Matador Miguel Aguilar performs a pass during a bullfight in Mexico City, where lawmakers are considering banning the age-old practice.
MEXICO CITY: Matadors in the Mexican capital, home to the largest bullring on the planet, are fighting to prevent the banning of a practice introduced by the Spanish conquistadors five centuries ago.
While the debate is not new, in December an animal welfare committee of Mexico City’s legislature approved a proposal to ban the tradition in the city of about 9 million people.
The push has left bullfighting – and the multi-million dollar industry surrounding it – facing an uncertain future after the season ended on Sunday.
No date has yet been set for a vote by Mexico City lawmakers on the issue, after the commission opted to open a dialogue with those who would be affected.
Mexico is a stronghold of bullfighting, and at the heart of the capital is the Plaza de Toros, which has a capacity of around 50,000 people.
But the capital is also seen as a progressive stronghold in the conservative, Catholic-majority country and a pioneer in areas such as same-sex marriage, legal abortion and the treatment of animals.
“Bad news” for freedoms
Bullfighting supporters say the city’s freedoms should also apply to them.
“We live in a time of respect for minorities, of respect for free thought. Where does the word ban come from?” said Rafael Cue, journalist and member of Mexican Bullfighting, a group that brings together fans, bullfighters, ranchers, matadors and businessmen.
The organization says a ban would be “very bad news” for freedoms if authorities imposed the moral values of one part of society on another.
“In this way, the legal termination of pregnancy or same-sex marriage could also be prohibited,” he said in a statement.
The group wants the proposed ban to be discussed from a perspective of “freedom” and not “fads or political correctness”.
Opponents of bullfighting say proponents’ arguments don’t hold up to scrutiny because they treat animals like objects and ignore the social impact of their public abuse.
“It affects me indirectly when they kill and injure a sentient animal in a public arena for fun,” said Jorge Gavino, a lawmaker in the Mexico City legislature who supports banning shows where animals are killed or abused.
“It affects my coexistence in society, so I have the obligation and the right to act against this alleged right of a minority third party,” said the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) MP.
Scientifically, the bull can be shown to suffer during a fight, he added.
So far, only a few of Mexico’s 32 states have banned bullfighting.
Seven others protect the tradition – which dates back to the time of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century – as cultural heritage.
“Recognize his bravery”
Juan Pedro Llaguno, a 22-year-old Mexican matador and grandson of breeders, said it was a “privilege” to step into the ring to fight a bull he has known since birth.
“It’s the most beautiful thing because I’ve known her since I was little and I can finally step into the ring with her to create something unforgettable, inexplicable,” he told AFP. .
Llaguno believes that a bull “was born to be fought” and to die in the bullring.
“It’s the way to say goodbye to life with dignity, with the public acknowledging their bravery,” he said.
Bullfighters also point to the economic value of the industry, which generated $343 million in 2018, creating some 80,000 direct jobs and 146,000 indirect jobs, according to industry data corroborated by the Department of Agriculture.
Mexico is not the only country in the region debating the future of bullfighting.
In Venezuela, which also has a long tradition of bullfighting, judges banned events in two states in December and January,
Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek William Saab has called the practice “public killings” and is promoting legislation that would ban shows that include animal abuse.
In June 2020, authorities in the Colombian capital Bogota decided to ban the mistreatment and slaughter of bulls during bullfights.
In contrast, the same year, Peru’s highest court refused to ban the practice.
Other countries where bullfighting is allowed are Spain, France and Portugal.