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About the Author

Tiziana Cauli
Journalist (London, UK)

I am a London-based Italian journalist currently covering the property market in Europe, but with a strong background and interest in development issues. I graduated in a post-degree school of journalism in Milan (Italy) and hold a Ph.D. in African Studies. I worked as a journalist in South Africa, Italy, France and Spain and am fluent in Italian, English, Spanish and French.


Michelito the little “matador”

Published 08th June 2010 - 9 comments - 7059 views -


When I first saw this picture in an online newspaper I felt very disturbed. Some bull-fight fans in Spain and across the world may even find it beautiful but there is something very wrong in the action it portraits. I still think this is a remarkable shot and I’m not blaming the photographer for the sense of nausea I felt watching it.

Whoever took this picture for the Associated Press actually managed to capture the entire wrongness of what was happening that day in a Mexican “plaza de toros” even before the worst almost occurred.

The bleeding beast that caught my attention at first could easily trigger a debate on animals’ rights and the need to ban a barbaric tradition such as the “corrida” from Spain and some Latin American countries. But this is not a topic to be addressed on a platform focused on the developing world.

After feeling sick for the poor dying bull in the picture, though, I noticed something else. The brave and magnificent “torero” who was proudly facing the exhausted animal was actually a little boy.

Before even thinking that this innocent child, who certainly had only a limited understanding of what he was doing, was risking his life for the entertainment of a cheering crowd, I felt deeply sorry for him for a different reason.

This 12-year old was staring at a dying animal whom he was killing just to give people a good show. He was prepared to torture him even further and showed no sense of mercy or guilt. Michelito – this is how his fans call him – was obviously used to such cold-heartedness. He started killing bulls only a few years after he learned to walk and this is why people like him so much, he knows it very well. He also knows his dad is so proud of him for being so brave.

Michel Lagravère senior, a bull-fighter himself, as well as the director of a bull-fighting school in Mérida, Yucatan, does not seem to care about the effects that his young son’s cruelty and insensitiveness will have on the development of the kid’s personality. He doesn’t even seem to care about the actual risks the boy faces every time he enters an arena.

Michelito’s mother, on the other hand, did say something about it. “As a mother, I never stop suffering,” she announced two years ago in an interview with Spanish news agency EFE. “I cannot get used to it and I never will.”

The young torero’s loving mother was right to be worried, given the outcome of Michelito’s latest and most important fight some days ago in the biggest arena he could ever dream of.

Yes, what children and animal rights activists across the world had been fearing since the baby torero started performing at the age of ten did happen in the Plaza Mexico arena in Mexico City. After killing a bull, the “torerito” slipped and got wounded by a “novillo”, a young bull, who stepped on the boy’s head.

Luckily, Michelito was not seriously injured. He could declare he was satisfied with his performance and his father could once again tell journalists how proud he was of his son.

I live in Spain but I never went to a bull-fight. I saw one on TV once and I remember being extremely disturbed by the sight of children cheering for the torero and calling for him to kill the bull and cut off his ear as a trophy.

I thought if I had children I would never take them to such a violent show, letting alone making them take part in it.

Even if I were a bad mother and wanted my kid to perform as a torero in a real corrida, though, I don’t think this would be allowed in any country in Europe or wherever children’s rights are protected by state laws.

Michelito’s father knows it very well, and he is apparently lucky to have moved to Mexico from France, his home country, where his son’s performances were forbidden two years ago by the authorities.

Mr. Lagravère was really disappointed when the mayor of Fontvieille, a Provencal town where Michelito was expected to perform during his 2-month French tour, banned the show. It was considered as dangerous for the kid even if he would only face bulls up to 2 years of age and with no killings involved. This was although Michelito was used to facing older bulls and finishing them when he performed in Latin America, where laws are a bit more permissive and the torercito has thousands of supporters in several countries.

In Barcelona, where I live, corridas are not exactly a local tradition, but it took years for activists to get the support they needed in order to submit a law proposal for their banning to the Catalan parliament.

In other Spanish regions, a law forbidding corridas would probably generate more protests that the one banning smoke from public places, which still has to be enforced.

Still, Michelito could not perform here, as laws do not allow kids under the age of 16 to take part in such shows.  

There are several forms of violence and child exploitation that are carried out unnoticed in many European countries, but apparently not as blatantly and shamelessly as in Michelito’s case. It is a sad consideration and it may sound a bit provocative, but maybe this kid would have had a better life and become a healthier and more balanced adult had his father stayed in France.

