Las Mariposas or the feminist fight against dictatorship in the Dominican Republic

Their names were Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa. They were sisters, born in the family of a trader, Enrique Mirabal and were destined to live a comfortable life. Instead they became political activists and icons of the fight against one of the most bloody dictatorships in Latin America.

Mirabal sisters
200 hundred pesos bill with the Mirabal sisters on it. From the left: Patria (born in 1924), Minerva (born in 1926) and María Teresa (born in 1935)

 

The Mirabal’s political engagement started when Minerva, a young law student, joint the democratic opposition movement, under the influence of her uncle. When she was 23, she personnally knew Trujillo. After refusing his romantic advances (something quite unusual as women generally were too afraid to reject him), she lost the right to practice the law.

Minerva Mirabal
Minerva Mirabal was one of the first women in the Dominican Republic to successfully finish doctoral studies, but her rejection of Trujillo’s romantic advances finished with her carreer of lawyer.

 

Patria and Maria Teresa followed Minerva’s example and the three sisters formed a group called the Fourteenth of June. The name made reference to the massacre organised by Trujillo’s men during a religious act on that precise day. Patria who witnessed the murder decided then to become an active member of the anti-Trujillo underground.

Rafael Trujillo dictator of the Dominican Republic
Rafael Trujillo governed in the Dominican Republic until 1961. He is considered as one of the most violent dictators in the history of Latin America. He is responsible for more than 50 000 deaths.

 

The sisters, using the cover name of “Mariposas” (Butterflies) distributed pamphlets informing about Trujillo’s crimes. While their political involvement became largely known, the repression of the regime became more and more brutal. Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa as well as their husbands were emprisoned and tortured. However, given their recognition, their case became largely commented. In 1960, the Organisation of American States sent its observers to the Dominican Republic. Under the international pressure, Rafael Trujillo released the three sisters.

Mirabal sisters
Mirabal sisters inspired many young middle-class Dominicans to fight against Trujillo.

 

On 25 November 1960, Patria, Minerva and María Teresa were visiting their husbands in prison. On their way home, they were stopped by Trujillo men. They were beated and then strungled to death. Their bodies were placed in the car and pushed by the killers from a hill to make it look like an accident.

Press article about the death of the Mirabal sisters
Following the official version, the Mirabal died in a car accident. The press title says: “Three mother and a driver die in a critical accident. The driver did not know the road.”

 

Trujillo thought that killing the Mirabal would free him of a great problem. However, it had a reverse effect and the murder turned the society against the dictator. It is believed that the death of the Mariposas was the reason of the killing of Trujillo six months after, in 1961.

Car in Which Rafael Trujillo was Assassinated
Rafael Trujillo was killed on 30 May. The assassins opened fire to the car in which the dictator was going to his girlfriend and riddled the car with almost 30 bullets.

 

Since their death, the Mirabal sisters became for the Dominican society the symbol of the popular and feminist resistance. They inspired many songs, poems and movies. However, the details of the crime were largely unknown until 1996, when Joaquín Balaguer, Dominican president for more than two decades and a former protégé of Trujillo, was forced to leave the office. Since 1997 the Dominican Republic recognised Mariposas as national heroes.

Moreover, since the death of Patria, Minerva and María Teresa, their fourth sister Dédé, who was never politically involved, dedicated her life to keep the memory of her sisters alive. She created the Mirabal Sisters Museum in their homtown, Salcero. She also raised six children of her sisters. One of them was Minou Tavárez Mirabal, Minerva’s daugther and a deputee in the Dominican parliament since 2002.

Minou Tavárez Mirabal
Minou Tavárez Mirabal, daughter of Minerva Mirabal and a deputy in the Dominican Parliament

 

In 1997 the United Nations designated 25 November, the day of the death of the Maribal sisters, as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It starts a sixteen-day period of Activism against Gender Violence that ends on 10 December with the International Human Rights Day.

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