Jaime Rubio Alfaro
Since the Middle Ages, in Spain there have been many popular celebrations held to mark the Day of the Virgin, of some saint or some other patron. Some of them are very known as la Tomatina and Las Fallas which don’t include any animal mistreatment, and some of them do, as the also internationally known, San Fermines.
However, the Feast of San Fermin is included in a much broad concept of celebration called encierro (bull’s confination), which is widely celebrated all around the country in almost all the villages of Spain. While in the encierro there is not any physical harm to the bulls, later those bulls can be used in the corridas (Bullfighting event) of that village or, as some of the bravest (and most dangerous) bulls, can be used in other encierros of other villages, where the owners can be paid up to $20,000 per appearance. Nevertheless, there are many Spanish festivities that include animal abuse and are not so known to people outside of Spain. And many of them are much more harrowing to animals, such as El Toro de la Vega.
So the purpose of this post is to explain why are socially and legally permitted such festivities in Spain.
First of all, it is important to understand that many of these festivals have been held for hundreds of years, so for people that celebrates them not think that they are celebrating the animal abuse, but a tradition. We can see this for example, in that some of this festivities are freely recorded and broadcasted on TV, meaning that they don’t think they are doing anything wrong or that they are not ashamed of it, in contrast with some other animal abuses, like the AG-GAG examples, where the videos have to be recorded in an unlawful way– or without the consent of the owners or doers – because the owners/doers know that what they are doing is wrong or unlawful.
Animal advocacy associations have been fighting against such traditions for several decades, and recently, also the public opinion is starting to reject this kind of celebrations. Although there is no official data, organizations as Ecologistas en Acción estimate that around 60,000 animals are used between March and September as main course in the festivities of many Spanish towns. Besides bullfighting, streets, squares and fields of these towns are places for encierros (bull’s confinement), toros embolados (fire bulls) roped bulls, carousels ponies, geese run … As the number of celebrations, annual calculations ranging from 3,000, according to the Justice and Defense Animal- Observatory and 16,000 according to the Foundation for Adoption, sponsorship and Defense of Animals (FAADA). In many of these “traditional” celebrations, that some parties considered tourist attractions, as it was mentioned before, it is provoked the suffering, stress and nervousness animals, and sometimes, even the death of the animal.
While Spain has a National Law against Animal cruelty – with criminal punishments– the same law regulates and permits also spectacles featuring animals such as bullfights, encierros and other traditional festivals, and this is where lies the main dispute.
The Spanish Penal Code (CP-1995) punish with sentences of three months to one year imprisonment the mistreatment of pets, a category that does not include bulls, falconry birds and exotic or wild animals. However, the animalist groups do not agree with this length of imprisonment – neither with the exclusions made by the law – because in Spain, however is not specifically said by the law, for all the imprisonment sentences below two years, the judges are allowed to commute the punishment of deprivation of freedom for other sanctions if the defendant has no criminal record.
The powers, both for the protection of animals and the celebrations belong to the regional and local governments, and there is no unity of opinion. Again, because while each town or village individually defends its own traditions, part of society has them as savages’ traditions that should be eradicated.
For example, in Castile and León are allowed celebrations with over 200 years of tradition, and in Catalonia, Extremadura and Madrid are prohibited embolados (fire bulls). The Basque Country has also regulated by Autonomous decree mistreatment of animals in the festivities. The first community to ban the bloody animal shows in “fights, parties, shows and other activities involving abuse, cruelty or suffering” was the Canary Islands, in 1991. However, the law passed, allowed, by tradition, cockfighting.
And no matter which political party is in power, as there are parties who want to ban certain national traditions while the same party at the local level, when they are in power to the town hall, refuse to ban it. Like recently happened with the Socialist Party (PSOE), which says that if they govern in the next legislature they will ban El Toro de la Vega. Meanwhile, the Major of Tordesillas, where El Toro de la Vega is held, also of the Socialist Party, said that during the time he is in power of the City Hall, El Toro de la Vega was going to be celebrated. It is because people in Tordesillas wants to maintain that tradition, but the rest of the voters of the Socialist Party around Spain wants to ban it.
The ban on bullfighting in Catalonia in 2010, however, should not only be framed as an issue of animal welfare, if not more as a way to assert their national identity against the Spanish one, because they understand that the bullfights are something that symbolize the Spanish culture – it would be a stand alone post to discuss over the ban of Bullfighting in Catalonia.
Environmental groups consider it unacceptable that such celebrations are justified. For defenders of these traditions, festivals are part of the culture and history, and a common place of reunion for different generations of the populations.
Videos about El Toro de la Vega: