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In the Time of the Butterflies

by Julia Alvarez

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How is the Trujillo regime portrayed in In the Time of the Butterflies?

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In In the Time of the Butterflies, the Trujillo regime portrays itself as a powerful, benevolence administration to be feared and respected. Trujillo employed violent and invasive tactics to suppress and investigate opposition to his power.

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The Trujillo regime is built around a cult of personality. In In the Time of the Butterflies, Rafael Trujillo, brutal dictator of the Dominican Republic, presents himself as a wise, benevolent ruler who always has the best interests of his people at heart. His name and face are pretty much everywhere; it is nearly impossible to avoid him or the regime he heads. His omnipotence is almost God-like, which is exactly how Trujillo wants to be seen. If people start to think of him as a god, then they will be less likely to get any ideas about trying to overthrow his regime.

But in reality, Trujillo is neither a benevolent ruler nor a god. He is just a thuggish dictator. As a result, Dominican citizens have to be very careful about what they say about him. Seemingly innocent comments, such as "it’s about time we women had a voice in running our country," can be construed in such a way as to get Dedé into serious trouble. Her remark implies that Trujillo should share power, the very last thing that a dictator will accept. (Ironically, Dedé is the only of her sisters not to join the anti-Trujillo resistance movement.)

Trujillo's self-image as a god is also false because gods cannot die. And, sure enough, Trujillo is eventually assassinated in a military coup.

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In the Time of Butterflies is a historical fiction novel written by Julia Alvarez. It tells the story of the Mirabal sisters, whose political activism against the evils of the Trujillo dictatorship ends with the murder of three of the sisters at the hands of the government.

The Trujillo regime’s leader was Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who was known as “El Jefe,” serves as novel's the primary antagonist. He self-appointed himself as the dictator of the Dominican Republic.

In the novel and in reality, the Trujillo regime presented itself as a necessary and beneficial movement for the Dominicans. Immediately, Trujillo promoted racism against the Haitians in order to artificially boost Dominican nationalism. Trujillo victimized the Dominicans and presented himself as a leader who would always look out for their interests and raise their standards of living.

In reality, Trujillo was not an honest and selfless leader. He used a gang of secret police to sniff out opposition and eliminate threats to his power. He imprisoned citizens without trial, prioritizing obedience to his governance over human rights. He was married but had numerous affairs with young women. In the novel, he is presented as a rapist who uses his power to take advantage of these young women.

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Rafael Trujillo was the head of the military dictatorship that ruled the Dominican Republic for decades. Julia Alvarez's 1994 novel is based on the true story of the Mirabal Sisters (the butterflies of the title), some of whom joined an underground movement opposed to the Trujillo regime. Like many dictatorships, they used violence to repress their people, curtailed the press and free speech, and created a cult of personality (much like Mao and Stalin) around Trujillo, who depicted himself as the beneficent father of his country. Early in the novel, he comes to the girls' school for a performance and is described as shorter in person and covered in medals. He takes care with his image, but the sisters are unimpressed, and it later comes out that he has had an affair with one of their peers. Much of the book is a critique of patriarchy, and both Trujillo and the sisters' father represent the patriarchy the women are fighting against.

Like many authoritarian governments, Trujillo rules through fear and power. He has a secret police and keeps the people paranoid that they will be picked up and tortured. Again, what the state actually does is at odds with the way they depict themselves, and those who are fighting in the underground know the truth about Trujillo and how he stays in power.

I'd also recommend The Feast of the Goat, a fictional account of Trujillo by Mario Vargas Llosa.

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The Trujillo regime is a military dictatorship, and while the novel depicts its stranglehold on the country and the fear by which it rules, it more particularly depicts it as patriarchal--ruled by a man by force, reflecting the sort of cruelty and power relationship also seen in a patriarchal marriage. Trujillo is a womanizer; he uses young women as a way to assert his masculinity and power, which coincides with the way he runs the country. He is vain--he wears make-up for example, and always is over-dressed in his medals and uniform. The novel implicitly compares him to the girls' father, who, like Trujillo, calls Minerva his "national treasure," and who abuses power in his marriage by, in a gentler but still similar way, ruling the girls in the family and having a mistress--just as Trujillo has many mistresses.

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