By William J. Furney
Spain’s Animalist Party with the Environment, known by its acronym PACMA, was formed to try end the deep-rooted tradition of bullfighting in Spain and, having grown in size and stature over the years, is now celebrating its 20th year of existence. The party continues to campaign against bullfighting, which is on the decline across the country, as well as a host of other issues, including a planned commercial octopus farm in the Canary Islands. It’s also fighting for change in the Spanish electoral system, decrying its proportional representation method as “unfair” after winning over a quarter of a million votes in the most recent general election but failing to get any seats in the national parliament.
Yolanda Morales Pérez is one of the rising stars of the Spanish animal rights movement, and is heading a cast of dozens of PACMA members standing in regional elections around Spain on May 28. Pérez, 30, is based on the Canary Island of Tenerife, off the western coast of Africa, and is PACMA’s national spokesperson. She told me about her organisation’s work, her frustrations with local politicians and how education is the key to getting indifferent young people to care about animals and the environment.
(Translated from Spanish.)
As a political party concerned with animal welfare and the environment, how was it starting this movement in 2003? Why was PACMA launched and who were the first followers?
It wasn’t easy to start an animal rights movement in a country where bullfighting still had strong social roots. A lot of misunderstanding. They were labelled as “radicals” and their actions were frowned upon. But, fortunately, little by little, they gained followers and gave voice to people who believed that animal abuse should not be normalised. Those people, until PACMA emerged, had remained silent to avoid standing out and facing retaliation.
It was launched due to the need to bring something as serious as bullfighting into politics. The founders, at that time, understood that such a cruel and brutal issue had to be addressed from a political standpoint. If civil society couldn’t do anything, they would try it through politics. And here we are today, much closer to its prohibition, although it still has time among us, unfortunately. Many wealthy people in governments and high spheres are bullfighting enthusiasts or have related properties and businesses.
The party has made significant progress in gaining more electoral votes — 326,045 in the 2019 general election — but has not been able to win seats in the Spanish parliament, due to what PACMA considers an “unfair” system they are trying to change. Why is it unfair and what can be done about it?
It’s unfair because it’s not representative, simply put. More than 300,000 people supported us for Congress in 2019, and more than 1,000,000 for the Senate. The fact that this translates into nothing is outrageous. The current electoral system disadvantages us as a generalist party since the votes are more dispersed, while there are infinitely smaller parties than us that have representation in Congress due to the distribution of their votes in relation to the constituency.
Nothing can be done about it for the moment, as those who legislate are the same ones who benefit from this system, clearly unbalanced, known as the D’Hont Law.
Is the growing popularity of parties like yours due to people becoming more aware of the suffering and mistreatment of animals, as well as environmental issues like climate change?
It’s because, thanks to technology, people are better informed and more aware of both their reality and that of those around them. Empathy towards animals has been worked on and is bearing fruit, although, in my opinion, we are still decades away from what we should be.
You told me before that most of PACMA’s followers are not young people, as you might imagine, but middle-aged and older people. Why do you think that is?
I guess young people don’t prioritise animals or the environment, even though their future literally depends on it. It’s a matter of education. If we’re not taught the value of our surroundings from a young age and not taught to appreciate everything in it, but instead are led to believe that it’s practically inexhaustible and that the world is at our feet, we will obviously live in an invented reality, decorated to our liking and according to our means.
That’s why many people don’t believe in the problem of climate change and don’t want to hear the consequences it will bring for all species on this planet. They simply have other concerns because they’re overstimulated, and they also prefer to look the other way voluntarily, because the powerlessness of not being able to do anything significant in this world frustrates them.
And I understand them. Small day-to-day gestures are important, yes, but in the end, we are in the hands of multinationals, which have the final say over our future. If they don’t want change, we won’t have it no matter how hard we try.
What do you think of groups like Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion that use disruptive protests to get media coverage and raise public awareness about climate change? Do you think their methods are wrong and only annoy many people?
I know firsthand very capable people within those movements, and I’ve had the opportunity to talk to them directly about this. I’ll tell you the same thing I told them: it’s not my way of doing things and it personally makes me uncomfortable, but it’s just my opinion and has to do with the way I was raised. I am an extremely proper person, and breaking with that shocks me. I couldn’t do it — at least not at this point in my life).
