Judges rule against hearing further appeals against order to stop
MADRID––A March 18, 2019 decision by the Spanish Supreme Court to hear no further appeals of a Castilla y León provincial order banning the traditional Toro de la Vega bullfight appears to have finally ended one of the oldest annual celebrations of cruelty persisting into the 21st century.
“Much reviled by animal rights groups, the Toro de la Vega [in traditional form] involves hunters on foot and horseback chasing a bull through a pine forest before spearing him to death,” summarized Natalia Junquera of the leading Spanish newspaper El Pais in 2014.
The killing usually came near the bank of the River Duero, where the bull ran out of room to run.
Bull-spearing rite began when Columbus was in diapers
Until 2016, the traditional version of the Toro de la Vega had been held in traditional form in the ancient city of Tordesillas each September since 1453 (two years after the birth of Christopher Columbus), except for one four-year break in the mid-20th century.
The regional government of Castilla y León province, northwest of Madrid, on May 19, 2016 ordered an end to all bullfights in which the bulls are killed in public.
This forced Tordesillas to replace the traditional Toro de la Vega with a bull-chase called the Toro de la Peña. The bull may be trucked away to be conventionally slaughtered after the Toro de la Peña, or may be “pardoned,” according to the rules, but is no longer killed as part of the ritual.
Pursuing a series of appeals of the 2016 Castilla y León order, the Tordesillas city council argued that it violated national laws declaring bullfighting to be part of Spain’s cultural heritage.
The Tordesillas city council further argued that the Castilla y León order “eliminated ‘the essence of the popular rite that gave rise to bullfighting,’ wrote Ana Teresa Roca of El Pais. “Another of the Tordesillas arguments stated that ‘40,000 fans’ attended the event, ‘compared to 100 animal activists.’ The council also argued that the death of the animal did not detract from its dignity, but rather enhanced it.”
The Superior Court of Justice of Castilla y León of Valladolid rejected each of these claims on April 30, 2018, leading to the Tordesillas appeal to the Spanish Supreme Court.
“Now just another bull run”
Silvia Barquero, president of the Animalist Party Against Mistreatment of Animals, told media after the Spanish Supreme Court declined to hear further appeals that “The Toro de la Vega has become just another bull-run, one that we reject just like we do all the others,” for example the annual “Running of the Bulls” at Pamplona, made famous by the 1926 Ernest Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises.
“After receiving news of the ruling,” continued Ana Teresa Roca, “Tordesillas mayor González Poncela announced that the Town Hall had requested that its external legal services examine what ‘possibilities present themselves now.’ This report will made available to the council that is formed after the upcoming municipal elections on May 26, 2019, said González Poncela, who will not be running again as mayor.”
Pro-bullfighting party now out of office
Introduced in 2013 and 2015 by the conservative Popular Party government of Mariano Rajoy, who was premier of Spain from 2012 to 2018, the national laws furnishing the basis for the Tordesillas appeals were chiefly directed at a ban on arena bullfighting adopted by the Catalonian region in 2010, in effect since January 1, 2012.
The Rajoy government was voted out of office in 2018, after which Rajoy resigned as head of the Popular Party.
Meanwhile the Spanish Constitutional Court, the highest court in Spain, on October 20, 2016 overturned the Catalonian law by a vote of 8 to 3, but the verdict was largely academic because all of the major bullfighting arenas in Catalonia had reportedly already been closed and repurposed.
Bullfighting on the way out
The Constitutional Court agreed that Catalonia may regulate bullfighting, but not prohibit it outright.
The Catalonian government had already met this condition, since the ban on arena bullfighting exempted participant events––similar to the Toro de la Vega and the replacement Toro de la Peña––in which mobs pursue bulls through village streets, often after fireworks or flaming torches have been tied to their horns.
Catalonia banned arena bullfighting 19 years after the Canary Islands. After the Catalonia ban took effect, the largely Basque city of San Sebastián banned arena bullfighting in March 2013, and Mallorca banned arena bullfighting in March 2016.
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