The political assassination was the beginning of the end for the country’s leader. It fueled public outrage. For many this was the final straw and soon enough the Leader was gone.
Minerva Mirabal was the most vocal of four sisters. She campaigned tirelessly against the repressive corruption of Rafael Trujillo, president of the Dominican Republic.
“We cannot allow our children to grow up in this corrupt regime, we have to fight against it and I am willing to give up everything, even my life if necessary,” she declared.
She attended a Catholic School, Colegio Imaculada Concepcion in La Vega where she discovered that her friend Deisi Ariza’s father was killed by President Trujillo for opposing his government. Mirabal’s determination to fight his corruption grew.
Mirabal later enrolled at the University of Santo Domingo graduating as a lawyer, something unheard of for a woman in 1950s Dominican Republic. But she had already been identified as an enemy of the leader. Her law degree was stripped of the honours she won and her licence to practise was turned down by Trujillo’s government. She was repeatedly harassed and arrested on the direct orders of the Leader himself.
“It is a source of happiness to do whatever can be done for our country that suffers so many anguishes,” she proclaimed after being arrested.
With two of her sisters, they were known as “Las Mariposas”, the butterflies, a symbol of freedom. They formed the 14 June movement, in honour of dissidents who were tortured and killed on that day in 1959.
When the movement was discovered, their house was burned to the ground and the three were arrested. They were freed under pressure from the Organisation of American states but their husbands remained in prison. On 25 November 1960 the three sisters were on their way home after visiting their husbands.
They were stopped by police and Trujillo’s henchmen dragged them out of the car and bludgeoned them to death. The bodies were put back in the car which was run off the mountain road to make the deaths look like an accident. They were killed by Trujillo’s right hand man.
The murder of the Mirabal sisters, especially Minerva, “had greater effect on Dominicans than any other of Trujillo’s crimes”. It paved the way for Trujillo’s fateful end only six months later.
The brutal political assassination of Minerva Mirabal is uncannily reminiscent of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s. Like Mirabal, Caruana Galizia’s brutal murder brought down the leader of her country and sealed his legacy.
Like Mirabal, Caruana Galizia faced harassment and intimidation after Joseph Muscat came to power. A constant target of Labour’s demonisation she faced relentless attacks by Labour MPs and their supporters.
In 2014 a vexatious audit by the VAT office led to demands for over 100,000 euro in supposedly unpaid VAT. Minister Chris Cardona, deputy leader of the Labour Party, filed libel suits against her with paralysing garnishee orders.
So did many others in the Labour movement. Henley and Partners conspired with Owen Bonnici and Joseph Muscat to mount damaging SLAPP lawsuits against her. Carmelo Abela vindictively recalled her son from his posting in India. But like Mirabal, the hostile tactics didn’t work with Caruana Galizia.
Trujillo’s henchmen attempted to cover up the murder. The government sanctioned newspaper “Le Caribe” reported that the Mirabal sisters died in an “automobile accident”. Maltatoday reported just one week after Caruana Galizia’s assassination that her murder was linked to the Libyan fuel smuggling she had reported on. Other newspapers were also fed the lie disseminated from Castille.
The Mirabal sisters were murdered by Trujillo’s right hand man, Victor Alicinio Peña Rivera. Joseph Muscat’s right hand man met Caruana Galizia’s murder middleman in Castille and posed for photographs with him. Melvin Theuma was given a phantom job through Castille’s intervention. Kenneth Camilleri, Joseph Muscat’s security detail met Theuma four times and allegedly acted as the link between Schembri and Theuma.
Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar was leaking sensitive information to Theuma. Keith Schembri allegedly passed a hand written note to Yorgen Fenech, accused of the murder, through his personal doctor. Schembri telephoned Yorgen Fenech at the behest of Joseph Muscat on the eve before his arrest and provided information and advice.
As to whether Trujillo ordered the murder or whether his right hand man acted alone, one historian wrote: “We know orders of this nature could not come from any authority other than Trujillo himself, still less could it have taken place without his assent”. Despite the incriminating links to Castille, Muscat denies any involvement in or prior knowledge of Caruana Galizia’s murder.
After her brutal assassination Minerva Mirabal was honored and commemorated. The UN General Assembly designated 25th November International Day for the elimination of violence against women in her honour. She is globally recognised as a symbol of justice.
Yet in her own country her assassination was “treated gingerly at the official level”. This was because Trujillo was succeeded by his protege’ Joaquin Balaguer. It was only when Balaguer was forced to step down in 1996 that Mirabal was recognised as a national martyr in her own country.
In Malta, Muscat has been succeeded by his wife’s chosen one, the continuity candidate Robert Abela. Caruana Galizia’s assassination is also “treated gingerly at the official level”. Robert Abela is yet to visit the site of her assassination or her memorial. The speaker he defends turned down a request to name a parliamentary hall in her name.
Globally she is celebrated as a symbol of courage who fought Castille’s corruption without fear. But Muscat’s successor continues to ignore the recommendations of the inquiry with utter contempt for her memory and for justice.
As for Trujillo, he is remembered for his lust for power coupled with an intense corrupt desire for money. Most of all he is remembered for the lasting damage he inflicted on his country. The same could be said of Joseph Muscat.