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Peru debates 'sport' of bullfighting

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Peru debates 'sport' of bullfighting

Some say it's tradition, others say it's just plain cruel

  • A bullfight at Plaza de los Toros in Cancún, Mexico, on May 3, 2007.
    stevendepolo/FlickrA bullfight at Plaza de los Toros in Cancún, Mexico, on May 3, 2007.

First Catalonia outlawed bullfighting, which the Economist likened to a German state banning wurst or a French region condemning berets.

Now Peru's minister of culture has said the sport is "terrible" and that it causes excessive suffering for the animals.

So is bullfighting on the way out? Is it a "tradition of tragedy," as PETA claims, that kills 250,000 bulls annually?

Activists who gathered in Lima last week to protest the mistreatment of bulls would seem to agree. "Bullfighting promotes violence, torture and cruelty to animals for no reason," William Soberon, of the Anti-Bullfighting Front of Peru, told La Republica. "We're not in the colonial era."

Peru's newly appointed minister of culture, Susana Baca, said she felt sorry for the animals and that she cried when she once attended a cockfight. "I've never been to a bullfight but from the little I've seen in the media, I know it's terrible and I had to close my eyes," she said on the program "Buenos Dias, Peru."

But protests against bullfighting are nothing new in Peru. And comments by Baca that she would analyze the practice during her tenure quickly sparked controversy.

Bullfighter Fernando Roca Rey told La Republica that bullfighting should be seen as a cultural event and that "the minister can give her opinion, but that cannot be applied to the whole country." Bullfighting celebrations have been held in Peru since 1766 and the Plaza de Toros de Acho bullring is the oldest in the Americas and second-oldest in the world, reports AFP.

And the Spanish government recently dealt a blow to efforts to outlaw the sport when it ruled that bullfighting is an "artistic discipline and cultural product." The country's Ministry of Culture will now be responsible for the "development and protection" of bullfighting, a move that supporters hope is a step toward protecting the tradition from further regional bans.

Bullfighting is also practiced in Portugal and the south of France and is widespread in Latin America. Mexico City's Plaza Mexico arena is the biggest in the world with seats for up to 55,000.

And while public opinion might be swinging away from bullfighting — a poll last year for El Pais found 60 percent of Spaniards did not enjoy bullfighting — the sport still has big-name supporters. Peruvian novelist and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa campaigned to convince UNESCO to classify bullfighting as part of Spain's national heritage.

And in novelist Ernest Hemingway, the sport found one of its most enduring voices of support. The art of the bullfighting, Hemingway wrote in "Death in the Afternoon," "is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter's honor."

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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