Ecuador votes to end 500 years of bullfighting

Mon, May 9, 2011, 01:00

VOTERS IN Ecuador have brought to an end a 500-year-old tradition by approving a ban on bullfighting.

As well as ending the killing of bulls in the ring, voters in a referendum held on Saturday outlawed cockfighting and casino gambling. More controversially, President Rafael Correa won approval for new controls on the country’s media and financial sectors.

Voters backed all 10 constitutional reforms backed by the popular Mr Correa, who campaigned hard in favour of the new measures. Provisional results though from electoral authorities show the margin of victory was tighter than expected.

The president’s opponents had claimed the referendum was the latest moves in his campaign since taking power in 2007 to strengthen the power of Ecuador’s executive. However, at a victory rally on Saturday night, Mr Correa called the result a victory for his “citizens’ revolution”, saying voters had not been scared off by a “ferocious opposition” and a corrupt press. “We have beaten them all,” he told supporters.

Bullfighting has long been a traditional pastime of Ecuador’s European-descended elite. Its supporters sought to portray the proposed ban as an attack on their freedom of expression and cultural heritage and claimed an end to the spectacle would leave 100,000 people out of work.

However the poor indigenous majority, from which Mr Correa draws his support, was little moved by the appeals to what many see as a European tradition.

The result does allow for bullfighting to continue so long as the bull is not killed, as currently happens in Portugal. In 2004, Ecuador’s third city, Cuenca, banned the killing of the bull and only allowed the Portuguese version.

Since then, bullfighting has almost disappeared from the city.

Brought to Latin America by the Spanish conquistadores, bullfighting is still practised in Colombia, Perú, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Panamá and Bolivia. In Mexico, opposition senators are also preparing a law which would ban the spectacle there. With a capacity of 48,000, the Plaza México in Mexico City is the world’s biggest bullring.

Last year the government of Cataluña in Spain banned bullfighting in the region.

The most divisive proposal passed in Saturday’s referendum was the measure to create a three-member panel with an 18-month mandate to weed corruption out of Ecuador’s discredited judicial system. The panel will have the power to appoint judges, including new supreme court judges.

Mr Correa will personally appoint one panel member while his political supporters could muster the votes to appoint at least one of the other two.

Critics had warned this would give the executive branch too much power over the judiciary, but most Ecuadorians are deeply hostile to what they see as a corrupt and inefficient legal system.

They showed they were willing to give Mr Correa the benefit of the doubt in his campaign to reform the country’s courts.

An ally of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Mr Correa has brought stability to the volatile Andean country since taking power in 2007. In the decade before his election, the country had seen six presidents, several overthrown by violent street protests. He has benefited from the high price for the country’s oil exports to boost government spending on the poor.

Even so, Ecuador remains polarised between the poor indigenous-dominated highlands and the more economically dynamic coastal region.

Last year Mr Correa was taken hostage by rebellious police officers protesting about pay and conditions in what the president said was an attempted coup d’état.