Thu, May 19, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Bullfight tensions rise amid Spain’s new political landscape

Activists see a window of opportunity at the local level to promote an anti-bullfighting agenda, but the fledgling Fighting Bull Foundation is fighting back with legal challenges to municipal and provincial governments that seek to bar bullfights

By Alan Clendenning  /  AP, MADRID

Illustration: Mountain People

As matadors face half-tonne bulls this month during Madrid’s most important annual series of bullfights and Pamplona gears up for its chaotic July bull runs down cobblestoned streets, tensions are building between anti-bullfighting forces and the tradition’s defenders, who have launched Spain’s first pro-bullfight lobbying group.

At least 17 Spanish cities and towns have slashed municipal funding for bullfights and bull runs or passed measures condemning or banning them since the leftist Podemos party won its first seats in local and regional elections a year ago.

Podemos finished third in an inconclusive national election in December last year, which splintered the nation’s traditional two-party system into four. It may be repeated on June 26, when Podemos could overtake the No. 2 center-left Socialists.

Bull spectacles are expected to be banned this summer on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca by the regional Balearic Islands parliament ruled by a coalition including Podemos — six years after northeastern Catalonia prohibited bullfights, but enshrined as cultural heritage bull runs and events featuring bulls running around with flaming balls of wax or fireworks affixed to their horns.

Animal rights activists say the gory fights are among the planet’s most blatant forms of animal cruelty, with bulls lanced and finally stabbed through the heart. Matadors are praised for killing with a single stab, though some do not succeed in finishing off the animal with repeated thrusts. Foreign tourists attending fights for the first time often leave stunned.

“Now that the political scenery has changed, there is a window of opportunity at the local level to promote the anti-bullfighting agenda,” said Antonio Barroso, an analyst with the Teneo Intelligence political risk consulting firm. “The far-left has gained political power and this tends to be an issue leftist voters care about.”

However, the new Fighting Bull Foundation of breeders, matadors, ring workers, groups of aficionados with thousands of members and event organizers is pushing back with a prominent Madrid law firm that has filed five challenges so far this year to decisions against bullfighting by four Spanish municipal governments and one provincial administration.

It is also pressing for criminal charges in five municipalities against animal-rights protesters who disrupted bullfights, mostly by jumping into the rings. An appeal is planned for the Mallorca ban after its anticipated approval next month or in July. The foundation has also requested that Spain’s Constitutional Court act quickly on an appeal against the Catalonia ban filed in 2010.

Fighting Bull Foundation cofounder Juan Pedro Domecq, a famed breeder from a family renowned for producing wine, sherry and top-grade Spanish ham, said the bullfighting community had felt under attack with no one to defend it.

Besides the legal effort, the foundation is promoting bullfighting as an essential part of Mediterranean culture plus the economic benefits it generates in a nation with 20 percent unemployment.

“Now you are not going to be able to attack bullfighting for free,” Domecq said. “It will have consequences. Before the foundation existed, there were no consequences.”

Shouting matches often erupt between bullfight supporters and protesters at bull events. A May 2 confrontation captured on video in a small Catalonian town turned ugly when two animal-rights activists taking video were beaten up by three men and a woman.

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