In Rural Colombia, At The Gory Intersection Of Social Media And Bullfighting

Images are spreading of extreme cruelty to animals at the corralejas, a version of bullfighting in remote areas of Colombia. Social media can be both enemy and friend for animal rights activists.

Corraleja in Sincelejo, Colombia.
Corraleja in Sincelejo, Colombia.
Angélica María Cuevas


BOGOTA — How can something be disgusting, unacceptable and damnable to some people, and natural if not entertaining to others?

If the digital revolution has given us one thing, it is the ability to see certain realities we could not before. We are now able to witness the daily routine of astronauts in the International Space Station, but also questionable rituals such as female circumcision, still practiced among some ethnic groups of the African and American continents.

And now, closer to home here in Colombia, the corralejas bullfighting festivals in the northern part of the country, which lead to scenes that many of us would consider atrocious.

First there was the bull at the Turbaco corraleja, in the Bolívar department, a couple of days ago: After being stabbed between in the neck, the animal was stoned and beaten to death by a group of men. Then there was the video of the horse gored in Buenavista, then dismembered alive by a male mob. The horse was then cut into pieces, and likely barbecued later on.

In neither of those "incidents" do we see any trace of indignation among witnesses. The men who jumped on the bull and those who cut the horse considered this a natural thing, as did their cheering audience.

So, why is one person's chilling spectacle another's festive moment?

For Aura Angélica Hernández, a social and cultural anthropologist teaching at the University of Antioquia, there are cultural contexts for the corralejas rooted in the communities that celebrate them — though they may seem incomprehensible to people in cities. "The bullfighting game that began in colonial times has been kept alive in isolated rural regions, with some changes, and is now a massive commercial spectacle that attracts all social classes. The poor pay a few pesos and enter the arena, at the risk of facing the animal, and the rich watch from the stands, throwing down sweets and even money," she says.

For the people of this region, participating in a corraleja is a heroic act: If the bull gores you, you show off your wounds. People from the countryside really look forward to this celebration. "All this is part of a spectacle bathed in liquor and crowd euphoria," Hernández notes. "The boss — the person who pays for the bull and horse — is upstairs, the indigenous fighters are below. Bringing the animal down can represent a triumph of the oppressed over the powerful."

The cultural distance between city and rural contexts can make this shocking for city dwellers. Those who have grown in the countryside, explains Hernández, are used to killing cattle and providing food for themselves — yet, of course, many are appalled by animal torture. People from rural areas are used to seeing a cow's throat being slit, and though they have a different relationship with horses, they still see the animal in terms of its utility, including after it is killed.

Paolo Vignolo, a historian and lecturer at the Colombian National University, has amply researched Colombia's festivities and carnivals. He says that such celebrations are particularly interesting because they reflect a group's or a community's social dynamics. In these you can see many symptoms of the unease that exists in a region. But the corralejas can also be seen as spaces wherein the local community can release tension that has been building up.

"The carnivals are characterized by waste, drunkenness and sexual excesses, as well as rituals where icons are burned and animals sacrificed," Vignolo says. "The big debate is whether or not the animal should die. In the case of the Barranquilla carnival and the Devil's Carnival in Riosucio, the expressions of death are symbolic, like burning the devil or mourning Joselito Carneval's death, but for many, the absence of animal blood in such celebrations is absurd."

Judge Enrique Gil Botero has become an authority for animal activists after forcing a research lab in the Amazonas department to shut down until it could prove it respected the rights of the monkeys it was using in tests.

Botero says Colombia needs to fundamentally change its interaction with animals.

"Just as we banned slavery or death matches in the Roman Colosseum, we should not force animals, who have highly developed nervous systems, into spectacles where people satisfy their basest needs and enjoy seeing the suffering and sacrifice of creatures who can sense pain, pleasure and loyalty," he says.

In Colombia, a debate on animal rights is emerging. But we are far from agreeing on whether or not these take precedence over our traditions.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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