The return of bullfighting to Mexico's capital excites fans and upsets animal rights groups
MEXICO CITY (AP) — In the center of a desolate and cold Plaza Mexico stadium, a young matador raises a red cape and leaps to the right as he gets charged — not by a bull, but by a bull's head on a cart.
A bellowing colleague is pushing the wheeled contraption to breathe a bit of realism into training in anticipation of bullfighting's return to Mexico City.
The traditional spectacle took a critical blow when a judge banned it in the city in June 2022. Now that the country's Supreme Court of Justice has overturned the ban, the capital that is home to what is billed as the world's largest bullfighting ring plans to host "fiesta brava" events once more.
"To know that the dream is even closer pushes me further," said Juan Esteban Arboleda Gómez, an aspiring bullfighter, or "novillero," from Colombia who moved to the Mexican capital to pursue a career that the lower court's indefinite injunction delayed.
Arboleda Gómez, who is known professionally as Juan Gómez "Dynasty," is among thousands of people who struggled to make ends meet during the past year and a half. For them, and for fans of, the high court's ruling last month was a source of relief and celebration.
No dates have been announced yet for new bullfights. But their expected resumption in Plaza Mexico has renewed the worries of animal rights activists. The hiatus stemmed from a legal complaint brought by the organization Justicia Justa, which alleged that bullfights created an unhealthy environment by subjecting Mexico City residents to violence and animal cruelty.
Justicia Justa's push to end the controversial sport in Mexico, where it flourished for more than 500 years, is part of a global movement. While such fights are held in most of the country, they remain blocked by judicial measures in the states of Sinaloa, Guerrero, Coahuila and Quintana Roo, as well as in the western city of Guadalajara.
Jorge Gaviño, a member of the Mexico City Congress who has unsuccessfully pushed three local measures against bullfighting, said he considered the lifting of the court ban a blow for animal rights but said he was working with other groups to present new appeals to stop the practice.
"It's very complicated, but it doesn't discourage us because sooner or later we're going to achieve the thing we set out to do. This is irreversible," Gaviño said. He observed that "bullfighting festivals have fewer and fewer followers" because humans have learned to recognize the pain of other sentient creatures.
Globally, around 180,000 bulls are killed in bullfights every year, and even more are killed or injured in connected events like bull parties, according to Humane Society International. The organization claims "bulls suffer from a protracted death in the bullfighting arena, weakened and tormented both physically and mentally."
At the same time, bullfighting generates 80,000 direct jobs, and 146,000 indirect jobs across the country, according to figures of the National Association of Breeders of Fighting Bulls in Mexico. Overall the industry generates approximately $400 million a year. Mexico City's massive bullfighting ring, Plaza Mexico, is considered the cathedral of Mexican bullfighting and is one of the three main bullrings in the world along with Las Ventas in Madrid and La Maestranza in Spain's city of Seville.
The bullfighting ban was railed against by fans like Daniel Salinas, a 63-year-old writer whose work has documented the more than 70 years of history in Plaza Mexico. On a recent day, he considered the empty plaza, which in its time would rumble with the cry of "Ole!" ringing out from some 40,000 people in the 50-foot-high stands. He said after watching the fights as a child, he was struck by the desolation of the famous ring.
"That they took away your right to come, well, the truth is that you feel your freedom has been curtailed," Salinas said.
Four members of a Supreme Court panel ruled unanimously in the Dec. 6 ruling, which said the organization that brought the case didn't prove that the fights caused "imminent and irreparable damage." The panel also held that prohibiting bullfights restricted the rights of people connected to the industry.