The spate of bull-running deaths is turning the spotlight on Spain’s fiestas

MADRID (AP) – Cries of fear-inducing excitement as bulls run through the streets of many Spanish cities during wildly popular summer festivals echo in stark contrast to the number of people who have died since disaster struck this year.

Bullfighting may be a favorite spectacle for locals and visitors to thousands of summer festivals across Spain, but the macabre, with a record eight deaths this year, has led politicians and animal rights activists to heavily criticize the practice.

There were no deaths or injuries in Atanzón when revelers on foot and on horseback recently ran into the rabid animal. But last week in Alalpardo, less than an hour’s drive away, a steering wheel fatally struck a 60-year-old man.

A week earlier, a 73-year-old French woman, who regularly took part in bullfighting events, died in the eastern town of Beniarbeig after suffering chest injuries. Six men have been fatally shot at other Valencia festivals and more than 380 attendees have been injured. The season doesn’t end until November.

Despite the concern, the authorities seem to have lost sight of the additional security measures they can take.

“Some people have lost all fear of the bull,” says regional emergency chief Jose Maria Angel. He urges revelers to be extra careful – the main recommendation being to come out to a safety review meeting.

The vice-president of Valencia’s regional government, Aitana Mas, left the door open to discussing whether to ban these kinds of festivals, saying the current legislation is “not enough”.

Only a few villages have canceled such festivals. Tavernes de la Valldigna is one of those that has, and sees it as a matter of maintaining its animal rights policy.

“I hope our decision will further bring the conversation to the streets and lead to an end to this tradition,” Mayor Sergi González told The Associated Press, even as he acknowledged the tradition’s deep cultural roots.

While public debate in Spain has largely focused on the loss of human life, activists are demanding a total ban on events where animals are used for entertainment.

Animal rights groups are particularly opposed to events they say are deliberately crueler to the animals, such as when cotton balls are lit on bulls’ horns or when the animal is forced into the sea and then brought back to shore.

The events known in Valencian dialect as “Bous al carrer”, (Bulls in the Street) involve bulls or calves being released into the streets to await crowds who try to provoke them to charge.

Alejandro Cano, Defense President of the Bous al Carrer Associations, sees no cause for alarm, telling the AP that the victims are “part of the festival.”

Some bulls are fought and killed by matadors, but most are returned to their farms.

According to the Ministry of Culture, about 2,700 such shows took place last year. The amount was reduced compared to the regular season due to some pandemic restrictions still in place. In 2019 it was 17,000. This year around 9,000 are expected to take place by the end of November.

The running of the bulls at Pamplona’s San Fermin, immortalized by Nobel Prize winner and novelist Ernest Hemingway, is the top event, but there hasn’t been a death there for 13 years. The security measures, public investment and professionalism of the runners are unmatched by any other smaller Spanish festival.

Atanzón will continue to celebrate its patron saint, San Agustín, the same way Pamplona does — praying to the saint that none of the bulls are killed for another summer.

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