Colombia bans bullfighting at 15th attempt

By Oli Pritchard May 29, 2024

Colombia bans bullfighting after years of campaigning. The vote in the lower house passed 93-2. However, the measure will be introduced slowly.

Colombia bans bullfighting. Image of man training as a matador.
Matador training will be phased out after Colombia bans bullfighting

It’s been a long time coming, but the Colombian lower house finally announced a ban on bullfighting in the country. The law now passes to President Gustavo Petro to be passed into law for next year, following the byzantine political process of Colombia. He’s a long time opponent of the practice, so is certain to rubber stamp it.

Petro cheers as Colombia bans bullfighting

While the debate has often been seen as wildly controversial and a political hot potato, that’s somewhat misleading. Yesterday’s vote passed with just two objections and public opinion is in favour of the measure. At least, among those that care about the topic. Most people don’t see it as a key issue at all.

The process to get here has been as legally tortuous as the practice itself, with various bills archived and sidelined over the years. This latest bill found success by dropping other elements, most notably a ban on cockfighting. It will come in from next year, but the ban will be staggered over three years, meaning 2028 will be the first with the practice completely illegal.

The three-year period is designed to give everyone involved in the bullfighting world the chance to find alternative jobs and commerce. This was another compromise necessary to pass the bill, bypassing some economic arguments in favour of the corridas. The plazas de toros will be converted into general purposes stadiums for events such as concerts and so on.

Also exempted are correlejas, a mainly costeño practice where a bull is taunted, but — critically — not killed. Many animal rights activists point out that there is much more to be done on forms of entertainment that they see as involving animal abuse, including both cockfighting and correlejas.

The final bill was put forward by Juan Carlos Losada, a Liberal party congressman, after 14 previous attempts. Along the way, he had to clarify that matadores are not a minority group like AfroColombians or Indigenous groups. In 2018, bullfighting was declared an important part of culture by the constitutional court in an attempt to safeguard the practice across the country.

Colombia is joining most of the region in banning the practice. While neighbouring Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador all permit the killing of bulls in corridas, the rest of the continent does not. Globally, only Spain and Mexico are fully in favour of widespread deaths in the ring. Both those countries also have regional exceptions.

Bullfighting in Bogotá 

Image by Random Institute on Unsplash. Plaza de Toros in Bogotá.
The Plaza de Toros will continue as a venue for cultural events. Courtesy of Random Institute via Unsplash

The practice has never been particularly popular in Bogotá, reflecting its position as Colombia’s most progressive city by far. There is a strong animal rights movement and a general dislike for barbaric and outdated practices.

Current president Gustavo Petro put into place a de facto ban on bullfighting in Bogotá during his time as city mayor by simply not allowing the bullrings to be used by the toreros. That was ruled to be unconstitutional, which meant the fights returned in 2017, with then mayor Enrique Peñalosa saying he reluctantly had to follow the law despite huge protests.

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, Claudia López had an easier time of it. With everything on a long pause from the start of her mayoral career, bullfighting simply didn’t happen anyway. Then she extended animal abuse protections to cover bulls, essentially banning the practice in the capital.

Claudia López points out that Bogotá was a pioneer as Colombia bans bullfighting

The heartlands of tauromachy in Colombia are far from the capital, both in the central cordillera in places like Tolima, Valle de Cauca and Caldas as well as on the Caribbean coast. Across the country, only a couple of dozen municipalities still hold bullfights, with Manizales or Cali perhaps the biggest and most famous.

Colombia bans bullfighting, but what comes next?

As ever in Colombia, implementation is the 64 million dollar question. This is likely to be one of the easier laws to put into practice though. It’s not really possible to conduct a full-on bullfight in a backyard. In an age where violations of the law are going to be easy to record and detail, it’s hard to see this continuing in the long term.

Of course, in the short term there will be enthusiastic bullfighting in the window of opportunity where it is still legal. This is likely to be dressed up as a protection of regional culture and/or a rejection of the current political leadership. 

The real danger lies in a change of government. The current administration is fully behind animal rights in principle, even if somewhat woolly in practice. However, a change of direction is entirely likely in 2026 and this is the type of issue that may get picked up as a culture war talking point.

As mentioned earlier, bullfighting is disproportionately popular both on the right wing of Colombian politics and among marginalised poor rural coastal communities. The latter is a constituency that has leaned strongly pro-Petro, so could be targeted with the restoration of bullfighting as a form of identifying with the culture.

However, this is far from certain. Regionally, people are moving away from bullfighting. It’s increasingly seen as representative of Iberian culture rather than Latin American. With most of Colombia already onside, it will be hard to turn this around – animal abuse is rarely a vote-winner countrywide. For at least a few years, bulls can rest a little easier.