MADRID––The prolonged death of a bull named Elegido at the Toro de la Vega “bull hunt” in Tordesillas, Spain on September 16, 2014 was simultaneously ballyhooed by mayor José Antonio González as emblematic of community determination to maintain cultural traditions, and denounced by about 300 protesters as a gruesome example of why bullfighting must end.
The Toro de la Vega is believed to have been held annually since 1453.
“Much reviled by animal rights groups for its cruelty, the Toro de la Vega involves hunters on foot and horseback chasing a bull through a pine forest before spearing it to death,” reported Natalia Junquera of the leading Spanish newspaper El Pais. “Over 120 civil guard and police officers had to remove the protestors by force, dragging them away by their hands and feet, causing the event to begin 30 minutes late.
“Before his demise,” speared three times by a 28-year-old participant, “Elegido managed to inflict four gorings,” Junquera wrote. “The injured were taken away by ambulance, one of them in serious condition.”
About 40,000 people attended the 2014 Toro de la Vega, mayor Gonzales claimed, of whom 45 men actually chased the bull with weapons. Gonzales said the attendance was about the same as in 2013, but acknowledged that there were more protesters.
Ruling party pushes bullfights
On November 7, 2013, about six weeks after the 2013 Toro de la Vega, the ruling Popular Party pushed through the Spanish parliament a bill giving bullfighting “cultural heritage” status. The Popular Party government announced that it would follow up by seeking UNESCO World Heritage status for bullfighting.
The federal legislation required all regions of Spain to “develop measures to promote and protect” bullfighting and activities associated with bullfighting, such as bull-breeding and producing bullfighting-related art.
But the federal legislation has not yet overturned bans on bullfighting introduced by the regional governments of the Canary Islands in 1991, Catalan in 2010, and the largely Basque city of San Sebastian in March 2013.
Indeed, the attempted federal imposition of bullfighting as “cultural heritage” appeared to inflame Catalonian separatism. On September 19, 2014 the Catalan legislature passed a bill to make the November 9 regional election a referendum on independence, in defiance of pledges by Popular Party Prime Minister Mariano Rajoyto prevent the vote. The Rajoy government was to appeal the Catalonian referendum plans to the Spanish Constitutional Court on September 23, 2014.
The most conservative of the major Spanish political parties, the Popular Party was founded in 1976 by former supporters of dictator Francisco Franco, a bullfighting enthusiast who ruled Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. Elected in November 2011, the Popular Party returned bullfighting to prime time broadcasts by the Spanish state television network RTVE in September 2012. RTVE had not broadcast bullfights in prime time since Toro de la Vega participants in September 2007 assaulted a female RTVE reporter during a live broadcast. A male videographer documented the attack until the mob destroyed his camera.
Despite overwhelming Popular Party strength in the Spanish Parliament, opinion polls continue to show that more than 75% of Spanish voters oppose public subsidies for bullfighting, promoted by the Popular Party even as Spain struggles to reduce unemployment running as high as 25%, with economic growth of less than 1% per year since 2008.
The opposition Animalista Party Against Animal Abuse (PACMA) on September 14, 2013 packed Madrid streets from the Plaza de Colón to the Plaza de España with thousands of anti-bullfighting protesters, then repeated the event on September 13, 2014. Demonstrators broke symbolic bullfighting lances to initiate the marches each year.
The Madrid demonstrations grew out of annual protests held against the Toro de la Vegas each year since 2003 in Tordesillas, about 118 miles northwest of Madrid.
Traditional Spanish bullfighting may no longer be economically viable in most of Spain without subsidies, suggested the Washington Post in July 2013. “Amid plummeting demand, more bull breeders are dispatching their stocks to the butcher rather than the ring,” the Post assessed. “Bullfight organizers are engaged in highly public disputes with matadors and creditors over wages and overdue payments.”
Bullfight ticket prices soared––and attendance fell 40% from 2007 to 2012––after the national sales tax on cultural events was jacked up to try to raise more revenue from foreign tourists.
European Union subsidies
There were 1,014 arena bullfights held in Spain in 2012, down from more than 2,000 held in 2007.
Spanish bullfighting already benefits from $177 million per year in European Union subsidies issued under the Common Agricultural Policy, an EU internal report estimated earlier in 2013. The subsidies supposedly promote cattle breeding, but bulls produced with the help of the subsidies often go into bullfighting rather than into breeding cattle for meat and dairy production.
The Dutch Parliament on July 7, 2013 unanimously adopted a resolution asking that the subsidies be cancelled, but a cancellation amendment introduced by European Parliament Agriculture Committee member Alyn Smith, of Scotland, failed on September 2, 2013.
Smith pledged to try again. “It is for me unconscionable,” he said, “that EU money is going, however indirectly, to subsidize bullfights.”