After the fatal goring of Spanish bullfighter Victor Barrio Saturday, messages of condolence flooded social media.
But the floodgates were also opened to those who happily celebrated the matador’s death at the age of 29. He was gored in the thigh and chest during a bullfight in Teruel in northeastern Spain, becoming the first Spanish bullfighter to die in the ring since 1985.
“A bullfighter has died. One less torturer, and today the planet is a little more clean of all this sh–,” read one tweet.
“Yes, the death of bullfighters like Victor Barrio makes me happy. He had no pity for the bulls that he killed and I feel no pity for his death,” read another.
“I celebrate the death of Victor Barrio. Anyone who attacks a defenseless animal deserves to die,” read another.
And a teacher from Valencia, Vicent Belenguer Santos, wrote in a Facebook post that Barrio’s death made him very happy.
“We will dance on your grave and piss on the wreaths that they place for you!” read the post.
In response, a petition calling the teacher’s resignation and disqualification circulated online, collecting close to 219,000 signatures in just two days. The ministry of education in Valencia also distanced itself from the teacher, calling his comment “absolutely unacceptable.”
La Fundación del Toro de Lidia, a group that promotes and defends bullfighting, has compiled a list of at least 50 messages across different social media platforms they deem offensive and announced on Monday that it will take legal action against their authors. In a statement, the foundation said that many of the messages — whether they celebrated Barrios death, or insulted him, his widow or his family — constitute a crime of libel, punishable by up to 14 months in prison.
Meanwhile, the national police of Spain has also opened an investigation into social media postings about Barrio to determine whether they are unlawful.
“Being happy at the death of a bullfighter doesn’t make you a lover of animals,” said Frank Cuesta, a Spanish TV presenter. “It makes you a worse human.”
Barrio’s widow, Raquel Sanz, lashed out at those behind the hateful messages. They may be beings, but not human beings, she said.
Also fanning anger online was the fact that, as per bullfighting tradition, the mother of a killer bull must be sacrificially slaughtered so as to kill off the bloodline. Lorenzo, the bull that fatally gored Barrio, had already been put to death, according The Local Spain. But the prospect of having to sacrifice his mother Lorenza, too, drew further ire.
A campaign with the hashtag ‘Save Lorenza’ (#SalvemosALorenza) was launched by Pacma, an animal rights political party in Spain, and an accompanying petition calling for Lorenza to be spared has since collected over 5,000 signatures.
“We reject the traditions based on violence, vengeance and blood,” wrote Pacma in a Facebook post on Sunday.
“Isn’t there enough blood already?” Pacma tweeted.
It turned out, however, that Lorenza had already been killed days before for reasons of old age, ABC.es reported.
The death of Barrio has again raised the question of whether bullfighting should be banned in Spain.
About 2,000 bullfights are still held every year, according to the BBC, but the numbers are on a downward trend. An online survey conducted last December by the market research firm Ipsos Mori found that only 19% of Spaniards aged 16 to 65 supported bullfighting.
However, the sport still has powerful supporters, including Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy. To him and other fans of the sport, it is a 4,000-year-old art with roots run deep into the history of the country.
And the industry is also a lucrative one for the Spanish economy, bringing some $3.8 billion annually, according to Deutsche Welle.
But as the political landscape in Spain has shifted, so too has the standing of the sport of bullfighting.
Since the left-wing anti-austerity, anti-bullfighting party Podemos won seats in local and regional elections in 2015, at least 17 cities and towns in Spain have cut funding for the sport or passed measures to restrict it, according to the Associated Press.
“Now that the political scenery has changed, there is a window of opportunity at the local level to promote the anti-bullfighting agenda,” Antonio Barroso, an analyst with the Teneo Intelligence political risk consulting firm, told the Associated Press. “The far left has gained political power and this tends to be an issue leftist voters care about.”