"Slivers of glass, twigs, and dirt remain caught in the braided length of hair that rests in memorial today in a small home in the Dominican Republic -- the hair, cut lovingly by a woman from the head of her little sister, whose life was brutally cut short 46 years ago by order of a despicable tyrant.

And, as though tending to the body of a murdered sister were not enough for one woman to bear, there were her two other sisters to mourn and bury as well.” — Vermont Women

November 25 is the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, in honour of the Mirabel sisters whose bloody story has been immortalized in Julia Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies and the 2004 movie of the same name staring Salma Hayek.

The sisters, Patria, Dedé, Minerva and Maria Teresa, grew up in a well-to-do, educated, cultured family of lawyers, politicians and businessmen in the Dominican Republic. Times were good for the women until the rebellion triggered dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo; during his rule their family lost most of their fortune and were subjected to torture and imprisonment.

All four of the Mirabel sisters were vehemently opposed Trujillo’s rule and formed the Movement of the Fourteenth of June in which the sisters were known as “Las Mariposas” or the Butterflies (Dedé was later forbidden to partake in any resistance activities by her husband). On November 25, 1960, after decades of opposition and fighting the Trujillo regime, Trujillo ordered three of the sisters killed, which was fulfilled on the outskirts of Puerto Plata. Folk legend says this move was sparked by Minerva’s rejection of Trujillo’s (a well documented adulterer) sexual advances.

The impact of the women’s brutal death was not as Trujillo wanted. Instead of getting rid of a perceived problem (the resistance), he created a new one when the three sisters became martyrs. After their deaths there was a renewed surge in interest in the movement against Trujillo and six months later he was assassinated.

The Vermont Women link above has lots of wonderful information regarding the surviving sister, Dedé and other members of the Mirabel family. As a final twist, one of Dedé’s sons served as vice-president of the Dominican Republic between 1996 and 2000. Also, Minou Mirabal, the daughter of Minerva Mirabal, is a well known Dominican Congresswoman.