Arts & Entertainment

Dominican exhibit focuses on couple, house at heart of anti-Trujillo struggle

By Maria Montecelos

Santo Domingo, Nov 23 (EFE).- A museum in this capital on Wednesday inaugurated an exhibition centered on a dissident couple whose middle-class home in the northern Dominican city of Salcedo served as the headquarters for a movement to bring down dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s 1930-1961 regime.

The “unprecedented” exhibit focuses on the story of Patria Mirabal and Pedrito Gonzalez “through their house, which was a home of resistance” and conspiracy, where clandestine meetings were held, explosives were made and materials were stored, the director of the Memorial Museum of Dominican Resistance, Luisa de Peña, told Efe.

The exhibition goes beyond the well-known story of the Mirabal sisters – three political dissidents known as “las mariposas” (butterflies) who were killed by order of Trujillo’s regime on Nov. 25, 1960, and whose heroic struggle gained international attention thanks to Julia Alvarez’s 1994 historical novel “En el tiempo de las mariposas” (In the Time of the Butterflies).

“It’s interesting because people think it was a romantic and suicidal resistance … but it wasn’t,” De Peña told Efe. “It was a planned resistance” that confronted “the bloodiest and best-organized dictatorship in Latin America of the first half of the 20th century.”

Noris Gonzalez Mirabal, who is the daughter of Patria and Pedrito and was just 15 when her mother and two aunts were clubbed to death, shared with Efe her memories of her family’s resistance to El Jefe, as well as her own contributions to the struggle.

“We learned when we very little not to speak loudly about opposition to the regime. You had to be careful because the walls had ears. You always had to speak softly,” she said.

One of the family’s revolutionary tasks consisted of making bombs from gunpowder they had extracted from store-bought fireworks.

“We helped pour out the gunpowder,” although the bombs were not intended to destroy property or kill but only to “make noise and attract attention,” Noris said. “I took part in that activity and was in charge of cleaning up” so no remains of bomb-making material were visible.

“Ay! If the domestic workers had seen that!” she exclaimed.

When the clandestine movement was discovered and much of the family – Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabal, Pedrito, Nelson (Patria’s oldest son), several cousins and other relatives – and other dissidents were imprisoned, Patria was tasked with keeping the resistance movement alive by herself.

That involved keeping those in jail informed of what was happening by secretly sending messages on rolled-up pieces of paper sewn into clothing.

The family was stripped of its possessions and the house in Salcedo was given away to Alicinio Peña Rivera, head of the Military Intelligence Service (Trujillo’s main secret police force during the latter part of his regime) in the northern Dominican Republic.

The wooden structure of the former residence was used for another home then under construction, and now a cement floor and columns surrounded by a memorial garden are all that remain of the original former gathering place of the anti-Trujillo, 14th of June Movement.

Peña Rivera later coordinated the assassination of the Mirabal sisters, who were ambushed while riding in a jeep in a mountain pass after visiting their jailed husbands in a remote prison.

Before she was killed, Patria managed to inform the passengers of a nearby parked truck that Trujillo’s henchman were about to kill the Mirabal sisters, Noris recalled.

Although the jeep with the dead bodies inside was later hurled over a cliff to make the incident seem like an unfortunate accident, few believed the regime’s account and the brutal murders served as a catalyst for change.

Trujillo himself was killed less than a year later – on May 30, 1961 – by seven assassins, including members of his own armed forces.

Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Patria and Pedrito were all on hand Wednesday for the inauguration of the exhibition at the Memorial Museum of Dominican Resistance in Santo Domingo.

“I tell the kids they should carry the torch” because “after I lose my marbles, after I’m gone, they have to tell the story” to make sure it never happens again, Noris told Efe. EFE

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