Community, Culture, Santa Cruz, The Voice Explains

Explainer: Why were bullfights held in Palmares but not in Santa Cruz?

Esta publicación también está disponible en: Español
Translator: Arianna Hernández

This is the second year in a row that the COVID-19 pandemic is making it impossible to hold the Santa Cruz National Typical Fiestas and its classic bull riding in Los Mangos Plaza. But in Palmares, Costa Rican-style bullfights were held during the end of the year, which made many people from Santa Cruz wonder: Why can’t we set up the barrier and the bleacher seating?

We spoke with the municipality and the health area to compare the characteristics of both fiestas to understand what makes one more suitable for applying measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

A Fiesta in the Whole Town

Before explaining any details, it’s important to note that the Municipality of Santa Cruz didn’t take any steps to hold the fiestas, explained the municipality’s spokesman, Francisco Mairena.

“We’re waiting for the situation to normalize or for the new order to be presented, that they tell us ‘the situation isn’t going to change now.’ Then we’ll see the options for holding the fiestas. In the meantime, we wait. Either they’re done well, or they’re not done,” declared Mairena.

On December 1, 2021, the government published a decree that updates health permits for large gathering events to “spaces that allow control of the capacity of the people attending, subject to the epidemiological conditions of the country at the time that authorization is requested.”

The dynamics of the Santa Cruz fiestas prevent compliance with this requirement. “By turning the entire town into a fairground, we’re aware that it’s impossible for a permit to be given. That’s precisely why no type of step was taken to hold the fiestas,” explained Mairena

The Director of the Santa Cruz Health Governing Area, Warren Chavarria, explained that the civic fiestas, bull riding and bullfights have been allowed specifically in places where they’ve been able to control the number of people attending.

The Palmares bullring had a capacity of 40% from December 25 to 31, and on January 1 and 2 it was increased to 60%.

Given the characteristics of [the fiestas in] Santa Cruz, which are held in an open place where it would be very difficult to control entry, then there would be an increased risk of COVID-19 infections,” added Chavarria.

Another detail to take into account is that one of the most important emblems of the Santa Cruz fiestas isn’t even inside the fairgrounds: the bullring.

A Bullring with Open Doors

Building the bullring arena and bleachers in Santa Cruz is a centuries-old tradition that has always been done in the same place: Lopez or Los Mangos Plaza, in the center of the city.

It’s such a strong custom that the people of Santa Cruz have gone against orders from the Ministry of Health that attempted to relocate the structure to another site due to problems involved in building it in Lopez Plaza: lack of sanitary conditions, citizen safety, road management and emergency care.

Even so, it has remained in the same place. After many complaints, the ministry allowed bull riding to continue taking place in Lopez Plaza, a place where it’s impossible to control people entering and exiting.

The fiestas have been held in Santa Cruz for more than 200 years in honor of the patron saint, Christ of Esquipulas. This photo is from January, 2019 in the Plaza de los Mangos. Foto: César ArroyoPhoto: César Arroyo

In addition to this, the infrastructure of Santa Cruz’s bullring is completely open. In other words, anyone who wants to can walk under the bleachers to see the bull riding. This makes it impossible to avoid crowds.

Mairena, from the municipality, explained that, in the past, they’ve changed the type of bullring barrier to comply with regulations from the Ministry of Health and for large events, but these changes haven’t affected the “essence.”

If you come here to Santa Cruz and want to put on the typical fiestas in a ring [like the one in Palmares], people would set fire to that before it’s finished,” he stated.

The Party Pooper Variant

Days ago, the Palmares Civic Association announced that it would hold its fiestas from January 27 to 31 under a reduced format, in adherence to health protocols and with a request that visitors be fully vaccinated. 

However, they decided to cancel them due to the increase in COVID-19 cases and the new measures announced by the government. During the first week of 2022, infections increased by 332%, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

On January 11, the country reported a record number of 4,050 cases in one day. According to Dr. Chavarria, the situation in the canton of Santa Cruz reflects the national reality. That same day, Santa Cruz reported 90 new cases and 567 active ones.

We must take into account that in the last three weeks, there has been an exponential increase in cases.  As the week goes by, the cases practically double from the previous week,” said Chavarria.

Regarding posts on social networks that incite clandestine fiestas during these dates, Mairena explains that these “are pages that someone thought of doing” and they have no control over these situations.

“We haven’t organized anything, but we can’t manage civilians either. Messages are made and we ask people not to create crowds,” the spokesman underscored.