Feared citizens, eliminated nationalists, and a raging power of Trujillo, what lies beneath is the legacy of the Mirabal sisters. The three brave women, who fought through the odds to oppose the fascist dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. The Mirabal sisters were also known as Las Mariposas and are the national heroes of the Dominican Republic. But before dwelling on the story of the Mirabal sisters, it is important to know about the dictator of the Dominican Republic- Rafael Trujillo.

Who was Rafael Trujillo?

General Rafael Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic both as a president and as a tyrant dictator. His reign lasted from 1930 to 1961. During his tenure, he was recognized as “El Jefe” or “El Benefactor” and was termed as one of the cruelest dictators of history. But his beginning was never cruel, in fact, his childhood resembles that of an ordinary kid. Trujillo had a loving mother and he himself was exceptionally involved in studies. At the age of just 16, he had his first job as a telegrapher and since then there was no stopping for Trujillo. He went on to join politics, becoming a Marine, and finally, in 1927, he became Brigadier General and Commander in Chief of the Dominican Republic’s army.

During the Revolution in Santiago in 1930, when the president was overthrown, Trujillo assumed the leadership and took charge of the party. He was soon elected as the president of the country without opposition. His reign did give a sound economy, yet it failed to meet people’s needs. Trujillo was exceptionally cruel and demanded every family to have his portrait in their house. Whoever protested would be either jailed to sentenced to death. He renamed several towns, buildings, and streets after his name and took control over 80% of the country’s GDP. He also claimed January 11 to be celebrated as “The Day of the Benefactor”.

Mirabal sisters

Trujillo was responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. The estimated number suggests that around 12,000 to 25,000 Haitian men, women, and children were killed. His reign coincides with the incidents of World War 2 and when Hitler forced Jews into concentration camps, Trujillo welcomed the Jews immigrants. The motive behind this was to provide a ‘whiten’ race in the future. Trujillo himself put on make-up to lighten his skin.

His reign ended in 1961, merely six months after the death of the Mirabal sisters. He was assassinated by his own armed forces.

The Story of Mirabal Sisters

The Hermanas Mirabal are 3 women who were killed by Trujillo, savagely. Enrique Mirabal Fernández and Mercedes Reyes Camilo had four daughters- Patria Mercedes Mirabal Reyes, Bélgica Adela Mirabal Reyes, María Argentina Minerva Mirabal Reyes, and Antonia María Teresa Mirabal Reyes. They lived in the countryside of central Cibao region. All four sisters recieved primary education in their homestown, whereas for the further studies the three of them were sent to the boarding school in the city of La Vega.

Patria was born in 1924 and was the eldest of the four sisters. When she turned 14, she was sent to a boarding school and by the age of 17 Patria married a local farmer named Pedro González. Patria and her husband, both fiercely stood against the Trujillo rule.

Adela also known as Dede, was born in 1925. She never attended high school like her sister and worked at their farm in the village. She was also not involved in the political fight of her sisters. Dede was the only surviving Mirabal daughter who was not assassinated by Trujillo. Dede died a natural death in 2014.

Maria Minerva also knows as Minerva was born in 1926 and followed the footsteps of her eldest sister Patria.

María Teresa was the fourth and youngest sister among the Mirabal. She saw Minerva as her role model and was highly active in her sisters political fight.

Mirabal sisters

Encounter with Trujillo

Once Trujillo invited the Mirabal family for a party. He had his eye for Minerva from the farm and wanted to take her for his own. Afraid to refuse the invitation, the family decided to show up. At the party, Trujilo tried hitting at Minerva but she rejected all his advances. It was not allowed for any family to leave the party before Trujillo but the Mirabal disgusted at his behavior left the party before him. Furious at their protest, Trujillo arrested their father and confiscated their property.

Every day, Minerva was interrogated by his men at the Fortaleza Ozama. But each time she denied writing an apology. During this time, their father also died due to regular harassment in 1953. Scared of death, their mother moved to a new house with her daughters. Soon, things went quiet and the Mirabal sisters led a normal life. They studied, married, and had kids. But Patria, Minerva, and Maria were born rebels. When things got out of their hands, they decided to do something against the tyranny of Trujillo.

They, together with their husbands formed a group called Movimiento 14 de Junio (The Movement of the Fourteenth of June). The three sisters were called Las Mariposas or The Butterflies. The group often held secret meetings and planned rebellion against the dictator. However, there was a traitor among their own. Soon, Trujillo was aware of the growing rebellion and thus within weeks arrested most of the members and killed the rest. Minerva and Maria were arrested with their husbands. They were kept in custody and were often subjected to crude torture.

But because of the pressure from the Catholic Church, Trujillo freed the women yet kept the men imprisoned. He thought that this would silence the three sisters but it did not. On November 25, 1960, he decided that he had enough of the three sisters and planned their assassination. They were intentionally permitted to meet the arrested husbands in jail.

The women knew that there was something fishy yet they took the chance and went to the prison with their farmer friend, Rufino de la Cruz. After the meeting, when the sisters were on their way back home, the car was stopped and they were pulled to the nearby sugarcane field. Rufino and the three sisters were mercilessly beaten and strangled to death. Their bodies were thrashed in their car and thrown off from the mountain cliff to portray it as an accident.

Trujillo thought that he finally got rid of the sisters but his plan backfired. The death of the sisters was mourned by the whole nation and a new open rebellion started against him. Six months later the death of the Mirabal sisters, Trujillo was assassinated by his own armed forces.

The legacy of Mirabal sisters

Their legacy was carried forward by their sister Bélgica Adela Mirabal Reyes (Dede). Their home is now turned into the Museo de las Hermanas Mirabal (Mirabal Sisters Museum). On 17 December 1999, the United Nations designated 25 November, the death anniversary of the Mirabal Sisters as the ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The day marks the beginning of 16 days long activism against gender violence and the last day of the period, 10th December is recognized as International Human Rights Day.

The Mirabal sisters today, are recognized as the symbol of social justice and feminism.

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