The Mirabal sisters faced one of the bloodiest tyrants in Latin America

(CNN Spanish) — Every November 25, voices denouncing violence against women resound throughout the planet. The choice of this date is not accidental. Behind them are the Mirabal sisters, three women who stood up to the bloody dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and were brutally murdered. This is his story.

The mangled bodies of Minerva, María Teresa and Patria Mirabal appeared on November 25, 1960 in a jeep at the bottom of a ravine in the northeast of the Dominican Republic.

A squadron sent by “El Chivo” —one of the nicknames by which Trujillo was known— had intercepted them hours before when they were returning from seeing their husbands, who were in jail. They were brutally beaten, strangled and killed, as well as Rufino de la Cruz, the driver of the vehicle in which they were traveling.

By that time, the Mirabal sisters, known as “Las Mariposas”, were already a recognized voice of the anti-Trujillo resistance: they had been strongly active for years against a regime that was characterized by systematically eliminating its opponents.

The Mirabal sisters were assassinated in 1960 during the dictatorial regime of Leonidas Trujillo. (RICARDO HERNANDEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

So much so that, according to the UN, shortly before his assassination, Trujillo, considered one of the bloodiest tyrants in the history of Latin America, had said that he had two problems: the Church and the Mirabal sisters.

His ideas represented “a threat to the dictatorial regime of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, who had been in power for 30 years and did not tolerate dissident thought,” explains the lawyer and political scientist Geovanny Vicente Romero. “Much less was the political participation of those people tolerated that social restrictions and the time itself did not see with good eyes that they ‘wear pants’, literally speaking: the Dominican woman, who as in other countries, was a victim of the objectification that promoted the prevailing system and were relegated to household duties, unpaid work,” she says.

Minerva, the middle sister, stood out the most of the three. From a young age, “El Jefe,” another of Trujillo’s various nicknames, had his eyes on her. According to a review by the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Mirabal family, from a town called Ojo de Agua, was invited to a reception for the dictator in 1949. There, Trujillo noticed Minerva and tried an approach, but without success.

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“In addition to snubbing him,” explains the UNAM, the young woman demanded that he put an end to the judicial harassment against one of the founders of the Popular Socialist Party, Pericles Franco, a friend of hers who had been sent to prison on more than one occasion.

Trujillo had the family closely watched and ordered the arrest of his father, who was imprisoned several times in the following years. Minerva was also behind bars.

In 1954, the young woman met who a year later would be her husband: Manolo Tavares. This law student and opponent of the Trujillo dictatorship was the first president of the June 14 Association, a movement against the regime in which the sisters played a prominent role. Tavares, like many other members, ended up in jail.

Patria and María Teresa, the youngest of the three, also played a leading role in the resistance against the dictatorship. And that’s why they were killed. “The Mirabal sisters were brutally murdered for being women and activists. His only crime was having fought for his rights against the Dominican dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo”, says UNESCO.

His murder, far from silencing the dissenting voices, increased the pressure against the Trujillo regime. Less than a year later, on May 30, 1961, he was ambushed by a group of dissidents and killed.

A fourth sister, who had not been so actively involved in the fighting, Belgium Adela (Dedé), survived to honor her memory.

In 1999, the UN General Assembly proclaimed November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

“If they kill me, I will take my arms out of the grave and I will be stronger” is one of the phrases attributed to Minerva Mirabal. More than half a century later, her story continues to inspire generations of people fighting to end violence against women.

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