurine Corporation refused to stop the cruelty acts and the killing of the bull, it incurred in a breach of the mandate and therefore, the District was entitled to revoke it (Revista Semana, “Petro anuncia prohibición de las corridas de toros en la Plaza Santamaría” Bogotá (2012), available at http://www.semana.com/).

The Taurine Corporation filed a claim before the Constitutional Court, arguing violation of administrative due process and of their freedom of artistic expression. The Constitutional Court decided for the Taurine Corporation and held on decision T-293 of 2013, that “the mayor does not have the authority to prohibit the sacrifice of animals as part of entertainment, so long as they are part of the cultural expression, deeply rooted in many regions of the country.”  Its decision was based on Sentence 666, 2010, which held that “Bullfighting can only take place in the municipalities where it is a manifestation of their regular tradition.” Accordingly, the decision C-889 of 2012 upheld the constitutionality of the statute of Taurine Regulation Ley 916, 2004. This statute states that “Mayors and Municipal Councils cannot prohibit bullfighting in those municipalities where bullfighting is considered a tradition.” The Constitutional Court ordered the “immediate restitution of Plaza Santa Maria to the Taurine Corporation as the permanent bullring for bullfighting events and the preservation of the Taurine culture.”

Gustavo Petro did not comply with the decision and confirmed the suspension of the leasing contract. In September 2014, the District requested to overturn decision T-293 of 2013, arguing that the municipality was entitled to deny the allocation of public resources for events where the mistreatment of animals was justified as a tradition in accordance with decision C-666 of 2010. The Court ratified the decision that upheld the Taurine Corporation’s right to administrative due process and freedom of artistic expression and ordered the District to resume the leasing contract of the Plaza Santamaria. Petro responded he would comply with the decision, but that the Santamaria needed to undergo restoration works, as it was unsafe to hold people in the arena due to the antiquity of the building. He requested two years for the realization of the public tender and the remodeling works of the plaza. The Court agreed on the timeline, and Gustavo Petro promised to hand over the plaza at the end of 2016, at the end of his mayoral period (“Corridas de toros en Colombia, diversión a la antigua y polémica” Bogotá (2015), available at http://wwww.Perfil.com).

While the Capital District of Bogota and the Taurine Corporation were trying to defend their interests before the Constitutional Court, animal activists were protesting against bullfighting and collecting signatures to convince the court to send the people of Bogota to the polls to decide on a “popular consultation” (discussed infra Section IX). The consultation would ask the people, do they want bullfighting to continue in the capital? As a result, novilleros and banderilleros, (which are bullfighters of a different category than the matador. They accompany and assist the matador in different moments during the bullfight) camped outside of the plaza and engaged in a hunger strike. They demanded the reopening of Plaza Santamaria, arguing that, with the closing of the plaza, 35,000 people that were benefited had been affected. They also argued that their right of freedom of expression, right to work, and their right to keep a cultural tradition were being violated (Carol Malaver, “Prohibir las corridas tiene respaldo constitucional, sostiene la alcaldía”, Bogotá (2012), available at http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-11943568).

Gustavo Petro left office in December of 2015, and Enrique Peñalosa took his place in January of 2016. The Plaza remained closed for another year due to the remodeling works that started while Petro was in office. On February 14 “after 18 months of work and COP$8.800 million, the Santamaria was ready to be opened for the Taurine season” (“Plaza La Santamaría reabrirá sus puertas el próximo domingo”, Manizales (2017), available at http://www.lapatria.com/nacional/plaza-la-santamaria-reabrira-sus-puertas-el-proximo-domingo-343202).

