History in a mural

Wednesday, April 24, 1996

By Stephen Marks

The mural along the back wall of the national office of the Dominican Communist Party is painted by prominent artist Silvano Lora. It depicts the people's history of the Dominican Republic.

It starts with a portrait of the former dictator, Rafael Trujillo. Dressed in his Napoleonic uniform and chest full of medals, Trujillo is flanked by the weapons of death and terror which maintained him in power for 32 years and made him one of the 10 richest men in the world.

Trujillo extracted much of this wealth from the sugar industry. The mural depicts the slave-like working conditions which the mainly Haitian, or Haitian-descended, sugar workers suffered and the pogroms which Trujillo periodically launched against them. Breaking chains symbolically link the exploitation of the sugar workers to the rest of the country's workers and farmers.

Defiance is symbolised by the founding of the Communist Party in 1944 and the images of martyrs of the anti-Trujillo underground. Three butterflies represent the three Mirabal sisters, who died at the hands of Trujillo's death squads. The mural then depicts the dictator's assassination in 1961 and the 1962 elections, which were won by a moderate reformer, Juan Bosch.

Bosch's reforms prompted a military takeover in 1963 which in turn led to a civil war. The depiction of the democratic resistance is dominated by the portrait of Colonel Francisco Caama&241;o, the head of the riot squad in the capital, Santo Domingo. Caama&241;o was won to the democratic side and, instead of shooting the people, distributed weapons to them.

The popular uprising of April 1965 captured Santo Domingo, but bayonets, instead of the symbols of victory, are painted on the wall. Two days after a provisional government was formed, 23,000 United States marines started to invade.

Trujillo's former aide, Joaquín Balaguer, was installed as president, and the old system of institutional violence, corruption and electoral fraud was re-established. Democrats and Communists continued to resist. In the subsequent repression, the left lost many activists and prominent leaders.

Caama&241;o was killed in 1972, soon after returning from Cuba with a guerilla column. Amaury Germán (who led the revolutionary forces during the civil war at the age of 16) also lost his life, as did Roberto Duvergé and Maximilliano Gomez. Despite these losses, the left survived, and the mural concludes with a symbolic representation of workers, farmers, the middle classes and women united against neo-Trujilloism.

Our host explained the mural as we stepped around party activists putting the finishing touches to the giant banners which were to adorn the venue of the unity conference. The banners celebrated the revolutionaries who inspire Dominican socialists: the Mirabal sisters; Manolo Tavárez, guerilla fighter of the Revolutionary and People's Liberation Force (FRLP), killed in 1963; the early Communist Orlando Martínez; Duvergé, a founder of the July 21 Revolutionary Force; Germán, a leader of the January 12 Liberation Movement; the peasant leaders, Mauricio and Mamá Tingo, who were assassinated while defending land occupations; and of course Che, Marx and Lenin.