The following essay will describe how 'In the Time of the Butterflies' is historically accurate in its portrayal of Rafael Trujillo's reign of terror in the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic suffered under the brutal dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo for thirty one years. In the Time of the Butterflies is a film which depicts the Mirabel sisters, known as 'the butterflies', in their struggle to end Trujillo's regime.

The Mirabel sisters were born in the Dominican Republic and grew up on a farm. A portrait of Rafael Trujillo hangs on the wall with the inscription: 'In this house Trujillo is the chief.' The film accurately portrays President Trujillo's lust for recognition and excessive vanity, "The whole country was riddled with posters, pictures, banners, and icons. A bronze plaque carried a colour portrait of the Benefactor with the inscription: "In this house Trujillo commands."1 After a fierce debate with their father, who maintains that women belong in the household and not in school, three Mirabel sisters are allowed to attend high school. On one occasion, Minerva Mirabel performs in a play which is honoured by the attendance of President Trujillo, who is in full military regalia. A white military uniform is worn by the actor portraying Trujillo and the costume accurately portrays Trujillo's favourite uniform, "His favourite uniform, worth about ten thousand dollars, was encrusted with gold and consisted of a jacket with heavy epaulettes and gold brocade tails, a silk sash in the national colours, blue trousers with gold stripes and a gold and white three-cornered hat covered in feathers."2 A young, white, blonde student in the audience is noticed by Trujillo who orders her to be escorted to his palace. The other girls at the school hear rumors that she had Trujillo's baby, which is a very plausible occurrence, "He made no secret of his numerous illegitimate children, and liked to hear his 'love' affairs being talked about in public; he was of the opinion that it proved his masculinity."3

As the film progresses, Minerva Mirabel enters law school and befriends a radical freedom fighter who claims that the Trujillo government has a secret campaign to create a whiter population. The movie correctly displays the tension concerning these views, "...Trujillo dictatorship, when the Dominican state became most emphatically committed to promoting Eurocentric and white supremacist views of Diminicanness..."4 The freedom fighter, whose name is Morales, becomes a guerilla. Many freedom fighters and reformers joined guerilla fighters, which prove Morales' motives to be historically accurate: "When civilian movements failed, reformers sometimes went into the hills, creating informal brotherhoods, guerilla movements."5 He is later captured and executed by Trujillo forces. He is depicted in the national newspaper as an enemy of the state.

The Mirabel sisters are invited as guests to a dinner in which Trujillo is present. Trujillo dances with many attractive women, including Minerva Mirabel. Trujillo presses Minerva close to him and grasps her buttocks to which she responds by pushing him away and slapping him. The film portrays Trujillo's lust for one of the Mirabel sisters effectively: "One of the sisters had reportedly ended Trujillo's amorous advances with a stinging slap in the face."6 Her father briskly apologizes to Trujillo and escorts his family away from the incident. Days later, military officials arrest the father and release him after Minerva pays a visit to Trujillo and gambles for her father's freedom; if she had lost she would have had to stay in the palace as one of Trujillo's women. Unfortunately, the patriarch of the family dies within days as he has been tortured viciously and suffers a heart attack.

Minerva and two of her sisters decide to join an anti-Trujillo cell which organizes leaflet distribution and weapons smuggling. The cell also organizes discussion groups located in factories where workers and students voice their opinions concerning Trujillo's iron grip on the country. The film correctly portrays Trujillo's closed corporatist regime: "Closed corporatist systems keep the number of groups that rule small with power concentrated in the hands of business elites and the armed forces. Peasants, workers, students and the lower middle class are generally excluded or at best manipulated from above."7 As the group is returning from a meeting, a car chases down one of the members and shoots him in the back. Historically, Trujillo had established a group nicknamed the '42-ers': "This is an economically independent organization that lives off its booty. Amongst its tasks are: the breaking up of meetings and the killing off of political enemies."8 The church becomes involved in spreading the news of Trujillo's sadistic regime after the Mirabel sisters visit their local priest who agrees to join their cause. Historically convincing since the church denounced the state years later: "In 1960 police brutality in the suppression of a revolutionary plot was denounced by the Dominican bishops and Church-State relations grew strained."9 The Mirabel sisters married men who were involved in the struggle against Trujillo. The film accurately portrays the anti-Trujillo cells which were nicknamed 'IJ4' and their links with liberal Venezuelan president Betancourt who was assisting the cells by providing them weaponry: "By the end of 1959, members of the IJ4 had found the liberal government of President Betancourt in Venezuela more approachable for their immediate needs, arms and munitions."10 Eventually the secret police discover the sisters' links to the anti-Trujillo cell and the women and their husbands are arrested, "The beautiful Mirabel sisters were arrested along with their husbands, two of the leaders of the IJ4."11 The sisters are held in an overcrowded and unsanitary prison. Minerva is brought to a room in which her husband is attached to a cross and the interrogator demands her to release the names of the others involved in the cell. Minerva declines to do so and is forced to watch her husband be tortured with electricity, "There were electric chairs which forced out confessions with the help of high voltage shocks."12 Historically accurate, the method of torture used by Trujillo's interrogators is very similar to the film's depiction.