The plaza reopened on January 22, 2017 for the opening of the Taurine season. The Mayor Peñalosa stated that regardless if he personally rejected this form of animal cruelty, his duty was to abide by the Constitutional Court’s decision to resume the leasing contract with the Taurine Corporation. Five thousand people gathered outside of the stadium that was guarded by 1,200 police officers on reopening day. The authorities set up a strong security ring around the stadium to avoid any disturbance of public order. Yet, the protests caused serious confrontation between the protesters and the police, who had to use tear gas to disperse the crowd that shouted "killers" to fans who came to the colosseum. There were at least three police officers injured and an unknown number of detainees. (Newspaper article, El Espectador, “Entre marchas y agresiones, regresan los toros a la Santamaría. Bogotá[CfLAaCS2], (2017), available at http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/bogota/entre-marchas-y-agresiones-regresan-los-toros-santamari-articulo-676024).

While the situation remains tenuous in Bogota, it clearly shows the division in the country. Ultimately, public opinion may affect what happens through an initiative action  known as "popular consultation.”

X. Popular Consultation on Bullfighting in the Capital District of Bogota

As mentioned before, Decision C- 666 of 2017 declares bullfighting to be a cultural manifestation that is celebrated traditionally in the respective town or city. It is protected under the exceptions of article 7 of the Statute of Animal Protection Ley 84 of 1989. A public consultation is the best mechanism to measure if those who live in the capital still accept this practice as part of their culture. If after determining the results of level of acceptance of bullfighting in the District show that the majority of people do not find this practice acceptable, it would mean that bullfighting is no longer ingrained in Bogota’s culture. Hence, it could not be protected under the Article 7 of the Statute of Animal Protection. It is important to clarify that this popular consult does not seek the prohibition of bullfighting. It is a measuring mechanism on the opinion that Bogota’s society has regarding bullfighting in its territory.

The Taurine popular consultation was an initiative of Coalition of Animal, Social and Environmental organizations that joined forces to form “Bogota without bullfighting.” This group was created to present a formal proposal to the Mayor’s Office requesting him to support and to present the initiative before the Council of Bogota and the Administrative Tribunal. The initiative was posed in 2014 while Former Mayor Gustavo Petro was in office. The Administrative Tribunal of Cundinamarca accepted it and voted favorably on the constitutionality of the question: “Do you agree, yes or no, with the celebration of bullfighting, and novilladas in the Capital District of Bogota?" This resolution was challenged several times, and after two years, in 2017 the Constitutional Court decided favorably on its constitutionality (Carlos Crespo, “En qué va la lucha contra la tauromaquia en Colombia?” Bogota (2017), available at https://elturbion.com/?p=14674).

To have a better understanding of what a popular consultation is and how it constitutionally and legally works, it is pertinent to show how the legal system defines it and regulates it. The Political Constitution of Colombia defines the mechanisms of popular participation in its article 103. It states: “The following are mechanisms for the participation of the people in exercise of their sovereignty: voting, plebiscite, referendum, popular consultation, open council, legislative initiative and revocation of the mandate. The law will regulate them.” (Political Constitution of Colombia, article 103, Bogota (1991), available at http://www.constitucioncolombia.com/titulo-4/capitulo-1/articulo-103).

A popular consultation in the terms of the Statute of Mechanisms of Popular participation or Ley 134 of 1994 is “the institution by which a question of general nature on a national, departmental, municipal, district or local matter is submitted by the President of the Republic, the governor or the mayor, as the case may be, to the consideration of the people, so they can formally give their opinion.” The questions asked must be well structured and must be presented in a clear fashion to the public, so that they can be answered with the assertion of a yes or a no. (Statute of mechanisms of popular participation, ley 134 of 1994, available at http://www.alcaldiabogota.gov.co/sisjur/normas/Norma1.jsp?i=330).

In 2015, the Mayor’s Office proposed the initiative to have a popular consultation to ask the people in the District whether they agree with having bullfighting events in the District. This initiative was approved by the administrative tribunal of Cundinamarca in August 20, 2015. However, it was challenged several times. On September of the same year, the State Council decided on all the lawsuits filed against the administrative Tribunal’s decision through Resolution 11001-03-15-000-2015-02257-00. The State Council confirmed its previous decision where it held that bullfighting was constitutional per terms of different laws and previous court decisions. In this holding the Administrative Court also stated that the Mayor had overstepped his duties by proposing and initiative to have a popular consultation on the matter. The State Council stated, “in a pluralist democracy, the means to modify artistic practices or expressions is not the imposition but the intercultural dialogue, a model of society that the Constitution of 1991 established” (Consejo de Estado, Sala de lo Contencioso Administrativo. Resolution 11001-03-15-000-2015-02257-00. Bogota, (2015)).

The decision was taken to the Constitutional Court to be reviewed. In the meanwhile, the reopening of the Plaza Santamaria and the Taurine season were taking place. The Taurine season was named season “of the freedom” and it was celebrated from January 22 to February 19. 

In decision T-121, 2017, the Constitutional Court revoked the State Council’s decision that denied the Administrative Tribunal’s resolution that approved the Consultation in 2015. It ordered Mayor Peñalosa to take the necessary steps to have a popular consultation on bullfighting that would take place in the next three months. The court held that the Administrative Tribunal of Cundinamarca authorized the public consultation in accordance to the Court’s previous decisions, and therefore it was not an overstep of the Mayor’s powers to promote this mechanism of democratic participation.

The popular consultation was scheduled to take place on August 13. However, on June 21, 2017 Mayor Peñalosa, following the request of animal groups, filed a petition asking the Constitutional Court to change the date to March 11, 2018. He argued that it was in the best interest of the city as it was the date scheduled for the election of Congress, and that the District would save $45,000,000 COP (that would be the cost to have the popular consultation). The Constitutional Court denied the petition and confirmed August 13 as the date when the public Consultation had to take place, as it held that “it could not modify the date that the same District had chosen, as it was beyond the reach of its assessment as the constitutional judge” (El tiempo, “Corte Constitucional mantiene fecha para la consulta antitaurina.” Bogotá (2017), available at http://www.eltiempo.com/justicia/cortes/corte-constitucional-mantiene-la-fecha-de-la-consulta-antitaurina-de-bogota-116670).

Today, Bogota is waiting the confirmation of a new date for the consultation. On August 08, the public consultation was suspended indefinitely due to economic setbacks. At a press conference the Mayor's office confirmed that the District did not have the economic means to perform a poll that would cost $45,000,000 COP. The National registrar required the District not to set a date until it had overcome its budget constraints (Periódico el tiempo, “Aplazan consulta antitaurina en Bogotá por falta de recursos”, Bogotá (2017), available at http://www.eltiempo.com/bogota/se-suspende-temporalmente-consulta-antitaurina-en-por-falta-de-recursos-117622).

XI. Bullfighting Alternatives

A. Abolition v. Regulation

As previously explained, Congress has an opportunity to abolish bullfighting. The government presented Bill No. 271 that seeks the complete prohibition of bullfighting in the entire country. If Bill 271 becomes law, Colombia would abandon the outdated tradition and bulls would no longer be tortured and killed for entertainment. With the bill’s passage, the Taurine Regulatory Statute would no longer be part of the legal system, as would not be any of the dispositions that established that bullfighting is a cultural artistic practice and a tradition that cannot be prohibited. An advancement in the recognition of animal rights would begin in Colombia and society would accept and embrace the just treatment of all forms of life, according to animal welfare advocates.

There is also the possibility that Congress decides for the regulations instead of a prohibition on bullfighting. Regulations and amendments to the practice aimed to avoid bulls being killed during the bullfight. Bill No. 224 of 2016 proposes the prohibition of the use of items that “lacerate, mutilate, injure or kill animals in public shows.” Minority groups and some politicians assert that the implementation of the “bloodless” bullfight would be a step closer to its prohibition. They argue it would respect tradition and the right to freedom of expression to those who support the practice.

