Colombia lawmakers pass bullfighting ban

Blood sport a ‘symbol of identity’ for many, but was losing spectators in recent years amid animal welfare concerns.

A demonstrator presents a sign that reads in Spanish "No more olé" during a protest against bullfighting
A demonstrator presents a sign that reads in Spanish 'No more ole' during a protest against bullfighting on Bolivar Square, in Bogota, Colombia, May 7, 2024 [Fernando Vergara/AP Photo]

Colombia’s Congress has passed legislation banning bullfighting.

Lawmakers passed the bill 93-2 on Tuesday. Activists have spent many years seeking to prohibit the controversial blood sport, which is a centuries-old colonial tradition in the country.

The ban will be phased in over a three-year period, during which the state would be required to help find alternative employment options for the tens of thousands of people directly or indirectly dependent on the sector.

Reporting from Bogota, Al Jazeera’s Alessandro Rampietti said the bill had been greenlighted after “years of strenuous political battles”.

The once popular tradition, introduced by Spanish colonisers, had been “losing fans in recent years” and had turned into a “pastime for a small elite”, he said.

Juan Carlos Losada, a lawmaker with the Liberal Party, told Al Jazeera that the ban would enable the country to re-evaluate the “culture of violence” it had inherited.

“The next generations will grow up in a country where culture will define things much more creatively than torturing animals for the amusement of a few insensitive people,” he said.

However, bullfighting aficionados described the ban as an assault on the freedoms of minorities, as well as a problem for cities where these events draw thousands of visitors.

Matador Johan Andres Paloma said his calling was “a symbol of identity” for many Colombians.

Bullfighting was once a popular event in Colombia, broadcast live by multiple television networks. But the tradition has come under increased scrutiny as views change about animal welfare, and many find it unacceptable to see an animal suffer for entertainment’s sake.

In 2018, the Constitutional Court recognised bullfights as part of Colombia’s cultural tradition. But the capital Bogota – one of the oldest bullfighting cities in the Americas – has since outlawed the injuring or killing of bulls. The city of Medellin also imposed restrictions.

Still, the practice remains popular in cities like Cali and Manizales. According to Paloma, some 300 events are held annually at about 70 locations in Colombia.

Bullfighting originated in the Iberian Peninsula and is still legal in seven other countries – Ecuador, France, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, Spain and Venezuela.

Other countries in the region, including Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Guatemala, have banned the blood sport.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies