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Álvarez was born in Nueva York and shortly thereafter travelled to the a Dominican Republic, birthplace of her parents.
She spent the first 10 years of her life in the D.R., until her father’s political activism forced them to return to the US.
She had lived quite comfortably in the DR, surrounded by several generations who instilled in her the importance of telling stories, and later encouraged her to develop her own storytelling talents.
Once back in the US she missed her family, culture and country, and faced the problem of having to learn English.
Her novels reflect the difficulties undergone as a youth in the US and DR, where she spent her summers but was no longer considered to be a native.
She writes primarily in English. Her first novel, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, describes the the mix of cultures and the difficulties faced by contemporary Dominican society.
But what is of interest to us is her second novel, In The Time of The Butterflies, which is based on the lives of the Mirabal sisters and their fight against the dictatorship of Trujillo in the DR.
Born in1891. During his childhood, the DR was occupied by the US.
He joined the National Guard (which was created by the US) in 1918 and when the Marines left the country in 1924, Trujillo became the head of the National Guard. In 1930 he ran for the presidency against Horacio Vásquez, who was the current president at that time.
While the country under Vásquez’s rule had enjoyed relative stability and progress, he had also changed the constitution to allot himself 2 additional years in power. The fact that he ignored the law made him many political enemies.
Trujillo, meanwhile, had worked within the armed forces to gain power and influence. He aligned himself with Rafael Estrella Ureña, who declared a revolution in February 1930 and took over Santo Domingo, the capital. Trujillo declared himself to be “neutral” but in reality he made a pact with Estrella in order to be able to run for president in the May elections. Vásquez, sickly and feeling betrayed, left the capital and Estrella took over.
Trujillo was the only candidate allowed by the armed forces and, what a surprise! he received 95% of the votes.
During the next 31 years, “the era of Trujillo,” he exercised absolute power and control.
He reigned as official president from 1930-38, and again in194252. In an ex-oficio role, he allowed his brother [Héctor Bienvenido Trujillo Molina] to govern 1952-1960, and he did the same for Joaquín Balaguer Ricardo [1960-61]. But in reality he maintained total control.
As with many dictators, Trujillo had at his disposition a secret police force that spied on, controlled, threatened and sometimes eliminated his enemies, along with political opponents both at home and abroad.
In order to maintain control, he depended on military forces and the rich; both groups reaped benefits like raised salaries and economic monopolies. Trujillo became rich both through monopolies and also through embezzlement.
In general, the life of the average Dominican improved under Trujillo.
•The economy improved, the external debt disappeared, the middle class increased •the infraestructure [roads, los ports, los airports] improved •the system of public education expanded •the literacy rate rose The average Dominican who had never known a democratic system, accepted Trujillo’s rule and attributed to him all of the improvements in the country.
During his rule there were no free elections but it’s very possible that he would have won anyway.
Ideologically he was like a fascist: •there was a cult of personality •egotism [Santo Domingo became known as Ciudad Trujillo] •he approved the construction of enormous ugly buildings •he used oppressive measures to control his people
Politically he did whatever was convenient. He wasn’t anti-communist until 1947 when the US convinced him to eliminate the Partido Comunista Dominicano [in exchange for certain favors….]
In a famous quote, Cordell Hull, FDR’s Secretary of State [1933-44] declared “He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he is our son-of-a-bitch.”
His international policies eventually brought about his downfall.
But one of his most atrocious actions caused little international reaction.
In Octuber 1937 he ordered that all Haitians living in the DR be executed [an act of revenge for those Dominican agents who were discovered and executed in Haití.]
The army killed some 20.000 Haitians who were living mainly in the border area.
When the US government found out, FDR demanded payement of $525.000. Trujillo’s reputation was somewhat tarnished but that’s about it.
As the years passed he became more isolated and paranoid.
In 1959 he found out about a group of Dominican exiles, supported by Fidel Castro, who planned to invade and overthrow him.
Even more worrisome was Venezuelan president Rómulo Betancourt.
He supported various Dominicans who wanted to remove Trujillo from power.
Trujillo became obsessed with Betancourt, and supported groups of Venezuelans who attempted to kill him [one attempt injured him but he survived.]
Venezuela turned to the OAS [Organization of American States] to protest.
The publicity generated convinced the world to turn its back on Trujillo, the OAS suspended diplomatic relations and imposed economic sanctions on the DR.
The US began to see Trujillo as a problem.
30 May 1961: Trujillo was assassinated by machine gun fire near the capital. It was said that the guns had been provided by the CIA.
The Mirabal family lived in the city of Salcedo.
They were a prosperous family. The father, Enrique, was a landowner and businessman, owner of a number of properties including a farm, a story and a factory.
The mother, Mercedes Reyes Camilo [“Chea”] was from the middle class.
There were 4 sisters: Bélgica Adela [“Dedé”]
Antonia María Teresa
María Argentina Minerva
Minerva was the first to participate in secret movements to overthrow Trujillo. While a student in a Catholic school she met some some girls whose families had been arrested, tortured and killed by Trujillo’s forces. A Liberal patriot, she understood politics and wanted to study law. Other influences on her anti-Trujillo stance were leftist writings and illegal (within the DR) Cuban and Venezuelan radio transmissions that discussed the political situation in the DR.
On 12 Octuber, 1949, Trujillo had a party in his mansion in San Cristóbal. It was well known that Trujillo, although married, liked to seduce young women and had a number of lovers set up in his various mansions throughout the country. In the 1949 party in San Cristóbal, Trujillo failed in his efforts to seduce Minerva.
The Mirabals received their invitation fromAntonio de la Maza, el governor of Moca, y Juan Rojas, the senator of the Espaillat province. Those who attended the party were Don Enrique Mirabal, Patria, Patria’s husband Pedro Gonzalez, Minerva, Dedé, y Jaime Fernandez, her husband. The party was outside and was interrupted by a storm. In the chaos of the storm, the family took advantage of the opportunity to leave. This “lack of respect” angered Trujillo (no one was allowed to leave before he did). He ordered police to stop their car.
Governor Juan Rojas suggested that Enrique send a telegram apologizing, which he did, but it didn’t help.
The next day, Don Enrique was arrested in Santo Domingo. Minerva and Doña Chea were arrested one day later.
Every day Minerva was taken to Fort Ozama for interrogation about her political activities. She was accused of being a communist.
The family was eventually released, but not for long. Two years later the same three were detained again.Su libertad duró poco tiempo. Enrique was taken to Fort Ozama while the women were held prisoner in the Hotel Presidente. The official reason given was that Enrique hadn’t purchased a book written by Trujillo.
The father took ill and got worse until his death the 14 of December, 1953.
One year later, Minerva began as a student in the Universidad de Santo Domingo.
Patria gave up her plans to become a nun and married Pedro Gonzalez, a farmer.
Minerva y María Teresa married ardent anti-Trujillo men.
14 June 1959, troops from the Movimiento de Liberación Dominicana, a group of exiled Dominicans, arrived and attempted to overthrow Trujillo. They were defeated by Trujillo’s forces, but their effort planted the seed of revolt in the minds of many.
A new political group, El Movimiento 14 de Junio formed, led by Manolo, Minerva’s husband.
Another attempt was organized, but once again Trujillo found out and stopped it.
More than 100 members were arrested.
Trujillo released all but the husbands of Minerva, Patria and María Teresa.
A number of circumstances most likely contributed to Trujillo’s decision to have the sisters killed.
They represented a danger to his regime because they were well-known and respected throughout the country.
Regardless of how many times Trujillo had them arrested nor how many of their possessions and properties he confiscated, Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa refused to stop working to restore democracy in their nation.
Trujillo had to be very discrete when choosing men to commit such a horrible crime.
He selected members of a faction of the secret police called the Military Intelligence Service or SIM.
On 25 November, 1960, Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa — were travelling to Puerto Plata with their driver Rufino de la Cruz to visit their spouses who were detained in La Cuarenta.
The three Mirabal sisters and Rufino de la Cruz were beaten to death. Patria was 36, Minerva 34, and Maria Teresa 24. This act was the last straw for the Dominican population; they could no longer tolerate Trujillo’s abuses.
The surviving sister, Bélgica (better known as Dedé), lives in Salcedo, and runs a museum in Ojo de Agua dedicated to her sisters. The Mirabal sisters are today considered heroines in the DR, have been immortalized in poems, novels, art works and even have an international day dedicated to them.
We’ll hear about this one at the end of the semester.
What to watch for / think about: Why “butterflies”? Evidence of Dominicans vs. Haitians What caused or motivated the politicization of each person? Is there one with whom you most identify? Examples / evidence of courage and cowardice
http://inabima.gob.do/descargas/biblioteca FAIL/Autores%20Extranjeros/A/Alvarez,%2 0Julia/Julia%20Alvarez%20%20Study%20guide%20of%20In%20The %20Time%20Of%20The%20Butterflies.pdf
Discussion questions: 1. “In the fight for freedom, love was her most important weapon.” Does the wording in the advertising diminish Minerva’s role, or that of her family members? Is there a double meaning intended in the recipient of her “love?” 2. Do you know of any other stories of someone who has given his or her life for the benefit and advancement of others? 3. It’s difficult for many of us to imagine ourselves in a life or death situation as faced by the Mirabal family. But..try! How much are you willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others?
For next week: María llena eras de gracia / Maria Full of Grace (2005, Colombia) Readings: write 5 questions and answers for each http://www.nbcnews.com/id/5050399/#.UoFLP6UZw-4 (make sure you hit “show more text”) http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/10/27/plan_colombia_a_brief_histo ry#0 The second is a “Photo essay”—click on the arrows on the right to advance. Presentation: flower-growing market in Colombia http://www.asocolflores.org (English and Spanish version of website)
WRITING ASSIGNMENT: One of the stranger assignments you’ll ever have (yes, I know that I’m not following the ones on the syllabus. They work fine for some classes but not so much for this one.) You are one of the Mirabal sisters, writing a letter to your descendents, explaining your actions, justifying them if you want, expressing any regrets if you have them, embellishing and personalizing as you see fit. 1 typed page.
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