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Bid to ban bullfighting in Barcelona goes before regional parliament

By Al Goodman, CNN Madrid Bureau Chief
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Spain's bullfighting debate
  • Catalonia would become the first region of mainland Spain to ban bullfights
  • Only one bullfight ring remains in Barcelona, with about a dozen fights a year
  • "Many traditions disappear as the society advances," ban backer says
  • Economic impact would be painful, bullfight booster argues

Barcelona, Spain (CNN) -- The deep-rooted Spanish tradition of bullfighting is under fire in Barcelona and its region of Catalonia, where the regional parliament will vote on Wednesday whether to ban the fights.

If approved, Catalonia would become the first region in mainland Spain to outlaw bullfighting, and some see it as a slap in the face to the rest of the country.

Enrique Guillen, 24, laments that he might be the last Barcelona-born bullfighter to take the "alternativa," or ceremonial fight in the ring against the biggest bulls to become a full-fledged matador, which he did last year at Barcelona's sole remaining bullring, the Monumental.

Guillen's father worked at the bullring, opening the doors for bulls to charge in to face matadors and their death.

"My father brought me to see the bullfights when I still had a pacifier," Guillen said. "It would be frustrating not to be able to give to my children what my parents gave to me."

But activist Aida Gascon, of the Anti-Bullfighting Party, known as PACMA, looks beyond the tradition and sees animal cruelty.

She says she's attended just one bullfight in her life, and that was only to get a sense of the bull's suffering, which she depicted in a painting that hangs in her living room.

"Bullfighting is part of Spanish culture," Gascon said. "But that should change. Many traditions disappear as the society advances."

The number of bullfights across Spain has dropped by one-third in recent years, due mostly to budget constraints of local governments, which often fund the spectacles.

In Catalonia, there are now just over a dozen fights a year and the Monumental bullring in Barcelona is about the only place in the region that still holds fights.

But Luis Corrales and his pro-bullfight group, known as PPDF, released a study predicting big economic losses for Catalonia if bullfighting is banned. This would mainly result, he says, because the Catalan government would have to pay damages to the bullfighting industry, which holds long-term operating licenses.

"When the Catalan government and the opposition are working hard to trim the budget, how could they justify making big indemnity payments to the bullfighting industry, when it's not necessary," Corrales said.

But critics disagree, saying the economic impact would be minimal, given the small number of fights still held in Catalonia.

Either way, the Catalan parliament bullfight vote is being watched not only in Spain, but abroad, where many have a fascination with bullfighting.

The proposal to ban bullfighting started as a popular initiative in Catalonia and was accepted for consideration by parliament last year by a slim margin of votes. Since then, there has been an ever-intensifying debate, with bullfighting proponents and opponents gathering support from across Spain, even from abroad.

Most analysts predict that the vote on Wednesday will be very close. The two largest parties in parliament, the ruling Socialists and the opposition Catalan nationalists, or CiU, have given their members of parliament freedom to vote their conscience.

Some smaller parties on the left are expected to vote for the ban while the conservative Popular Party is expected to support continuing the tradition.

The ban, if approved, would take effect in January 2012 and would not end bullfighting in the rest of Spain. It still has a strong following in Madrid and in the south around Seville.

Spain's Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean already does not allow bullfighting, but a ban in Catalonia would be considered a bigger blow to the tradition.

Some analysts say that Catalan nationalism, including the desire by some in the Barcelona area for independence from Spain, also is playing a role in the vote, as well as the upcoming regional elections for parliament later this year.

But the main bullfighting proponents and opponents say the root issue is a clear line in the sand: tradition vs. protection of animals.

The Catalan parliament vote is expected by 1 p.m. (7 a.m. ET) Wednesday.