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Mirabal Sisters of The Dominican Republic

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Who were the Mirabal Sisters?

Patria Mercedes Mirabal born February 27th 1924 to November 25th 1960
Minerva Argentina Mirabal born March 12th 1926 to November 25th 1960
Antonia Maria Teresa Mirabal born October 15th 1935 to November 25th 1960

The Mirabal SistersAll 3 sisters were natives of the Dominican Republic and were fevently opposed to the cruel dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. There is a fourth sister who is alive today and her name is Beglica  Adela Dede Mirabal-Reyes, known as Dede.  She did not have an active role in working against the dictator, Trujillo. The tale of the Mirabal sisters is an ongoing legacy of bravery and compassion in order to save the lives of many many people in the Dominican Republic.  They defied the flow of conformity and stood out as National Heroines.

An Introduction and Brief History of the Mirabal Sisters

The Mirabal sisters grew up in an affluent family and were will cultured and educated women at a time when most women did not receive a good education.  It is important to recognize what the Mirabal sisters did for their country and how their past actions still affect and influence people today in the Dominican Republic.

The Mirabal-Reyes family was a prosperous family from a town in Salcedo called Ojo de Ague on the north coast, near to La Vega. Patria the eldest of the Mirabal daughters was born in 1924 to Enrique Mirabal Fernandez who married Mercedes Reyes Camilo (mum is also known as Chea).  Don Enrique was a successful farmer and merchant who was born in one of the small towns in Santiago called Tamboril.  He owned his own farm, shop, cofee mill, meat market and rice factory.  His wife Dona Chea was also from a middle class family in Ojo de Agua.

Patricia Mercedes Mirabal

Patria MirabalBorn on the 27th February 1924, Patria was given her name as her birth date coincided with the anniversary of the Dominican Republic's Indepedence Day.  Patria means fatherland. Patria had an affinity with painting and art and at the age of fourteen she was sent to the Colegio Inmaculada Concepcion in La Vega, a Catholic Boarding School.  Her sisters Dede and Minerva also went. When she was seventeen Patria married a farmer named Pedro Gonzalez and had four children, Nelson Enrique, Noris Mercedes, Raul Ernesto and Juan Antonio (who sadly dies 5 months after his birth). Patria supported her sister Minerva in her anti-government efforts and opposed the dicatator Trujillo and in their attempts to overthrow Trujillo had all their property and home seized by the government.  Patria was concerned for the future of the country along with all of the county's children. 

Patria was famous for saying "We cannot allow our children to grow up in this corrupt and tyrannical regime, we have to fight against it, and I am willing to give up everything, including my life if necessary".

Minerva Argentina Mirabal

Minerva MirabalMinerva born March 12th showed signs of her great intelligence from a very early age.  By the time she was just 7 yrs old she could recite the verses of French poets.  She was also at age 12, sent to the Catholic Secondary School Inmaculada Concepcion with her sisters Patria and Dede. Like her sister Patria, she too appreciated and enjoyed art especially that of Pablo Picasso, her main love was of writing and reading poetry and favoured that of Juan Pablo Neruda. Minerva attended the University of Santo Domingo and it was there she met her future husband Manuel (Manolo) Tavarez Justo.  They married on November 20 1955 and moved to Montte Cristi where they had 2 children, Minu and Manolito.

In 1949, she was taken to the capital and slong with her mother Dona Chea, placed under house arrest, meanwhile her father DonEnrique was being held in the Fortaleza Ozama. Minerva's political influences included changes occuring in other Latin American countries, the Luperion Invasion (14 June Movement)and the revolution in Cuba. 

Minerva admired the then up and coming revolutionary, Fidel Castro and would often recite his famous words of, "Condem me, it does not matter history will absolve me!" She was also influenced by her Uncle who had a pharmacy in Jarabacoa.

Minerva was famous for saying "....it is a source of happiness to do whatever can be done for our country that suffers so many anguishes, it is sad to stay with one's arms crossed..."

Maria Teresa Mirabal

Maria MirabalThe youngest of the Mirabal sisters, Maria Teresa was born on October 15 1936, and she also attended Inmaculada Concepcion with her sisters.  Mathematics was Maria's domain and in 1954 she graduated from the Liceo de San Francisco de Macoris and then went to the University of Santo Domingo to study Math. On February 14 1958 she married Leandro Guzman an engineer and one year later on February 17 she gave birth to their daughter named Jaqueline. She looked up to her sister Minerva and admired her actions and later became involved in her sisters political activities. On January 20 1960, she was detained at a military base in her home town of Salcedo but later freed the same day.  Two days later however she and her sister Miverva were arrested and taken to La Cuarenta. La Cuarenta was the infamous torture prison, they were later transferred La Victoria prison.

They were freed on February 7 1960, a short while later on the 18 March she and her sister Minerva were once again taken back to the dreadful La Cuarenta after having been sentenced to 5 yrs for "threatening the security of the State". This sentence was eventually reduced to 3 yrs on appeal and the sisters were freed on August 18, 1960.

Maria was famous for saying ".....perhaps what we have most near is death, but that idea does not frighten me, we shall continue to fight for that which is just.."

History of the Imprisonment for the Family and Sisters 1940

Minerval Mirabal was the first of the sisters to become involved in the underground movement to over throw Trujillo and his government,she was influenced by her Uncle and had also made friends at Imaculada whose relatives had been arrested tortured and even killed by Trujillo's army of thugs.

Minverva was very rebellios and based her actions on her own judgement of right versus wrong.  Minerva a patriot liberal understood politics and spired to study law.  She also met Pericles Franco Ornes who was the founder of the Popular Socialist Party, he was a known anti-Trujillista and had himself been jailed various times for his political activities.

Minerva also listened to illegal radio stations from Cuba and Venezuela that objectively discussed the political situation in the Dominican Republic.

Dictator TrujilloIn October 1942, Trujillo had decided to host a great party in his mansion in San Cristobal. It was to commemorate Columbus's discovery of the Americas and honor the people of the Province of Espaillat.  The Mirabals invitation personally taken to them by Antonio de la Maza who was the governor of Moca, and he was accompanied by Juan Rojas the Senator of the Province of Espaillat.

Don Enrique, Patria and her husband Pedro, Minerva and Dede, along with Dede's husband Jaime Fernandez all attended.The party was held on an OCtober night outdoors in the grounds of the mansion, however being rainy season a huge storm errupted and broke up the proceedings.  The Mirabal party saw this as their chance to make a hasty exit and escape Trujillo's fancy party.

Trujillo was livid and angered by this open display of non respect as it was well known at the time that no one dared to leave a party before Trujillo himself had left, so in response he tried to bring the Mirabal people back to the party. He immediately called the military post to stop the Mirabals leaving, however it was too late and Don Enrique and his daughters and their spouses had already beat a hasty retreat and passed the military post on their way home.

Not Don Enrique however Trujillo's soldiers arresting another poor innocent personIt was not a victory for long for the Mirabal party as the next day, Juan Rojas the Senator of the Province called round to their house, to suggest to Don Enrique that he send a letter of apology to the dictator to try and appease his anger.  This he did but it was not sufficient for the great Trujillo and he felt that a bout in jail would be more suitable.  So the next day Minervas's father, Don Enrique was arrested and held in Santo Domingo and herself and her mother were taken and placed under arrest and held captive in the Hotel Nacional. Minerva was taken out of the hotel and carted off to the Fortress Ozama every day to be interrogated about her political activities while her mother remained under guard at the hotel.

Minerva was accused of being a communist and her interrogators were two of Trujillo's fiercest men, named Fausto Caaman Medina and Manuel de Moya. She was ordered to write a letter of apology to Trujillo, which she flatly refused to do so.

Fortunately for the Mirabals they were a well connected family and public opinion mattered greatly for Trujillo, and after due consideration and his brothers influence saw it would be more beneficial to let them go.  Eventually they were all released.

Mirabal Family During the 1950s

Mirabal Sisters as portrayed in the film The Time of the Butterlfies The 1950's gave no respite and for the Mirabal family their freedom was to be short lived, whilst every where else in the world people were dancing to Elvis and Rocking Around The Clock to Mr Bill Haley, the Mirabals were yet again faced with the prospect of detainment in prison. The father, Don Enrique returned to the Fortress while Minerva and her mother were taken to the Hotel Presidente under house arrest. Reason being this time...was for not buying a book about Trujillo.  In reality it was Trujillo's way of putting Minerva in her place as her public and obvious contempt of him was a constant embarrassment that he could not control this one woman.  Again after a few weeks the prisoners were released.

By now the head of the Mirabal household, Don Enrique had become quite an ill man and with the constant fear and arrests the deterioration of his health fell rapidly and he died on December 14, 1953.

A year later Minerva began attending the University of Santo Domingo and despite good grades Trujillo ordered that she be barred from the University gates and not be allowed to continue with her studies.  Quite possibly though it was her thesis paper that Trujillo did not appreciate it was titled "The Principle of the Irretroactiveness of Laws and Dominican Jurisprudence". The man had no humour.  Her paper supported basic human rights and made suggestions for changes within the government.

Typically Minerva dids not let this put her off her chosed path and years later she did in fact graduate in october of 1957.

The 14th June Movement and the Formation of The Butterflies


Patria Mirabal who once wanted to become a nun, finally marrried Pedro Gonzalez and went to live in Conuco.  Her sister Minvera had moved up to Jarabacoa in the mountains to help her Uncle in his pharmacy, and it was here she met Maunel Tavarez her future husband.  Both young people were anti Trujillo and both of them desired liberty and social change in the Dominican Republic. 

Meanwhile the youngest sister Maria was developing a relationship with Leandro Guzman an engineer and also an anti Trujillo believer, this too was Maria's future husband.

The Group Was Forming

Trujillo SoldiersOn June 14 1959 troops from the Dominican Liberation Movement which was made up of exiled Dominicans living abroad, were sent to the northern towns of Costanza, Maimon and Estero Hondo under the Command of Enrique Jimenez Moya. Nicknamed the Luperon Invasion, this attempt was meant to topple the dictatorship however word had preceeded events and Trujillo's army was lying in wait for the Dominican Liberation Movement.  Although the Koo never took place an important event did - a seed of rebellion had been planted within the Dominican people!

The 14 of June Movement was an underground resistance political group, headed by Manola, Minerva Mirabal's husband.  Pope Faxa was the elected General Secretary and Leandro Guzman who was Maria Mirabal's husband was the treasurer.  Patria, Minerva and Maria became known as THE BUTTERFLIES or in Spanish LA MARIPOSAS.

Just shortly after the failed Luperon Invasion attempt the Dominican Liberation Movement organized another Koo.  They scheduled to meet on a farm in Mao belonging to a Conrado Bogart. Again Trujillo's regime were one step ahead and had discovered the plot everybody who attended were consequently arrested.

However the current political climate was changing and more and more young middle class Dominicans were starting to oppose Trujillo and his dreaded regime.  In retaliation Trujillo commenced arresting many young people and imprisoning them for their opposition.

La Cuarenta now known as La Victoria Carcel / JailManolo was arrested too, then Maria and Leandro.  Later Pedro Gonzalez, in fact more then 100 members of the 14 June Movement in total. The majority of detainees were taken to La Cuarenta.  Due to the large numbers of young and affluent people arrested, public opinion was beginning to boil near the surface and Trujillo was under a lot of pressure. Even the Catholic Church started to intervene and condemn the arrests.  Trujillo for maybe the first time ever began to feel the true weight of anti regime sentiments, so in a classic Trujillo move he freed all the female prisoners in a vain hope to regain popularity. As this was not sufficient for the populas he later freed men who were detained only on suspicion but kept all THE BUTTERFLIES husbands in jail.

