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  • Intimate Violations: Women and the Ajusticiamiento of Dictator Rafael Trujillo, 1944–1961
  • Elizabeth Manley (bio)

The foundation of social order, the primary essence and basic nucleus of every political organization, rests in the family, without whose stable and healthy development, the prosperity of the nation is impossible.1

Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina

On the afternoon of August 10, 1959, several dozen Dominican and Cuban women gathered in the streets of Havana.2 Dressed in black as though headed to a funeral, they mourned the political situation in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Specifically, they targeted the dictator Rafael Trujillo, calling him the “Jackal of the Caribbean.” As they paraded through the streets carrying placards and visiting newspaper offices, they were focusing attention on their specific struggles as women and mothers. Their posters read, “Dominican Women Support the Revolutionary Government”; “We Ask for the Expulsion of Trujillo from the OAS”; and “We Represent the Mourning of the Assassinations Committed by Trujillo.” They told the Cuban newspaper [End Page 61] Información that their gestures symbolized “the mourning of our beloved Dominican people, every day more oppressed, humiliated, and enslaved by the crimes committed by the tyrannous regime of Rafael Trujillo.” At once internationally savvy and domestically focused, these women were central to the resistance movement that developed over the three-decade dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. Drawing on the regime’s own maternalist discourse of the nation-as-family, these female resister-activists consistently pointed out the failures of “the Jackal” to protect women, children, and the Dominican home. Indeed, their militancy was essential to the termination of the regime.

The story of the fall of the 31-year regime has been told almost exclusively through the eyes of its male protagonists.3 As the most visible members of the resistance that led to Trujillo’s ajusticiamiento (execution), Dominican men have taken near-exclusive discursive possession of the last years of the infamous dictatorship, with one major exception—the martyred Mirabal sisters.4 However, women were far from absent from the larger narrative of political transition that led up to the Trujillo assassination on May 30, 1961.5 Dominican female activists demonstrated that the promises made by the leader—to protect the traditional family and national morality—were not only dubious, but that through the direct violations of the regime their homes and loved ones were being evermore trampled upon. In an altered reflection of the regime’s own gendered framework, these women demonstrated their skill in political engagement and established an ideological formulation grounded in their specifically maternal contributions to civic life in [End Page 62] the Dominican Republic, contributions that persisted well beyond the demise of the infamous leader.

For many Dominicans, the assassination of Minerva, María Teresa, and Patria Mirabal in 1960 stands as the beginning of the end for the Trujillo dictatorship, yet the extant scholarship on the regime fails to fully interrogate this fact. This article argues that the murder of the three women activists was the breaking point of the 30-year regime precisely because it challenged deeply embedded beliefs of what the regime, even at very minimum, could do for the Dominican people. Not simply because it was enacted on supposedly “weak” or “defenseless” women and because it was a tremendously shocking action even for Trujillo, the assassination of the Mirabals exposed the regime’s failure to protect the sanctity of the home, embodied symbolically by women and women as mothers. As a result, it was an assault on Dominican national morality.

Moreover, while it is readily acknowledged that the assassination marked a significant turning point in Dominican history, the idea that women other than the Mirabal sisters participated in the resistance movement is only beginning to enter into the Dominican narrative. As Myrna Herrera Mora points out in her recent study, many women were actively and valiantly involved in the revolutionary movements of the 1940s and 1950s.6 This article expands the narrative beyond the three martyred Mirabal sisters to highlight how women’s activism, operating through local, national, and international channels and engaging the gendered discourse of conservative politics, is central to the toppling of authoritarian leaders. The historiography of the resistance generally...


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pp. 61-94
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