In the novel "In the Time of the Butterflies," Rafael Trujillo is called "El Jefe." Why? In what ways did he act like an "El Jefe"?

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lauraebaez's profile pic

lauraebaez | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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"El Jefe" wasn't just a physical entity; rather, the Dominican people considered it a metaphysical force that could be conjured up by simply thinking a non-approved thought.  "God and El Jefe" was also a brutal fact.  Some influential religious leaders in the Dominican Republic were subdued and seduced by Trujillo in instances.  Trujillo would pluck adolescent blond, blue-eyed females from Catholic boarding schools like grapes from his own personal vineyard.  Another interesting fact: while Hitler was exterminating the Jews, Trujillo was encouraging them to migrate to the island, as he felt that their fair skin would pallor the skin tones of the Dominican people.  So "El Jefe" was a blanket term that ensconced the minds, bodies, and spirits of generations of Domincan people because his name was tantamount to fear of the unknown, and it encouraged an elite class system whereby the highest strata could embark in equally debaucherous and inhumane activities.  

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dymatsuoka | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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"El Jefe" means "The Chief", and it is a fitting nickname for Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961.  Trujillo sought total control over all elements of government and the lives of his people, and was ruthless in erradicating dissent and eliminating obstacles that stood in the way of his goals. 

Trujillo rose through power by way of the military, and as Sinita explains, "all the people who were above him kept disappearing until he was the one right below the head of the whole armed forces".  Through ruthlessness and trickery, he quickly became the actual head of the armed forces, and then soon announced himself president of the country (Chapter 2).  An incorrigible womanizer, he kept mistresses in opulent palaces around the island, and his government was characterized by corruption and greed.  When faced with opposition, such as that represented by the movement in which the Mirabal sisters were involved, he responded forcefully and unscrupulously, putting those who dared to rebel under surveillance, imprisoning them, and, as in the case of Minerva, Patria, and Maria Teresa Mirabal, ordering their executions.

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The Spanish word "jefe" can be translated as "chief" or "boss." So when people called Trujillo "El Jefe," they were calling him "The Chief." That's exactly what he was for several decades over the people of the Dominican Republic. He was a tyrannical dictator. People were afraid to openly criticize him or even  disagree with him because of his brutality.

A reviewer of Alvarez's book "In the Time of the Butterflies" notes that during Trujillo's regime

‘civil liberties were nonexistent’ and ‘brutality and terror’ reigned. This was a time when ‘Dominicans were required to hang a picture of El Jefe, as Trujillo was called, in their homes and school children were taught to revere him’.

Another source reports an example of his brutality: "in 1937 El Jefe ordered the slaughter of 20,00 black Haitians who squatted on Dominican territory or who toiled as sugar cane cutters." He also renamed the capital city from Santo Domingo to Cuidad Trujillo and installed neon signs that flashed "God and Trujillo."

Although they feared him, many Dominicans hated Trujillo, and he was assassinated in 1961. Visit the sites below for more information.


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