MEXICO CITY – At 4:30 p.m., the nearly full crowd of 42,000 at La Plaza México began whistling restlessly.
They had waited since May 15, 2022 – a period of 624 days of legal challenges – for the bulls to return to the bullring. largest bullring in the worldonly to face another delay due to the hundreds of protesters outside.
When the parade of the three afternoon matadors and their bullfighting entourage finally emerged to greet the fans, the Mexico City bullring erupted.
Plaza México is the largest bullring in the world. On Sunday it was packed. Photo by Luis Antonio Rojas
At 4:58 p.m., the first bull came out and ran around the ring.
For the next two and a half hours, fans cheered and booed, shouted “olé,” smoked cigars, ate grilled meat and French fries, drank beer and mezcal, and watched five bulls with swords stuck in their backs.
“Seeing it here, the olé and how the square resounds, is indescribable,” said Erik Reyes, 30, a resident of Mexico City, who was in the stands.
Bullfighting, spread by Spain in its Latin American colonies in the 16th century, has been the center of an important legal fight for his return to the largest bullfighting city in the largest bullfighting country in the world.
This battle has come to symbolize a broader war between the tradition and evolution of opinions on cruelty to animals.
The legal whiplash continued Wednesday, when a judge temporarily suspended bullfighting in Plaza México, just days after it resumed.
Those responsible for La Plaza México have challenged the decision.
“No animal should suffer,” said Shantel Delgado, 29, a vegetarian who dressed up as a bull covered in red paint to symbolize blood. Photo by Luis Antonio Rojas
“No one who attends a bullfight comes out a better person,” declared Jerónimo Sánchez, animal rights defender.
Despite a steady decline over the decades due to bans and growing opposition, the practice continues in five other countries besides Spain and Mexico: France, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador.
The workers of La Plaza México came out to the ring on Sunday to see the bullfighters enter. Photo by Luis Antonio Rojas
(Bullfighting, but without killing the animals, is allowed in Portugal and the United States).
The first known bullfight in Mexico dates back to 1526, according to a national bullfighting organization, and there are still 326 places.
Since 2013, five of Mexico's 31 states have banned bullfighting.
But for almost two years, a legal fight had put the future of bullfighting in the country's most iconic bullring in doubt.
Arguing that the “degrading” treatment of bulls was harmful to society, a human rights group managed to convince a federal judge in 2022 to approve the suspension of bullfighting in Plaza México, despite that the practice is allowed in other parts of the country.
At the time, Mario Zulaica, 42, a former bullfighter and director of the plaza for the past eight years, was in Spain trying to recruit bullfighters for La Plaza México.
“It hit me like a bucket of cold water,” he said.
In a normal year, La Plaza México would host up to 30 bullfights, Zulaica said. The facility, he added, directly employed 2,000 people and provided work for thousands more, including in restaurants and nearby ranches that supply the bulls.
The facility, he added, directly employed 2,000 people and provided work for thousands more, including in restaurants and nearby ranches that supply the bulls.
Mario Zulaica, a former bullfighter, has been director of the Mexico City bullring for the past eight years. Photo by Luis Antonio Rojas
After those responsible for La Plaza México appealed the decision, the Supreme Court revoked the suspension in early December, allowing bullfighting to return while the merits of the matter were resolved.
So the plaza forged ahead, scheduling nine shows through the end of March.
On Wednesday, another federal judge thwarted those plans by imposing a new ban on bullfighting in the ring, responding to a petition from an animal rights group that argued that the bulls should enjoy the same legal protection than the other animals in the country.
Zulaica later stated that La Plaza México's lawyers had already filed an appeal and were hoping for a quick resolution.
Bullfights were scheduled for Sunday and Monday.
“I'm more surprised than disappointed or sad,” he said.
“Someone cannot be so intransigent that they do not see that there were 40,000 attendees who showed that bullfighting is more alive than ever.”
Although there are many bullfights in other places in the country, the Plaza de México is the main economic engine of bullfighting and the main stage to promote the career of a bullfighter.
