End bull burning festivals in Spain.

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Introduction: There is a living, sentient animal behind the sheet of white paraffin flame in the picture on this page. It is being tortured with fire for human entertainment, in a practice that is entirely legal and widespread in several regions of eastern Spain. It is an horrific spectacle and among the very worst abuses of animals for entertainment to persist in the modern world. 

The Petition: We call on His Holiness to resolutely, unequivocally and absolutely condemn, the obscenity of the use of fire to torture and terrorise animals in the course of religious or historical celebrations, or as a means of growing popular entertainment, in a country where 25 million people assert themselves to be observant Catholics. 

Approach: My petition is a "long read" and contains a lot of background information on the sources of the cruelty and the enjoyment of torturing animals. To stop something, we have to understand it. We also have to see it: there are numerous links to footage recorded by both participants in these events and animal activists in Spain. Some of it is very distressing, particularly the scenes of burning animals and calves being mutilated. It is up to the reader whether to watch it or not, but it should be kept in mind that what you see is legal in Spain, and considered by millions of Spanish people to be entertainment.

I have realised during the petition that for many thousands of people, it has been the first time they have become aware of these practices and their scale in Spain. There have been upwards of 10,000 comments in addition to the signatures of support, many containing specific questions. I do my best to keep up with the comments and reply to as many of the questions as I can. Please do not hesitate to repeat them in the body of the petition if I miss something. 

While I respect it as a matter of individual conscience, I sincerely believe that people who continue to go to Spain on holiday, buy holiday properties there, or who buy Spanish produce, whilst knowing perfectly well what they are contributing to (the animal torture festivals are still heavily subsidised from tax receipts, to the tune of 800m euros a year), seriously need to think about their own sense of moral and ethical decision-making. 

Background: I believe that the use of fire, deliberately to inflict terror, pain and immense suffering, for the single reason of providing human entertainment, is an abomination and an affront to our common humanity. It is a little known practice outside Spain, since Spain is the only country where people torture animals with fire for entertainment. These events are held to mark historical events; to celebrate Saints' Days; or just for the pure enjoyment the brutality gives the mob. Unfortunately, the number and frequency of these events, unlike traditional bullfights, is stable and in some places, increasing. In Valencia and Castellon, which are the two Spanish regions most resistant to improvement in the treatment of animals and where the local authorities defiantly sneer at both domestic and international condemnation, there was a near 50% increase in the number of these events between 2007 and 2017. In August 2018, the Valencian government announced that it was introducing more "animalista" (=animal friendly!!) fire bulls; in reality, this meant the legalisation of horrific practices that had previously been illegal, particularly the igniting of groups of confined animals. 

I am referring to events such as these: 




https://www.facebook.com/torosembolados.abolicion/videos/1506078829664238/ (Viewer discretion advised with this one, recorded at a "celebration" to mark All Saints Day)




Several thousand bull events including the use of fire take place across eastern Spain (Valencia region, Catalonia, Castellon, Aragon, and occasionally other regions) each year. Some are big "set piece", macabre spectacles ending in the animal's death (or slaughter, if it has been blinded and is therefore worthless). In others, the animal is taken away and may be used again, despite its injuries and suffering. The events take place wherever they can be arranged - on sports grounds, makeshift stadiums, and increasingly, in the street. 

The process is more or less the same across all the spectacles and is strikingly reminiscent of lynching. A clearly terrified animal is dragged to a stake, where it is tied up. In the "rope bull" events, the animal may have endured hours, or a day, of being dragged around on a rope, enduring physical abuse, before it is brought to the stake. There is footage of animals so exhausted they can no longer stand, being dragged to the stake by a huge mob. Frantic struggling takes place during the application of the flames and immediately afterwards. The noise the animal makes as it is brutalised and as the flames are brought to its horns is nauseating. This is often drowned out with music. Fireworks may be attached to the bull or thrown at it, or fires lit around it that it runs through. On other occasions, in a practice that was illegal until August 2018, flames are applied to bulls crammed together in cages and lorries; they crash around, stamp, panic, fall over and burn each other as the fire develops. They then stampede, to the delight of the audience.

All mammals fear fire; they flee it. The bull cannot do this. All mammals experience extreme pain when burned. I have read some of the reports from Spanish veterinary associations on the practice. The reading is difficult: the animal suffers burns to the head, eyes and back; it may be blinded by the heat and burning pitch falling into its eyes; its neck may be broken by being roped to be dragged as it struggles; its spine damaged from the frantic thrashing as it tries to rid itself of the fire; extreme physical and emotional stress sufficient to kill it from a heart attack. There are very distressing videos on the internet of flaming bulls smashing against walls to try to put the flames out, bloody horns hanging off with flames still attached, or dying on the spot from head injuries. 

Ironically, General Franco banned this "celebration" and it was illegal in Spain between 1963 and 1977. However, a dramatic upsurge in torture festivals came after Franco's death, and fire bulls have become one of the predominant forms of bovine torture in the Spanish regions named above. They are part of a much wider picture of abuse, torture and killing of animals for entertainment, often in the context of religious festivals. There are more than 16,000 documented events in Spain, each year, in which people celebrate historical or religious events with the torture and killing of animals. These events mainly involve bulls and calves, and include stabbing, mutilation, amputation of tails and ears, burning and drowning. Lamentably, in some regions, children and young people participate.

Spain strongly rejects foreign criticism of its treatment of animals, hence why this petition seeks an intervention from The Pope and is not addressed to the Spanish Government (it would simply ignore it). The Spanish government has - quite incredibly - applied for UNESCO recognition of some of the fire bull events as meriting world heritage status. 

I have heard foreign Hispanophiles twist themselves into contorted verbal knots, trying to defend these practices, denying they exist, or asserting they don't really matter. Spanish society is slowly becoming aware of the damage this abuse does to its image and reputation, and some positive changes have taken place. The festivals in which goats were hanged or thrown from bell towers; bulls were turned into pin cushions by having metal darts inserted all over their bodies through blowpipes; and in which the heads were ripped off live birds hanging from ropes, have ended over the past 15 years. Unfortunately, the bullfights, calf mutilations, fire bulls, bull drownings and donkey crushing, continue, and they all involve extreme cruelty for entertainment. (I do not touch in my petition on the treatment of galgos or circus animals in Spain: these are equally desperate subjects, but I wish to remain focused on this petition's subject.) Among all these abuses, the use of fire must surely be considered the most heinous. 

Desired Outcome: the Catholic Church in Spain remains a significant influence and its official view of bullfighting, dating back to the 16th century, is that it is "the work of the Devil". I believe that a Papal Interdiction specifically condemning and rejecting the use of fire to torture animals in the name of national celebration, historical tradition or religious ceremony, would be heard. Pope Francis is on record as condemning animal cruelty; it can only be hoped that he will speak out against one of the most egregious forms of it still to exist, and reiterate the Church's view on the torture of bulls for entertainment.

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