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Las Mariposas: The Mirabal Sisters

The Mirabal sisters were four sisters involved in a clandestine political movement against brutal Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. On November 25, 1960, three of the four sisters were assassinated. The four sisters were Patria Mercedes Mirabal Reyes (1924-1960), Belgica Adela Mirabal Reyes aka Dede (1925-2014), Maria Argentina Minerva Mirabal Reyes (1926-1960) and Antonia Maria Teresa Mirabal Reyes aka Mate (1935-1960).

Rafael Trujillo’s decades of power were marked by kidnappings, torture, and assassinations. The sisters were fearless activists who defied the regime, secretly handing out pamphlets detailing Trujillo’s abuses, and mobilizing DR’s middle class against him. The sisters became known as Las Mariposas.

The Mirabals were a close knit, loyal and loving family. The sisters grew up in an upper middle-class family of farmers in the Cibao region of the Domincan Republic where they also ran a store. Their parents Enrique Mirabal Fernandez and Mercedes Reyes Camilo ensured that their daughters were well educated from a young age. Patria, Minverva and Mate all attended college, but Dede never attended college as her sisters did and worked as a homemaker and helped with the running of the farm and family business. Dede's husband, Jaimito, held her back from involvement with her sisters clandestine activities until much later when she rebelled against him and joined her sisters in their quest.

Minerva and Mate were politicized while attending university in Santo Domingo and became part of the revolutionary movement against Trujillo. Patria joined their cause later after she witnessed a massacre by Trujillo's army while on a religious retreat in the mountains. She said she came down the mountain a changed woman after witnessing the death of young people by Trujillo's soldiers, and she then joined Minerva and Mate in their revollutionary activities. Their group became known as The Movement of the Fourteenth of June, which was the date of the massacre that Patria had witnessed.

General Rafael Trujillo was a predator and when a young girl or woman caught his eye he would have them brought to him on their own accord or forcefully. No one dared turn down el Jefe (the Chief) as he was called, for fear of imprisonment or death. Unfortunetly Minerva caught Trujillo's eye one day and she, along with her entire family were invited to one of his parties at his mansion in San Cristobal. At the party, Trujillo tried to seduce Minerva, but she rebuffed his advances. Her father immediately left the party and took his family home. Denying and embarrassing Trujillo had severe consequences. The next morning Minvera's father was imprisoned and tortured by Trujillo. He died shortly after his release from the injuries sustained by his torture.

The underground insurgency sweeping the Dominican Republic was inspired by the Fidel Castros' Revolution to rid Cuba of the Batista regime. The Mirabal's

movement disseminated and distributed informational pamphlets about Trujillo's victims. They informed their nation about what truly happened when Dominican citizens just disappeared. As time went on, The Movement of the Fourteenth of June, became more involved in rebellion than just passing out pamphlets. They took part in moving arms throughout the island and even buring some on their land. They became part of the armed resistance against Trujillo.

In May of 1960 Minerva and Mate where caught and arrested along with their husbands, as they were transferring arms from one area of the island to another. The women were sentenced to three years and incarcerated in the prison La 40 and the men were incarcerated and tortured at La Victoria Penitentiary in Santo Domingo. Minerva and Mate were interrogated and tortured while imprisoned. The international community was becoming aware of Trujillo's barbaric tactics and the OAS, Organization of American States, condemned Trujillo's actions and sent observers to the prisons to inquire about political prisoners. Due to the mounting international pressure Trujillo was forced to free the sisters.

Upon release they were immediately were put under house arrest but their husbands remained in prison. Minerva and Mate joined Patria in trying to free their husbands from prison. With permission from Trujillo, Minerva and Mate where able to travel to La Victoria Penitentiary to visit their husbands. They petitioned Trujillo again and again for their husband's release. Eventually, their husbands were transferred to another prison located high up in the mountains where is was difficult and treacherous to drive to. But, that did not stop the Mirabal Sisters. They hired a driver to drive them up the mountains to the prison. After visiting the husbands, their Jeep drove down the narrow mountain road where they were stopped and ambushed by Trujillos' secret police. The three sisters (Minerva, Mate & Patria) and the driver were dragged from the Jeep into the sugar cane fields and clubbed to death. It is believed the three sisters were also raped. Their bodies were put back in the Jeep they had been driving and the Jeep run off the mountain road to make their deaths look like an accident. Minerva was age 34; Mate was age 24; and Patria was age 36. The entire island nation mourned Las Mariposas' just three months after their release from prison.

While Trujillo saw their deaths as a victory, their murders became his downfall. The public outcry that followed catalyzed change, and on May 30, 1961, Trujillo was murdered. Today, many credit the sisters with toppling the regime.

The Mirabal Sisters inspired the creation of the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women created in their honor in on November 25, 1999. Las Mariposas' life has since been immortalized in Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies, which was later turned into a movie (starring Salma Hayek) in 2001.

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