Forgotten more: Dedé Mirabal, who carried the torch of his slain sisters

This article is part of Overlooked, an obituary series about notable people whose deaths, from 1851, were not reported in The Times.

For more than 50 years, Dedé Mirabal carried an overwhelming weight: his three sisters were murdered in 1960 by henchmen of Rafael Trujillo, the brutal dictator of the Dominican Republic.

As the only Mirabal sister who survived the Trujillo regime, Dedé had to fight her guilt and find meaning in being alive. She did this by carrying the torch of her sisters’ legacy, as if it were carried by “las mariposas” themselves – the code name, meaning “butterflies”, that her sisters had been carrying. given as opponents of Trujillo.

Dedé Mirabal described the revolutionary acts of the sisters in her 2009 memoir, “Vivas en Su Jardín” (“Living in their garden”), and preserved their memories in a museum, Casa Museo Hermanas Mirabal, in their hometown, Conuco, where she was the manager and frequently gave tours.

There, she told the visiting children how the deaths of her sisters ultimately helped spark a revolution that led to the overthrow of Trujillo in 1961, paving the way for the restoration of democracy.

“Why didn’t they kill you? the children asked.

“And I answer,” she wrote in her memoir, “I stayed alive to tell their stories.”

Bélgica Adela Mirabal Reyes was born on March 1, 1925 to Enrique Mirabal Fernández and Mercedes Reyes Camilo. She was the second oldest of the Mirabal sisters: María Teresa was born in 1935, Patria in 1924 and Minerva in 1926. The family lived on a prosperous farm near the town of Salcedo, where they also operated a coffee mill and a shop. general. .

Their mother was loving but strict, obsessed with cleanliness and loved to say to her children, “God loves poverty but not recklessness. She taught her daughters to sew. “And get up without making the bed?” Dedé wrote. “She wouldn’t allow it. Her father, on the other hand, carried her on his shoulders as he walked through the fields and often expressed support for his daughters.

The peaceful rural education of the sisters was interrupted by Trujillo, who was the commander-in-chief of the Dominican army when he took power in a coup in 1930. He took control of the economy, establishing monopolies in the production of salt, meat, rice and tobacco for the benefit of himself and his family. By his death, “his empire had grown so large that it controlled nearly 80% of the country’s industrial production,” historian Frank Moya Pons wrote in “The Dominican Republic: A National History” (2010).

While his voracious appetites earned Trujillo the nickname “The Goat”, he declared himself “Father of the New Homeland” and used his troops to impose his will through terror and torture.

The sisters’ resistance efforts began with Minerva, who learned of the injustices of the Trujillo regime when she attended the University of Santo Domingo, the capital. Minerva had caught the attention of Trujillo, whose advances she frequently refused. When a party was held in her honor in 1949 in San Cristobal, near the Mirabals farm, he made sure she and her family were present.

“We were worried that the dictator would offer him a drink,” Dedé wrote, “because there were rumors that he might contain a type of drug that would make women pass out in his arms.

Minerva danced with Trujillo and was bold enough to make it clear that she didn’t care about his politics. “What if I send my subscribers to look for you?” he threatened.

The family began to quit the party after this confrontation – an insult, since protocol demanded that no one left before Trujillo – prompting military officers to detain Minerva and her father. They offered to let them go if Minerva encountered Trujillo in a hotel room; She refused. She and her father were still released, but Minerva was kept under surveillance.

Minerva became a leader of the resistance, and Patria and María Teresa quickly joined her, even as they married and started a family. The sisters recruited their husbands into the fight.

In 1960, Minerva, her husband, Manolo, and other anti-Trujillo figures organized a campaign of resistance known as the June 14 Movement, named after the date of a 1959 coup attempt against Trujillo by Dominican exiles in Cuba.

Trujillo arrested many conspirators, including the three Mirabal sisters and their husbands; he then released all female political prisoners in the hope of strengthening his popularity.

In 1948, Dedé married Jaime Fernandez, whom she describes as “a violent and handsome man”. Their relationship lasted 34 years, 18 of which she said were good. They had three sons.

Dedé remained a united spectator in the fight against Trujillo (according to some because her husband did not allow her to participate). When her sisters met other activists, she watched over their children.

“We used to live in fear,” she wrote in her memoir, “and there is nothing worse than living in fear.”

On November 25, 1960, the Mirabal sisters went to visit their imprisoned husbands in Puerto Plata, accompanied by their driver, Rufino de la Cruz. He was the only person willing to take them, as there were rumors that Trujillo was planning to target the Mirabals. The rumors turned out to be correct. As the sisters drove home, the thugs in Trujillo stopped their car and killed the driver on the spot. According to numerous accounts, the sisters were kidnapped at gunpoint and beaten before being killed. Their bodies were returned to the car, which was then pushed over a cliff.

No eulogy was read at the sisters’ funeral. “Who could muster the energy to speak during such a difficult time?” Dedé wrote. She must have been taken away from the cemetery. She wrote: “I couldn’t stop screaming ‘Murderers! They murdered them! “

The martyred sisters stung the conscience of the Dominican people in a way that the deaths of the other victims of Trujillo did not. “It did something to their machismo,” wrote Bernard Diederich in his book “Trujillo: The Dictator’s Death” (2000).

On May 30, 1961, nearly six months after the sisters’ death, Trujillo was ambushed and murdered by armed men, some of whom were his own associates, and his family fled the country.

In death, the Mirabals were hailed as heroes of the revolution. In 1999, the United Nations designated November 25, the anniversary of their murder, as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Their childhood home has been transformed into a museum run by Dedé Mirabel. And Dominican-American novelist Julia Alvarez’s 1994 book, “In the age of butterflies», Cemented the legacy of the Mirabal sisters, including Dedé.

“If we look at the lives of these four sisters,” Alvarez wrote in an author’s note, “we realize that all have come to their courage in small, progressive steps, small moments and challenges that we all face every day. day of our life. In some ways, we become brave, almost by accident.

The novel was made into a 2001 TV movie of the same name with Salma Hayek as Minerva and Edward James Olmos as Trujillo; another drama about the Mirabals, “Trópico de Sangre” (2010), starred Michelle Rodriguez as Minerva.

For his part, Dedé took the trouble to point out that if Alvarez’s book disseminated the story of his family throughout the world, it was a novel. She wrote her autobiography in part to counter her myth-making. “To those who ask me about the veracity of a situation, or about one detail or another, or about the representation of my husband in the novel, for example,” she writes, “I always say that even if she was based on a real story, it’s a work of fiction.

Dedé has spent his life telling the stories of his sisters and raising their six children with the help of his own mother. “The responsibility for my sisters’ sons and daughters was what kept us going,” she wrote, although it was a challenge to explain how they had lost their mother “without affecting them psychologically. “.

Minerva’s daughter, Minou Tavárez Mirabal, grew up to be a congresswoman and deputy foreign minister.

“It is a consolation for me to think that my mother, Minerva, was not wrong when she heard warnings about the dangerousness of standing up to Rafael Leonidas Trujillo,” she said in a 2006 speech. , “And always replied with the same words: ‘If they kill me, I will lift my arms out of the grave and I will be stronger.’ “

One of Dedé’s sons, Jaime David Fernández Mirabal, was vice president of the Dominican Republic from 1996 to 2000.

Dedé Mirabal died on February 1, 2014. She was 88 years old.

“I can say: I have done my duty for the motherland,” she wrote. “I can say: I raised an honest family.”

Armando Arrieta contributed to the research.

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