A Hoax or a Help?

Thanks to people willing to take action — like one of our heroines, Brigitte Bardot — cruelty to animals can and must be stopped wherever you find it. She has become a leading advocate for an end to one of the most spectacular and longest standing examples of torturing animals for entertainment – bullfighting.

Because of the growing sentiment against bullfighting, this ancient entertainment is gradually disappearing. The picture below has been circulating all over the internet for several years. But it’s not quite what it appears to be…

    “And suddenly, I looked at the bull. He had this innocence that all animals have in their eyes, and he looked at me with this pleading. It was like a cry for justice, deep down inside of me. I describe it as being like a prayer – because if one confesses, it is hoped, that one is forgiven…”

This picture has moved thousands of people to stop the cruel practice of bullfighting. It circulates on the internet and Facebook, and credits Álvaro Múnera Builes as the matador who despairs at the agony of the dying bull and as the author of these words. The truth is a little more complicated.

Known around the world as “the vegetarian matador,” at 17 years old, Álvaro Múnera won an international tournament in his home country of Colombia. “The less you move, the greater the risk.” He stayed very still and was awarded the top prize for his bravery. He became known as “El Pilarico,” and was invited to continue his career in Spain. When only 18 years old in September 1984, he was thrown into the air by a powerful bull. When he landed, the bull gored him again, severing his spine and rendering him paraplegic for life. Now an activist for animal rights and disabled people, he speaks out against the practice of bullfighting.

It’s a wonderful story, isn’t it? But it’s a hoax.

Múnera’s biography is true. To this day, he is in a wheelchair. He does work to end the practice. An eloquent and moving audio interview is posted on the internet done by Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW, October 2011). As one commentator wrote: “Have a listen. he’s a human being just like you and me. not bombastic, simply telling his story.” Go to: http://www.rnw.nl/english/article/vegetarian-bullfighter.

He recounts meeting an elderly woman who said, “I’m really happy to see you in a wheelchair. You are a barbarian. You are cruel. And you don’t deserve to ever walk again.” He realized that “It is unethical to torture and kill animals for entertainment.” He remains haunted by dreams of bulls he has killed and says, “I hope they will forgive me for the wrongs I have done.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” says the Chinese proverb. When is it right for a hoax to continue? Perhaps, as in this case, when it helps bring awareness.

The photograph is actually of an exhausted matador, Francisco Javier Sánchez Vara, simply taking a break while waiting for the bull to collapse. The words come from an article by the author Antonio Gala Velasco in the Spanish newspaper El País in 1995. Alexander Fiske-Harrison, author of Into the Arena, The World of the Spanish Bullfight blogged about this misinformation in July and once again the photo is circulating widely on Facebook. For the true story, see “This Photo is Not What It Seems” on http://fiskeharrison.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/this-photo-is-not-what-it-seems/.

Things are changing in Spain and throughout the world. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) UK has an online petition to Spain’s government which asks, “Please heed the 72 per cent of Spaniards who have no interest in bullfighting and would prefer their beloved country to be seen as a compassionate place that respects the lives of all its inhabitants.”

The Spanish animal rights group “Prou!” (Catalan for “Enough”) collected 180,000 signatures asking the Catalonia Parliament to end the practice. In September 2011 in a packed arena in Barcelona, Catalonia ended its 700 year history with the last bullfight in that state.

If you agree as we do that bullfighting should be stopped, sign it here:

By Teviot Fairservis.


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