Category: Human Rights | Tags: spain, mexico, corrida, michelito,


  • Giedre Steikunaite on 08th June 2010:

    Thanks for this story, Tiziana.

    It looks like a case of “as long as it makes money… it’s fine.” Teaching children violence and making them get used to it is disturbing in itself. Making them actually be violent is even worse. Violent against animals for a savage cheering from a crowd which needs another “proof” they are still the species in power.. even worse that worse.

    Corrida supporters can shout as much as they want about their right to “tradition” and all that. But torturing a poor animal is just so not 21st century. We’ve moved on as species, right?

  • Tiziana Cauli on 09th June 2010:

    Thank you for your comment Giedre,
    I totally agree. Making human beings fight with lions or gladiators kill each others for the emperor’s entertainiment was also a tradition but we got rid of it at some point, didn’t we? I can’t help feeling sorry for this child, although I’m sure many kids in Latin America would like to be like him. That’s just so wrong.

  • Enrico Marongiu on 09th June 2010:

    Often, we’re as bulls in a bullfight. We are being overloaded with wrath, we are targeted at a red “mantilla” with all the anger and pain we feel, we are being convinced that the mantilla is our foe, the source of all evil, the only reason to live is to catch that damn red cape.
    Only a few realize to be, sometimes, bulls in a bullfigh, subjugated by clever manners of cunning bullfighters.

    I’ve been at a corrida last month in Valencia, I admit to have felt an ancestral emotion which was a mixture of anger, fear, excitation, satisfaction. We are in the 21st century, but we must remind ourselves that we are animals, after all.

  • Tiziana Cauli on 09th June 2010:

    Thanks for your comment Enrico.
    Of course we all experience emotions of that kind, but luckily we made some progress from a society based on ancestral instincts. Else we would kill, rape etc. Yes, some people still do it, but their behaviour is socially condemned, isn’t it?
    Now,making a child become violent and cruel for our entertainment or for money is just as backwards and uncivilized as torturing and slaughtering an animal for fun.
    Besides, no matter what Hemingway wrote or what Almodovar said - just to mention two prominent corrida supporters - bull-fights are not a struggle between man and beast. There is no struggle, as we all know the animal is going to die anyway, and the man is going to be taken out of the arena as soon as he’s hit. Also, nobody tortures him before the show to make him angry and weak.
    So I do find such argumentations really stupid.

  • Enrico Marongiu on 09th June 2010:

    Please give me the chance to explain better since you did not give the chance to a different interpretation yourself.
    Let’s try to analyze the two sections of my comment. The first one is a metaphor that states how we are, sometimes, mislead and manoeuvred by others. In this case, the metaphor applies to the father, the “bullfighter” of the metaphor, and the child, the “bull”.

    The second sentence is a personal experience, which serves to various scopes: firstly, “I admit” shall be considered as a clear sense of guiltiness, a sort of confession (autodafe?). Secondly, I make a harsh consideration: we are still animals and we MUST dwelve with animal-like behavior. We have to manage them of course. It is not a justification.

    I am sorry you misunderstood what I wrote, I understand it wasn’t clearly oriented and easy to interpret. But we’re intelligent beings, after all, and we do not stop at first emotion, do we?

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 09th June 2010:

    Thanks for this post Tiziana. My mother went to Spain before and brought with her a picture of a poster showing a bullfight. I’m curious why it’s so popular in Spain. I mean what is the deeper cultural reason for it? Is it still popular?

    By the way Tiziana, may I ask for your email? Thanks. Or you can email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

  • Tiziana Cauli on 09th June 2010:

    @Iris: I am not sure why it keeps being so popular. I have an Argentine friend who volunteers for an organization against corridas here and in Latin America and they really do have to work hard to raise awareness. In places like Seville people go to bullfights like they would go to their team’s soccer match every Sunday. A friend of mine who lived there was even taken to a bullfight on a date. Very romantic…

    @Enrico: I didn’t mean to sound harsh. Sorry if I did and if you took it personally, it was not meant as an attack against you.

  • Andrea Arzaba on 09th June 2010:

    I do not enjoy the famous “corridas de toros” at all. I did not know this was actually happening in Mexico, it is sad to see that nothing is really being done to stop this!

  • Tiziana Cauli on 10th June 2010:

    Thank you for your commment Andrea. It is sad, but it takes time to change people’s mind. Unfortunately though this and other kids will be adults by the time that happens.

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