Authorities have tried to put a stop to a 240-year-old tradition in a town in Veracruz this week, but some would prefer that running with the bulls in Tlacotalpan be allowed to continue.
As of last night, 60 people had been arrested after they succeeded in freeing two of the six bulls that had been rounded up by authorities and penned on a ranch outside town.
The tradition is part of Candlemas celebrations in the small town on the Papaloapan River, a UNESCO World Heritage site. But the heritage designation applies to the architecture and colonial-era layout, not to frolicking with angry bulls.
That practice was outlawed last November when the state approved an Animal Protection Law that also prohibited cock fights. The ban on the latter has already been challenged. This week it was the bull-running fans’ turn.
The Tlacotalpan event begins, according to one description, with the bulls being forced to drink the contents of a bottle of homemade, high-proof liquor before being carried across the river by boat (they used to have to swim) to the center of town.
There, they are released on the streets, causing havoc among residents and visitors alike as often there is little warning of a bull’s approach. The more daring — liquor-fueled young men for the most part — tease the animals by striking them or throwing things at them, while trying to maintain a safe distance from the forbidding horns.
The maddened bulls are eventually herded into stalls and then released into a bull ring where attempts are made to rope and ride them.
This year, anticipating a confrontation and with the intention of enforcing the law, state police and environmental officials were deployed by the Attorney General’s office.
After they removed the bulls to the nearby ranch, angry fans of the bull running stormed the municipal offices, grabbed the mayor and made for the ranch.
About 50 boats carried the group across the river where they succeeded in freeing two of the animals so the show could go on.
The mayor, it appears, was on the side of the bull running, and accused state authorities of trespassing on private property and stealing the bulls.
A state official said the mayor will be prosecuted.
Tlacotalpan’s annual festival, called the fiesta of the Virgen de la Candelaria, isn’t only about booze and bulls. Music, dance and food are also key elements of the event.