If Bill 224 becomes law, Colombia would abandon the Spanish style where bulls are tortured and subsequently killed, to adapt the bloodless bullfighting (see Infra Section B). Neither of the parties involved endorse the adoption of the so called “bloodless bullfighting.” Bullfighting supporters in Colombia are very passionate about the customs and traditions that bullfighting has carried throughout the years. For them, the dance between the matador and bull symbolizes a battle between a man and a beast, where the matador with great skill risks his life to dominate and force the beast to submit. The centerpiece of a bullfight is the death of the bull. Bullfights would lose significance if the bull was not subdued by the matador and killed as the culmination of the battle.

For those that are against bullfighting, the bloodless style is just as cruel as the Spanish style. The bull is still killed, with the difference that its life is taken after the bullfight, when the audience is not watching. The bloodless style may not physically torture the bull as badly as the Spanish style, but the bull’s spirit is still broken from discomfort, fear, stress, and exhaustion. It also causes physical injuries to the bull that are still considered animal cruelty. To those who support the abolition of bullfighting, the bloodless style is the imitation of a violent practice, the art of killing the bull without killing it. It would still have the same social implications were the violence against animals is legitimized. There is no place for transitioning steps, where there is an implication of suffering and pain.

B. Bloodless Bullfighting

It is pertinent to further explain the concept of “bloodless bullfighting” since in Colombia, the regulation of bullfighting is still a possibility. Bloodless bullfighting is a style where a velcro pad is placed over the bull’s back, and velcro tips are attached to the javelins (banderillas) so they can be attached to the bull’s back without harming the animal. The bloodless style was created to imitate the Spanish style, where the javelins are stabbed in the bull’s back to debilitate him. This kind of bullfighting is meant to spare the bull’s life, supporting the argument of an evolved, cruel-less form of bullfighting.

Bloodless bullfighting has its origins in the United States. In 1980-1990, the Portuguese-American Frank Borba invented a new style in California, and it was named “Corrida incruenta," a Spanish term that translates “cruel-less bullfight.” Bullfighting in California was prohibited by the Animal Protection laws, including the Portuguese bullfighting. Portuguese bullfighting differs from the Spanish style as the Portuguese style requires the killing of the bull after the bullfight has ended, when there are no observers. In the Spanish style, the bull is killed in the colosseum in front of an audience. The Portuguese style can be exceptionally cruel due to the possibility that the bull may not be put out of its misery up to a few days after the fight. Looking to rid the sport of a cruel component, Frank Borba replaced the traditional weapons with velcro squares. Unfortunately, it became known in 2010 that nails were still being attached to the velcro weapons. The velcro javelins would stick to the large Velcro pad on the bull’s back. In theory, the bulls would not be actually stabbed, and this would allow for a bloodless bullfight. This version would theoretically not violate the anti-cruelty laws of California (Jordy, Casamitjana, “The Cruelty of the Bloodless Bullfights”, London, UK. January 2012).

Bloodless bullfighting is not popular in the United States and in most other countries around the world. It gained a slight boost in popularity when the bullfighting industries around the world saw in this new form of bullfighting a possibility to attract a larger audience. The bloodless bullfights expanded to other states in the U.S. such as Nevada and Illinois. Animal groups started to do investigations that led them to the result that this new style of bullfighting was far from being bloodless or humane (Jordy, Casamitjana, “The Cruelty of the Bloodless Bullfights”, London, UK. January 2012).

Today, bloodless bullfighting continues to be legal in California. Bloodless bullfighting is now one of the options discussed in the political debate in Colombia that tries to find a solution to the social problem that bullfighting has unleashed.

XII. Conclusion

As Colombia’s legal system criminalizes animal cruelty, the subject of controversy that has the country polarized is that Congress does not view bullfighting and other practices that involve the use of animals for entertainment as cruel and harmful. Bullfighting, novilladas, corralejas, becerradas, and cockfighting are currently exceptions to the duty of animal protection as they are part of a cultural expression that have been practiced for a long time and are ingrained into social customs. Changing societal norms suggest that these practices are some of the most inhumane, thus demanding that they be prohibited.

