Compiled by Vanessa Papas: Recently a small town in Mexico, South America, is painted red – literally – as bulls are beaten, maimed and tortured before being drowned to death, all in the name of a religious street Festival. The Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria has put the tiny town of Puno, Peru, under a giant spotlight. A massive public outcry has seen thousands of people across the globe calling on the Government to an end to the use of bulls beaten and attacked by drunk locals during the week-long festivities.
According to tradition, the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria is held in honour of the Virgin of Candelaria and celebrated in many Central and South American countries, running from 2nd to 18th February. It’s supposed to be a festival of fun with a wonderful ambiance and entertainment by local dancers and musicians, paying homage to the patron saint of the city: the Virgin of Candelaria, also known as La Morenita – one of various representations of the famed Virgin Mary. The Festival is largely worship-based with locals spending most of the previous year preparing for it and people coming from far and wide to be a part of this special occasion. A major part of the Festival is the consumption of alcohol, which gets the attendees in the right mood to party and let go of their inhibitions.
While the Festival takes place in many parts of South America, no one celebrates it quite like Tlacotalpan, Mexico, where the 8000 residents spend much of the week drinking boozy, homemade concoctions called ‘Toritos’. Tragically, bulls are always part of the event in Tlacotalpan. According to locals, bulls are used to remember the centuries-old Pamplona bull-run in Mexico’s former colonial power. But unlike Pamplona, where a pack of bulls chases people for a few minutes down a carefully cordoned-off path, in Tlacotalpan the bulls are let loose to rampage through the streets for hours as crowds taunt them.
The bulls – most of whom are elderly and donated by local ranchers for the Festival – are force-fed alcohol before being set loose in the town. Because the bulls in Tlacotalpan are not raised to fight or run and are used to living peacefully in the fields (and when the time comes are slaughtered for meat to feed the hungry), the rush of people, loud sounds, chanting and music causes the bulls to become frantic and disorientated. They are then subjected to unspeakable horrors – chased, lassoed, beaten with bats, kicked and stabbed. Their tails are also reportedly pulled and their ears ripped off. This unremitting torture is inflicted on the bull while he is fully conscious, subjecting him to what can only be considered excruciating pain and prolonged suffering: death typically does not occur for days as surviving bulls are set to pasture with their injuries.
The town, which draws its name from an Aztec word meaning ‘land between waters’, lies on the banks of a river where the bulls are taken by raft boats to the other side, where they are released into the crowds. Occasionally, stray dogs are even tied to the bull for ‘added entertainment’. In addition to torturing bulls and dogs, the Festival also includes gruesome chicken fights and horse races. These event are considered a cultural tradition, a celebration of heritage and a demonstration of courage and strength.
Although town officials did change the rules involving animals in the Festival (after protests) with Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment calling on organisers to tone down the cruelty, not much has changed in recent years. “The locals expect the massive animals to run after the spectators, but the bulls can’t or won’t,” explains Tlacotalpan Mayor, Homero Gamboa. “Unlike fighting bulls, the breed in question is docile and, they are usually already exhausted and can hardly move by the time they arrive at the festivities. But because the spectators expect an 800-kilogram bull to be more aggressive and combatant they begin to beat the animals.”
Despite the awareness campaigns over the treatment of these bulls, the Festival continues. While attendance at the patron saint celebrations has slightly dropped, and as a result some ranchers have held back on donating their finer bulls, in just two days, Tlacotalpan’s population still multiplies by eight. According to town officials, 60 000 people came to take part in the festivities last year, including a number of tourists.
“So far, more than 160 000 people have signed one of several online petitions to stop the use of bulls in the Festival, but the number is just not enough,” says Dominic Dyer of Care for the Wild International. “This is another example of man’s inhumanity to animals, which I simply can’t get my head around. Fiestas like this take place particularly in Spain and Mexico with the sole purpose seemingly for people to get their kicks by torturing and killing defenceless animals.”
Videos taken at the Festival over the years and posted to You Tube show how the bulls are methodical torture. The footage has been a catalyst for many animal activists signing the online petition to condemn and stop the use of bulls in the Festival. Many are now calling on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to take away Tlacotalpan’s standing as a ‘World Heritage Site’ – a prestigious title given to locations of cultural or physical significance. It’s hoped that if the heritage status is revoked the locals will be more enticed to stop the use of bulls and other animals in the Festival.
* Show your support against the cruelty of this festival by signing the online petition on http://www.thepetitionsite.com/en-gb/7/help-stop-bull-torchure-quotfestivalquot-in-mexico/