The Early 1960's

As the swinging sixties swung it became increasingly evident that both people inside the Dominican Republic and outside countries were now quite openly denouncing the Trujillo government.

Romulo Betancourt whom at the time was president of Venezuela was one of the more vocal opposers and critics of Trujillo, also remember that Minerva used to illegally listen to him on her radio.  Trujillo in his wisdom had actually ordered two assassination attemtps on Betancourt, which back fired as it only increased international critism of himself.  This action encouraged many once allied nations including America to now oppose Trujillo.

The Orgainization of American States felt it could no longer just sit back and watch what was happening in the Dominican Republic and sent state representatives over to observe just what the situation was really like.  This course of action along with the Catholic church encouraged the eventual release of all female prisoners from La Cuarenta, including The Butterflies.Their husbands were to reamin in jail, Manolo and Pedro were transferred to San Felipe jail in Puerto Plata and Leandro to La Victoria in Santo Domingo.

The Murder and Assassination of the Mirabal Sisters


ButterflyThe Butterflies posed a huge threat to Trujillo and his regime as their popularity amongst their fellow countrymen was at an all time high especailly after their recent release from jail. In Trujillo's arrogance there was nothing else to do but to dispose of this threat to his nation and government. He thought if the sisters disappeared then so would their actions and beliefs from their followers. No matter how many times he had thrown them in and out of prison, no matter what he took away from them, as during their persecution Trujillo had stolen their property, land, houses, left their families with nothing, the three sisters Minerva, Maria and Patria refused to give up their fight for deomcracy and civil liberties to everyone on the island.  In fact the more he took, the greater strength they gained.

Trujillo's meeting with Minerva from The Time of the ButterfliesTrujillo had many weaknesses and one of them was young women.  He had built many houses and mansions through out the Dominican Republic and in each one he had a mistress. When he had first met Minerva way back in 1949, he had set his sights upon her and now all these years later, her spurning of him still angered him bitterly.  He had planned to seduce her during the famous party where her whole family left in San Cristobol many years ago. With this in mind, and even the Catholic Chruch opposing him he decided that he would assassinate the three women, with his reign faltering what else was there for him to do?

Trujillo planned their deaths meticulously and carefully chose who he would use to carry out the murders.  He had to choose men who he could ask to commit such a crime and also men who had the stomach to commit such a crime.

He chose Victor Alicinio Pena Rivera who was Trujillo's own right hand man, also Ciriaco de la Roas, Ramon Emilio Rojas, Alfonso Cruz Vlaeria and Emilio Estrada Malleta all members of his secret police force.

The Murder of the Mirabal Sisters

Mirabal Sisters murdered 25th November 1960Minerva, Maria and Patria were all returning from Puerto Plata on a heavily raining evening after visiting their spouses in jail.  They had travelled from their home town of Salcedo with their driver Rufino de la Cruz.  It was November 25 1960. As they drove back home along the main highway between Puerto Plata and Santiago their Jeep was stopped by the secret police as planned by Trujillo. There is no way of knowing exactly what happened that night however a narrative still exists from Ciriaco de la Rosa, one of the henchmen.

This is an exert from the Dominican Encyclopedia 1997 CD ROM...

He says..After stopping them we led them to a spot near the chasm where I ordered Rojas to pick up some sticks and take one of the girls, he obeyed the order and took one of them, the one with the long braids, that was Maria.  Alfonso Cruz took the tallest one, that was Minerva, and Malleta took the driver, Rufino de la Cruz.  I ordered each one of them to go to a sugar cane grove on the edge of the road, each one seperated so that the victims would not sense the execution of one another, I ordered Perez Terrero to stay and see if any one was coming who could find out about the situation.  That is the truth of the situation.  I do not want to deceive justice or the state.  I tried to prevent the disaster, but I could not because if I had he, Trujillo, would have killed us all....

