Last weekend I was looking for something interesting to watch on TV and came across the MGM channel. As I was looking through their line-up I saw a few movies that looked interesting so I watched one and set the other for recording. The one I watched was: In The Time of The Butterflies, starring Selma Hayek and Edward James Olmos. What an incredibly interesting movie it was too. The movie was a dramatization of the lives of the Mirabal sisters growing up in Dominican Republic. As the movie ended, the credits recapped the results of what had taken place in the movie and I realized I was watching something that really did happen, dramatized or not so I decided to look into the history of the movement and The Dominican Republic. After all, these days a vacation in the Dominican Republic is very normal.
The Hermanas Mirabal(as they are referred to) were four Dominican political dissidents who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. They called themselves Las Mariposas (the butterflies) because that was the name Minerva Mirabal gave to herself in her underground activities. On November 25, 1960, three of the sisters were assassinated returning home from a visit with their husbands who were in prison.
The Mirabals were farmers in the Dominican Republic. The sisters grew up in a relatively upper-class, cultured environment and married and raised families, however, influenced by her uncle, Minerva became involved in the political movement against Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo had been the president of the country from 1930 to 1938 and from 1942 to 1952, and afterwards, became its dictator. In the 30 years of his reign, it is estimated that 30,000 people were tortured and killed, that averages to 1,000 per year and if he killed that many people, I would assume he was an acting dictator for most of that time. Minerva studied law but was not allowed to practice as it was against the law for women to study law. It is said that Trujillo, because of his interest in her, allowed her to study. However when it came time to graduate, she was not even allowed the diploma that was her due because she had scorned Trujillo’s attempts at romance. Her sisters followed her into the political movement, first Maria Teresa, who joined after staying with Minerva and learning about their activities, and then Patria, who joined after witnessing a massacre by some of Trujillo’s men while on a religious retreat. Dedé joined later, due to having been held back by her husband Jaimito. They eventually formed a group called the Movement of the Fourteenth of June (named after the date of the massacre Patria witnessed), to oppose the Trujillo regime. They distributed pamphlets about the many people Trujillo had killed, and obtained materials for guns and bombs to use when they finally openly revolted. Within the group, the Mirabels called themselves Las Mariposas (The Butterflies), after Minerva’s underground name. The butterfly also became a symbol to indicate like-minded citizens against Trujillo. (The picture above is the home the women lived in for the last 10 months of their lives and is now a Museum)
Two of the sisters, Minerva and Maria Teresa, were incarcerated and tortured on different occasions. Three of the sisters’ husbands were incarcerated at La Victoria Penitentiary in Santo Domingo as a result of their dissident activities. Despite these setbacks, they persisted in fighting to end Trujillo’s leadership. In 1960, the Organization of American States condemned Trujillo’s actions and sent observers to the Dominican Republic. Minerva and Maria Teresa were freed, but their husbands remained in prison. On their remembrance website, Learn to Question, the author writes, “No matter how many times Trujillo jailed them, no matter how much of their property and possessions he seized, Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa refused to give up on their mission to restore democracy and civil liberties to the island nation.” The OAS has repeatedly opposed unilateral intervention in the affairs of member countries. However, the OAS did approve (1965) the U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic’s civil war, 5 years after the deaths of the Mirabal sisters.
On November 25, 1960, three of the sisters, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa, and driver Rufino de la Cruz, were visiting Patria and Minerva’s incarcerated husbands. On the way home, they were stopped by Trujillo’s henchmen and the sisters and their driver were separated and all were clubbed to death. The bodies were then gathered and put into their Jeep which was run off the mountain to make it look like an accident.
After Trujillo was assassinated in May 1961, General Pupo Roman admitted to have personal knowledge that the sisters were killed by two men, Victor Alicinio and Peña Rivera, who were Trujillo’s right hand men. Ciriaco de la Rosa, Ramon Emilio Rojas, Alfonso Cruz Vlaeria and Emilio Estrada Malleta were all members of his secret police force. The question of whether Trujiollo ordered the secret police or whether they acted on their own is unconfirmed. Virgilio Pina Chevalier (Don Cucho), Trujillo’s family member and intimate collaborator, wrote in his 2008 book, La era de Trujillo. Narraciones de Don Cucho, that Trujillo referred to the Mirabal assassinations as being far from anything to do with him. “But we know orders of this nature could not come from any authority lower than national sovereignty. That national sovereignty was none other than Trujillo himself however it is a possibility it could have taken place without his consent. In light of the fact none were prosecuted, I would suggest that was a highly unlikely scenario. After the the assassination of Trujillo, the Dominican Republic was engaged in civil wars. U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, convinced of the defeat of the Loyalist forces by the Rebel forces and fearing “a second Cuba” on America’s doorstep, ordered U.S. forces to restore order. The decision to intervene militarily in the Dominican Republic was Lyndon Johnson’s personal decision. All civilian advisers had recommended against immediate intervention hoping that the(Junta) Loyalist side could bring an end to the civil war.