Bullfighting is currently permitted by the legal system. However, it is not protected by it. The Constitution does not have any provision that shields bullfighting from changing its regulation at any time. Even though the judicial branch has stated that bullfighting is cruel and inhumane, it has not declared Article 7 of the Animal Protection Statute unconstitutional. Instead, the Colombian court deferred this decision and urged Congress to decide on bullfighting within a two-year period. The Constitutional Court had the opportunity to eliminate bullfighting within the legal system. It had Constitutional, legal and social arguments to put an end to the uncertainty and controversy that this topic creates. However, bullfighting seems to be an issue that nobody wants to talk about, and the court decided to defer its holding and left the issue in the hands of Congress, creating a legal limbo in Colombian society. Congress’s position was for a long time to defend this practice, as it was an important part of Colombia’s culture and tradition.

Presently, while the National government and the District of Bogota discuss who is to pay for the cost of the popular consultation while Congress is debating on bill 271, animal activists are protesting throughout the country demanding that bullfighting is definitely banned in the entire country. The legislature must determine whether the moral values of today’s society see the practice of bullfighting as an acceptable form of entertainment. Even though the popular consultation would only take place in the Capital District, it is an excellent constitutional tool to measure the acceptance of bullfighting among people.

In deciding whether to regulate or prohibit bullfighting, the legislature faces the challenge to decide whether to attempt to strike a balance between the interest of bullfighting advocates and the Constitutional duty to protect animals from unnecessary pain and suffering (in this case, bulls). Or, if to the contrary, bullfighting is so unacceptable under the societal values of today that is should be banned in the entire country.

A growing portion of society no longer accepts bullfighting as a normal practice. The Constitutional Court in its latest decisions points to rejection of animal cruelty. Colombian society, especially the younger generations, understand and embrace the duty to protect all sentient beings and reject cruelty against animals. Bullfighting supporters defend this practice from an anthropocentric viewpoint; they do not have regard for the different forms of life. Opponents to bullfighting reject justifying cruelty for entertainment in the sake of tradition.

Perhaps one of the reasons why it has been so difficult to make a final determination on this matter is that Colombia has always been a very conservative society. Many still believe that customs must be respected, and that such customs and traditions cannot be changed even if they are not viewed as moral by society anymore. Bullfighting advocates argue that if bullfighting disappeared, a big component of culture and tradition would die with it. Animal advocates however, argue that if society and leaders continue to believe that social customs are beyond the principle of animal protection, the protection of animals will continue to be an option and not a duty.

Additionally, bullfighting has proven to have a significant economic impact. This might be another important reason why the legislative body and the high courts have been so reluctant on making a final decision.  Nonetheless, there are alternative employment and profit making options that could substitute the revenue obtained from bullfighting. Bullfighting opponents contend that stadiums throughout the country can hold a significant number of people; consequently, these arenas can be used to host various types of entertainment events such as concerts, fairs and ceremonies. Through these means, cities and districts would be able to still generate profits and fill the hole that bullfighting would leave in the city finances.

Overall, the legal situation of bullfighting is still pending. The House of Representatives is preparing to have the second debate on the Bill 271, “by means of which bullfighting is prohibited in the entire territory.” The public consultation in Bogota that was scheduled for August 13, 2017 to ask whether people in Bogota wanted bullfighting in the city was suspended due to lack of funding. The national government and the District are currently debating on who is to assume the cost of the public consultation, which surrounds the COP $44 billion. Animal advocates are organizing protests demanding that Congress prohibit bullfighting in all of Colombia. Hopes are that the public consultation will take place in March 2018 when the elections for Congress are held and that Congress will make a decision on the matter before 2019. At that time, they have to legislate on the matter before court decision C-041 takes full effect. Perhaps then will the voice of Colombian citizens be heard resulting in a final determination on the fate of this historic, but cruel tradition.


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