International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
On November 25, 1960, three Dominican sisters, political activists known as the Hermanas Mirabal, were brutally assassinated for opposing the Trujillo dictatorship. The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women remembers this day.
Since 1981, as a tribute to the Mirabal sisters, as well as global recognition of gender violence, the date 25 November has been marked by women’s activists as a day against violence against women. Following the adoption of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women by resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993, the United Nations General Assembly, by resolution 54/134 of 17 December 1999, designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, inviting governments, international organizations and NGOs to organize activities on the day designed to raise public awareness of the problem of maltreatment of women.
Who were the Mirabal Sisters?
All 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 died on February 9 of 2014, 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
Born 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 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
The 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..”
The Murder and Assassination of the Mirabal Sisters
The 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 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
Minerva, 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.