It was in this manner that the Mirabal sisters and their driver Rufino de la Cruz were clubbed, beaten and then strangled to death alongside a mountain road between Puerto Plata and Santiago.

Patria was 36 years old, Minerva was 34 years old and Maria was 24 years old.

After they were killed their bodies were then put back into their Jeep, the Jeep was then pushed over the side of the cliff at La Cumbre to make it appear like an accident had taken place in the bad weather.  Everyone knew it was Trujillo though that had ordered the murders.

This act had far reaching consequences for Trujillo and was the last straw for the majority of Dominican people.  It was now the beginning of the end for Trujillo.

Conclusion


The resulting publicity of the assassination of the Mirabal sisters only served to highlight their cause further and create more public and international interest in the political state of the Dominican Republic.  Trujillo himself would not know that within a six month period, he himself would face assassination in 1961.

ButterflyThe Mirabal sisters are buried in Oja de Agua just outside their home town of Salcedo and are burried within the property of their second family home. The sisters have been burried together for the last ten years now. The home has been turned into a museum and is looked after by their surviving sister Dede who took in all her sisters children after their mothers were murdered. Dede obviously did a good job as one of her own sons was recently Leonel Fernandez's vice president in his first term of office in the Dominican Republic.  Dede's own son is called Jaime David Fernandez Mirabal. The flame of political light is still burning in Minerva's eldest daughter as Minou has served as a congresswoman since 1998 and has just been re elected for an additional 4 years to 2010.  Her mum would be very proud in deed.

The Mirabal Sisters Ongoing Influences Today

  • The sisters are remembered today and cherished to give hope and inspiration to many young men and women around the world, not just the Dominican Republic.  Their heroic actions beliefs and passions are still alive today.
  • Through out the country there are memorials dedicated to the courageous Butterflies so their spirits will soar and live on.
  • On November 25 there is now an International Day Against Violence Against Women, created by The Untied Nations in the Mirabal sisters honour.
  • The sisters have finally now been given recognition in Dominican Textbooks as national martyrs.
  • If you visit the Dominican Republic you can go to the National History and Geography museum in the nations capital of Santo Domingo and see an exhibition of The Butterflies belongings.
  • If you are vacationing on the north coast of the Dominican Republic and are in the vicinity of Playa Dorada, head towards Puerto Plata and on the left hand side you will find a small memorial garden that is dedicated to their memory.

For Further Reading fo the Mirabal Sisters

Julia Alvarez is the author of the acclaimed book "In the time of the Butterflies" and has memorialized the story of the three Mirabal sisters in her wonderful novel. It has now been made into a film.

She is also the Middlebury College writer in residence in America and last year, 2006, hosted a lecture at the college with 2 very special guest speakers.  The guest speakers were surviving Mirabal sister, Dede and Minerva's daughter, Minou.

To read about the lecture please go to this link from The Vermont Guardian Newspaper:-

http://www.vermontguardian.com/search/index.php?query=mirabal+sisters&search=1

FOR FURTHER READING
To read about Trujillo you can click on our home page go to our own section on Trujillo in Dictators in therealdr.com

FOR FURTHER READING
Read the book titled The Feast of The Goat by Mario Varga Llosa available in English. This will give you a true feel and insight into the social and political background of the Dominican Republic and what life was like under the dictatorship of Trujillo.

To End the Story of the Mirabal Sisters

This is a portion of a speech given by Minou, Minerva's daughter,

"and on occasions which bring us together like today, it is a consolation to me that when my mother would hear warnings about how dangerous it was to stand up to Trujillo, she would always reply with the same words...If they kill me I shall reach my arms out of the grave and I shall be stronger..."

Read 96822 times Last modified on Tuesday, 17 December 2013 16:32

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