A 14-year-old Spanish bullfighter lay connected to a respirator on Monday after he was gored in an incident that has raised questions about young bullfighters, who increasingly have become an attraction in Latin America.
Jairo Miguel was billed as the youngest bullfighter in the world when he came to Mexico almost two years ago at age 12, apparently to escape Spain's ban on bullfighters younger than 16.
Miguel came an inch from likely death Sunday when a bull at the Aguascalientes Monumental Bull Ring rushed him at top speed and lifted him on its horns, appearing to carry him several yards with a horn lodged in his chest.
"It brushed his aorta and came one inch from the heart," said Dr. Luis Romero, the surgeon who operated on Miguel at Aguascalientes' Guadalupe Clinic.
"He was lucky, if you can call somebody who has been gored by a bull lucky," Romero told The Associated Press. If the 4-inch gash had been one inch closer to the heart, "this surely would have been a catastrophe, where it would have been very difficult to control" the bleeding.
The tendency toward younger fighters has raised questions.
"Bullfighting demonstrated today that it is an activity for men," the government news agency Notimex said of Miguel's injury, and noted the only thing he could be heard to say after the accident was, "I'm dying, dad, I'm dying."
As it was, Miguel's lung was cut in two by the bull's horn. Doctors think they can restore much of the lung function, and expect him to recover. The boy was in serious but stable condition.
Another attending physician, Dr. Carlos Hernandez Sanchez, said Miguel, the son of well-known bullfighter Antonio Sanchez Caceres, was the youngest goring victim he had ever treated, but he said he did not think the boy was too young to be in the ring.
"These are injuries that happen. He's a great bullfighter," Hernandez Sanchez said.
Juan Carlos Lopez, the manager of the Aguascalientes ring, said there have been younger fighters in the ring there, but he would not cite their ages.
In Miguel's native Spain, an aspiring "torero" must be at least 16 to begin training with small bulls but is not allowed to kill a bull in the ring before he or she is 18, an official from the Royal Bullfighting Federation of Spain said.
But in Mexico, some start as young as 12 or 13, and there appears to be a fad for ever-younger fighters.
In 2005, Rafita Mirabal, then age 8, started in the ring, also in Aguascalientes, a bull-mad city 260 miles northwest of Mexico City. "Rafita," as he was known, began facing down younger, smaller bulls and calves, but the animals still outweighed him by hundreds of pounds.
The trend appears to have taken off when famed Spanish bullfighter Julian Lopez Escobar, "El Juli," made his debut in Mexico in 1997 at the age of 14.
"Rafita Mirabal is too little, in my view," said Inaki Negrete, of the Mexican Association of Fighting Bull Breeders. While the animals he fights are younger, "they can still break bones ... It's very dangerous."
Negrete says the influx of young aspiring Spanish bullfighters has been positive "because they can learn on Mexican bulls, which are little softer or slower when they charge as compared to Spanish bulls, which charge more abruptly."
The age at which toreros start largely rests with the families.
"Normally, it's the parents of these children, and they are children, who look out for them and put them into bullfighting schools," Negrete said. "It depends on individual judgment."
Maria Lopes, of the International Movement Against Bullfights, said, "Children, many from poor families, are seduced into the world of bullfighting by promises of fame, glory and above all, money."
"What happened to Jairo Miguel is lamentable, but it is the result of laws that allow children to participate in bull fights," Lopes said in a written statement. "Parents who permit their children to engage in bull fights should be held responsible ... and also those governments whose laws allow it to happen."