President Johnson took the advice of his Ambassador in Santo Domingo, W. Tapley Bennett, who pointed out the inefficiency and indecisiveness of the Dominican military leaders. Bennett suggested that the US interpose its forces between the rebels and those of the junta, thereby effecting a cease-fire. The United States could then ask the Organization of American States to negotiate a political settlement between the opposing factions.
Chief of Staff General Wheeler told CINCLANT General Palmer that “Your unannounced mission is to prevent the Dominican Republic from going Communist.” Citing as an official reason for the invasion the need to protect the lives of foreigners, none of whom had been killed or wounded, a fleet of 41 vessels was sent to blockade the island, and an invasion was launched by the Marines and parts of the Army”s 82nd Airbourne Division. Aproximateley 75 members of E company of the 7th Special Forces Group were also deployed. Ultimately, 42,000 soldiers and marines were ordered to the Dominican Republic. The United States along with the Organization of American States formed an inter-American military force to assist in intervention in the Dominican Republic. The invasion was, of course, resisted however a cease-fire was negotiated fairly quickly.
On May 5 the Act of Santo Domingo was signed by Colonel Benoit (Loyalist), Colonel Caamano (Constitutionalist) and the OAS Special Committee. The Act provided for a general cease-fire, recognition of the International Security Zone, agreement to assist relief agencies, and the sanctity of diplomatic missions. The Act set the framework for later negotiations but failed to stop all of the fighting. Constitutionalist snipers continued to shoot at US forces, however, major fire fights between the Dominican factions did subside for a time.
Denied a military victory, the Constitutionalist rebels quickly had a Constitutionalist congress elect Caamaño president of the country. US officials countered by backing General Imbert. On May 7, Imbert was sworn in as president of the Government of National Reconstruction. The next step in the stabilization process, as envisioned by Washington and the OAS, was to arrange an agreement between President Caamaño and President Imbert to form a provisional government committed to early elections. However, Caamaño refused to meet with Imbert until several of the Loyalist officers, including Wessin y Wessin, were made to leave the country.
On 13 May General Imbert began Operation LIMPIEZA (Cleanup) and his forces were successful in eliminating pockets of rebel resistance outside Ciudad Nueva and silencing Radio Santo Domingo. Operation CLEANUP ended on 21 May.
By May 14 the Americans, in establishing a “safety corridor” connecting the San Isidro Air Base and the “Duarte” Bridge to the Embajador Hotel and United States Embassy in the center of Santo Domingo, had essentially sealed-off the Constitutionalist area of Santo Domingo. Road blocks were established and patrols ran continuously. Some 6,500 people from many nations were evacuated to safety. In addition, the US forces airlifted in large relief supplies for Dominican nationals. So you can see the fighting went on for several years after the Mirabal sisters and Trujillo were assassinated. There has been trouble in the Dominican Republic throughout its history but there has been a relative peace established for the past 40 plus years, with some missteps along the way but no truly secure government because of the different leaders who have been elected, but they have managed to keep a relative peace within the country.
Dedé Mirabal, who did not accompany her sisters on the trip, has lived to tell the stories of the death of her sisters. (the picture to the right is the original family home where Dede’ Mirabal lives today) As of 2012, Dedé lives in Salcedo in the house where the sisters were born. She works to preserve her sisters’ memory through the Museo Hermanas Mirabal which is also located in Salcedo and was home to the women for the final ten months of their lives. She published a book, Vivas en su Jardín, on August 25, 2009.
On December 17, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated November 25 as the annual date of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Agansit Women in commemoration of the sisters. The day also marks the beginning of a 16-day period of Activism against Gender Violence. December 10, which is the end of the 16 days, is noted as International Human Rights day. Also on November 21, 2007, the Salcedo Province was renamed Hermanas Mirabal Province. The sisters have also been commemorated by their appearance on the 200 Dominican Pesos bill.
The story of the Mirabal sisters has been told in books and in films.
In 1994, Dominican-American author Julia Alvarez published her novel In The Time of Of The Butterflies, a fictionalized account of the lives of the Mirabal sisters. The novel was adopted into a movie of the same name starring Selma Hayek as Minerva and Edward James Olmos as Trujillo.
Chilean filmmaker Cecilia Domeyko produced Code Name: Butterflies, a documentary that tells the real-life story of the Mirabal sisters. It contains interviews with Dedé Mirabal, and other Dominican members of the Mirabal family.
Actress Michelle Rodriguez co-produced the film Tropico de Sangre which recounts the lives of the sisters. She also stars in the film as Minerva. Dedé Mirabal also participated in the development of the film.
The eventual assassination of Trujillo is portrayed in The Feast of the Goat, a novel published by Mario Vargas Llosa and it portrays its effect on the lives of Dominicians. It refers often to the Mirabal sisters.
I found the movie fascinating and when I realized it was, in part, true, I decided to read up on the history of the country. It is a fascinating read which I had never undertaken before. I know about the Dominican Republic and it’s border with Haiti, however only understood it was a Latin country, a provider of excellent baseball players and a great vacation spot. It is far far more than just a Latin country and I highly recommend reading some of the materials cited to learn more, if you are so inclined.