Death of "the Butterflies" Gives Birth to a Revolution

“On this day in 1960, the Mirabal sisters, three courageous Dominican political dissidents, were brutally assassinated for their opposition to the despotic dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.

Daughters of a successful businessman, the four Mirabal girls–Patria Mercedes Mirabal, Belgica Adela “”Dede”” Mirabal-Reyes, Maria Argentina Minerva Mirabal, and Antonia Maria Teresa Mirabal–grew up in an upper-class home in Salcedo, Dominican Republic. Minerva, who was rebellious and ambitious as a child, was the first of her sisters to get involved in Dominican politics. Inspired by a conversation with her uncle, she became involved in an underground movement to overthrow Trujillo, the country’s brutal dictator who was responsible for the death of more than 50,000 people during his 30-year rule. Dogged in her determination to see Trujillo’s downfall, Minerva studied law and, with her sisters, formed the Movement of the Fourteenth of June, a group of opponents to the Trujillo regime. Within this group, the Mirabal sisters were known as Les Mariposas, or “”the butterflies.”” Through this group and others, such as the Dominican Liberation Movement, the Mirabal sisters worked with other activists to plant the seeds of rebellion in the Dominican Republic and topple Trujillo’s dictatorship. For this, they and their husbands were repeatedly imprisoned, tortured, and targeted by the Trujillo regime.

On 25 November 1960, three of the four Mirabal sisters, Minerva, Maria, and Patria, were on their way back home from visiting their husbands in prison. It was a rainy Friday night as they rode with their driver, Rufino de la Cruz, along the main highway between Puerto Plata and Santiago. As they drove, their Jeep was stopped by Dominican secret police. Trujillo’s right hand man, Victor Alicinio Pena Rivera, along with secret police members Ciriaco de la Rosa, Ramon Emilio Rojas, Alfonso Cruz Vlaeria and Emilio Estrada Malleta, each took a sister, and the driver, to a different sugar cane grove by the roadside, according to a narrative by de la Rosa in the Dominican Encyclopaedia. Covered by the sugarcane and the dark of night, the secret police clubbed, beat, and strangled the sisters, and their driver, to death. They then returned their bodies to the car and pushed it over the side of the cliff to make it appear like an accident had taken the sisters’ lives.

Though they paid for it with their own lives, the Mirabal sisters were ultimately successful in their efforts. The assassinations stirred a public outcry, further highlighted their cause, and cast another shadow over the brutal Trujillo regime. Less than a year later, in 1961, Trujillo himself was killed in a CIA-backed assassination by Dominican dissidents.

As for the sisters, they were buried on the property of their second family home in Oja de Agua. The home is now a museum commemorating their struggle, run by the surviving Mirabal sister, Dede. In 1999, the UN designated 25 November, the day the sisters were killed, as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.”