“You risk your life to create art and create something magical,” says José Mauricio, a 39-year-old Mexican who has been gored and broken a wrist and ribs in his 18 years as a matador.
Another Mexican bullfighter, Paola San Román, 28, added that the resumption of bullfights in La Plaza México had been important to highlight “this tradition and this culture.”
Before the bullfighting session last Sunday, more than 300 protesters interrupted traffic towards La Plaza México, carrying banners, playing drums and singing songs.
A banner read: “It's not art. It's torture.”
“No animal should suffer,” said Shantel Delgado, 29, a vegetarian who was dressed as a bull covered in red paint.
“Everyone deserves respect like us humans.
You can work in another way.
Photo of Joselito Adame, Mexican bullfighter, preparing for a bullfight in La Plaza México.Luis Antonio Rojas
For me, it's not a tradition. “It's an aberration.”
Outside Plaza México, some protesters spray-painted the walls of the stadium (“murderers” was often read) and tried to force a gate while riot police held it down.
Protesters threw water and trash at officers and attacked fans heading to the stadium.
Inside Plaza México, some fans made obscene hand gestures at protesters.
And throughout the afternoon intermittent shouts were heard from the stands:
“Long live La Plaza México!” and “Long live the freedom of the bulls!”
Sánchez, director of Animal Heroes, an organization that started the “Mexico without bullfighting” campaign five years ago, said that “political will” helped drive the ban on bullfighting in some states and municipalities.
From Seville, Spain, Sánchez, 40, said he would never forget the cry of a bull that was stabbed with banderillas – barbed darts that draw blood and enrage the animal – in a bullfight when he was a teenager.
He stated that his organization wants the Mexican Congress permanently ban this practice throughout the country.
He argued that it is immoral to have rules about how to kill a pig in a slaughterhouse and yet allow bullfighting to continue.
Protesters confronted bullfight attendees who were eating tacos outside the plaza. Photo by Luis Antonio Rojas
“We see it as a Roman circus,” Sánchez said.
“We see it as an anachronistic spectacle.
“The new generations, when in a few years bullfighting is banned throughout the world, will look back with amazement.”
Zulaica said he understands that younger generations may be more aware of the treatment of animals.
But, he added, “we are convinced that in a modern and diverse Mexico, we must aspire to a society of freedoms, respect and, most of all, tolerance for all cultural expressions, regardless of personal tastes.”
José Saborit, director of the national bullfighting organization Tauromaquia Mexicana, says the practice remains especially popular in some small towns and that, with the exception of soccer, no other event regularly attracts between 30,000 and 40,000 people like La Plaza México.
“If we want a world of prohibitions and moral impositions, bullfighting is in danger,” said Saborit.
A fighting bull, on a ranch owned by Javier Garfias III, a third-generation fighting bull breeder, in Los Cues, Querétaro, Mexico. Photo by Luis Antonio Rojas
Workers in the bullfighting industry care for the bulls by breeding and breeding them for years, he added, and only a small percentage of a mother's bulls end up dying in a bullring.
Reyes, whose grandfather took him to the bullrings of his home state of Veracruz for the first time, said he knows that bullfighting is not for everyone and “undeniably and unfortunately for those who like this, he will die.”
“I'm not against it dying,” he added about bullfighting.
“It will die sooner or later. But I am against it being banned when there is still some follow-up.”
The reopening of La Plaza México ended stridently. Andrés Roca Rey, Peruvian matador, worked hard to kill his second and last bull of the night with his sword.
After a third warning, Rey left the ring to boos.
Javier Garfias III waiting for a butcher near two of his bulls after they were killed in practice bullfights at the Plaza de Toros Provincia de Juriquilla in Juriquilla, Querétaro, Mexico. Photo by Luis Antonio Rojas
As the stands emptied, the bull was led back to the corrals, where it was killed and then prepared to be consumed as meat.
The streets around Plaza México were still full of life.
People filled the food stalls.
Others ordered beer from nearby stores to continue the party.
When spectators will be able to return, or if they will be able to do so, is anyone's guess.
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