Officials investigating the treatment of political prisoner visit one of the Mirabel sisters who refuse to speak of the terrible conditions since she knows the secret police have planted microphones in the meeting room, "Throughout the country no one was ever far from the secret police. They were suspected of being present at every gathering, whether represented in the flesh or by a hidden microphone."13 The sisters also receive news, which is smuggled by anti-Trujillo guards, that Trujillo was blamed for an assassination attempt on Venezuela's President Betancourt, which was executed by Trujillo forces: "Sixty pounds of ammonium nitrate, packed in two suitcases, had been detonated in a parked 1954 Oldsmobile as Betancourt's Cadillac drew parallel to it."14

The Mirabel sisters are freed and return back to their homes in order to receive a visit from Trujillo, symbolizing the anti-Trujillo cell's humiliating defeat and serving as a warning to other cells. Their husbands remain in prison and the Mirabel sisters were surprised to be told that they could visit them on a weekly basis. As the sisters were arriving from a visit, their jeep is stopped by the special police and the driver and sisters are brought into the jungle where they are murdered by men armed with machetes. The film ends with the sisters hugging each other in a final act of unity. Unlike the previous historically accurate portrayals, the ending of the film is exaggerated since the sisters were separated and their hands tied before they were beaten to death with clubs, "Then, armed with clubs the SIM men led each woman in a different direction into the cane field."15 The film's historically unrealistic ending can be attributed to the director who sought for an emotionally powerful conclusion to the Mirabel sisters' struggle against a ruthless dictator.

Throughout the film, the director correctly portrays the appearance of the Dominican Republic's capital including automobiles from the 1930s era. In conclusion, In the Time of the Butterflies, is a historically accurate film which portrays the brutality of a dictator and the oppression of a nation.

1Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Raids and Reconstructions. (London, Pluto Press Limited, 1976), p.114. 2Hans Magnus Enzensberger, p.113.
3Hans Magnus Enzensberger, p.113.
4Silvio Torres-Saillant, The Tribulations of Blackness : Stages in Dominican Racial Identity; Latin American Perspectives. (1998), p.132
5Randall Hansis, The Latin Americans: Understanding their Legacy. (United States of America, McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 1997), p.228.
6Bernard Diederich, Trujillo: The Death of the Goat. (Toronto, Little, Brown and Company, 1978), p.69
7Jack W. Hopkins, Latin America: Perspectives on a Region. (New York, Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1987) ,p.247
8Hans Magnus Enzensberger, p.107
9Martin C. Needler, Political Systems of Latin America. (New Jersey, D.Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1964), p.175
10Bernard Diederich, p.35
11Bernard Diederich, p.35
12Hans Magnus Enzensberger, p.112
13Howard J. Viarda, The Politics of Civil-Military Relations in the Dominican Republic; Journal of Inter-American Studies. (1965), p.473.
14Bernard Diederich, p.44
15Bernard Diederich, p.70


1. Enzensberger, Hans Magnus. Raids and Reconstructions. London: Pluto Press Limited, 1976.
2. Hansis, Randall. The Latin Americans:Understanding their Legacy. U.S.A.: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 1997.
3. Diederich, Bernard. Trujillo:The Death of the Goat. Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1978.
4. Hopkins, Jack W. Latin America:Perspectives on a Region. New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1987.
5. Needler, Martin C. Political Systems of Latin America. New Jersey: D.Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1964.

Journal Articles
1. Torres-Saillant, Silvio. "The Tribulations of Blackness:Stages in Dominican Racial Identity." Latin American Perspectives (1998): 132.
2. Viarda, Howard J. "The Politics of Civil-Military Relations in the Dominican Republic." Journal of Inter-American Studies (1965): 473.