But I perfectly understand why they do it; I defend the same cause as them; and I think they are absolutely right to act as they do. Of course, if what they want is media attention and people’s attention, they’re getting it. Maybe that way the message they’re sending will get through to us.
Do you think Pedro Sánchez’s government is doing enough to help the environment? He has called for an end to fossil fuels and “a new international order” to address global warming and said that “this decade is crucial” in combating climate change.
I don’t see changes; I just hear words. I’m an average citizen with an average life, and those changes should affect me one way or another. I should notice them, and all I notice is that life is getting harder and quality is becoming more inaccessible.
At the environmental level, all I see are large corporations wreaking havoc without anyone putting a stop to them, and a government that blames citizens for consuming what they are given while advising them to take shorter showers, use paper straws and reuse plastic bags. Meanwhile, on television, they promote the consumption of meat and dairy products, which are the fourth most polluting industries in the world, or encourage excessive consumerism. There is zero coherence.
Sánchez also says that Spain faces particular risks due to climate change, given rising temperatures, and that the expansion of droughts in the country is likely to become one of the main political issues in the coming years. What does PACMA suggest as a solution?
PACMA promotes vegetarianism and veganism, why?
For ethics, sustainability and health.
Nature is cruel, yes, but we can choose not to be, and we choose every day when we fill our plates. We understand that, in the times we live in and in our country, it’s not only feasible for people to stop consuming animal products, but given the situation, it’s necessary. This industry destroys our country by water, land and air, and it exposes consumers to a multitude of diseases resulting from excessive consumption of animals, which in turn also benefits the pharmaceutical industry. These days, eating animals is not good.
One of your main campaigns is to put an end to bullfighting and running of the bulls in Spain. Surveys in recent years show declining public support for these events — only 19% a few years ago — so do you believe that bullfighting and running of the bulls will be banned one day, as it is in Catalonia and the Canary Islands?
Yes, of course. It will take a few years more, as, like I said earlier, there are many wealthy businessmen and aristocrats in the world of bullfighting, and whether we like it or not, it’s a deeply rooted tradition in our country. But, undoubtedly, sooner rather than later, we will see the end of their days. What could be done now would be to eliminate all subsidies to speed up the process. I refer to my previous answer: we need to change politicians.
Another campaign is trying to stop what is described as the world’s first octopus farm, which is being developed by the seafood company Nueva Pescanova. They plan to open the farm in the port area of Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. What is your objection to the project and can it be realistically stopped?
This project is environmentally unsustainable, according to scientists. Being the world’s first commercial octopus farm, it’s difficult to know what proportions the impact it will have on Canarian waters and the ocean in general. As always, the Canary Islands will be the testing ground.
Nobody gets angry here, and nobody defends what is ours. Personally, I feel very frustrated and unprotected by our Canarian politicians. It’s as if nothing matters to them. On the other hand, at an ethical level, putting octopuses in tanks is an atrocity by its very nature. In addition, these animals currently have no legal protection, so they can be subjected to cruelties to which we would never expose other animals.
What other campaigns is PACMA carrying out?
It depends on the moment, as we go through phases. We mainly focus on anti-bullfighting campaigns — also against popular celebrations involving bulls and horses — opposing animal-drawn vehicles, advocating for dog-friendly beaches, fighting against hunting, opposing factory farms, promoting training for security forces in animal protection matters and protesting against deforestation. It depends, as I mentioned, on the current situation or time.
Feminism is another area in which PACMA is actively involved. Do you think Spain is a misogynistic country, given the increase in violence against women in recent years, including group rapes?
I don’t think Spain is a misogynistic country; I think there are misogynistic people in Spain who tarnish the reputation of the rest and make a lot of noise. I believe the male gender as a whole is being targeted when the problem comes from only a part of it. I’m also not sure that violence against women has increased, but rather that it’s much more documented today and, logically and fortunately, it is not normalised.
In the past, there were no records, and now there are, so the comparison we can make to determine that increase is quite limited. In any case, PACMA promotes gender equality, and it’s something I support. I think that sometimes feminism loses its way and turns into a hate movement, which I don’t like at all. The goal is to achieve, together, among everyone, a more egalitarian world, and that equality is not achieved by competing or blaming one another.
- Title image: PACMA spokesperson Yolanda Morales Pérez.