A relatively new memorial museum in Santo Domingo
, opened as recently as May 2011, and still not fully finished, that is mostly about the dark era of dictatorship in the Dominican Republic
, especially the brutal reign of Rafael Trujillo between 1930 and 1961, as well as about the various resistance movements against these regimes. The former receives the expected vilification, the latter are unabashedly glorified. In Spanish only, but a crackly English audio guide summary is available.
What there is to see: When you arrive at the reception desk of the museum you also have to decide whether or not you will need an English language audio guide. All the texts in the main exhibition are in Spanish only, so if your language skills are not up to it you may indeed be dependent on this extra aid. I certainly decided I needed it. However, the woman at the reception desk had some trouble finding me a machine that would work.
In the end she handed me a single one with two sets of headphones that I had to share with my wife. Given that this would almost literally tie us together the whole time, and it was difficult to get both headsets to work simultaneously, my wife decided to give up on it and go through the exhibition without the audio, just relying on her Spanish.
With my Spanish being so much weaker, I still had to wrestle with the audio guide. And a wrestle it was. The cables of the headphones were so battered (I saw the receptionist handling the cables, tying them tightly around several of the machines, so I know why) that the sound crackled badly and at times I would lose it altogether. So I constantly had to try and hold the cables at some angle that would allow some sound to pass through. Most of the time I could only get one channel to work (left). At least that was enough to get most of the narrative.
This narrative is in a Spanish-accented voice but in grammatically fine English. Stylistically, though, it was clear from the start that this was not to be a soberly balanced, factual account, but a glorification of the “heroes” of the resistance. While nothing can be said against the concomitant demonization of Trujillo and his henchmen (that's well-deserved, after all, no question about that), I must say that I found the often almost tear-jerking hero worship and the overenthusiastic sanctification of the resistance a bit much at times. But never mind.
The permanent exhibition, which starts upstairs, is very text-heavy – so the audio guide cannot do more than provide general summaries of the various sections. In addition to text-and-photo panels lining the walls there are also a few points where interactive video screens provide additional material. This is only available in Spanish, however, and not covered by the audio guides, so you lose out on these elements if you don't know the language.
Thematically the approach is very far-reaching, starting with an account of the early history of Hispaniola, colonialism and the Dominican Republic
's passing into the 20th century, before getting to its main theme, the Trujillo regime.
There are detailed explanations on how the regime utilized the economy, industry, the armed forces, the judicial system and the church in order to achieve its all-pervasive grip on power.
The megalomania of Rafael Trujillo himself is aptly illustrated by several artefacts, such as medals and plates with his image on, but mostly the exhibition relies on texts and photos.
Following accounts of early attempts at resisting the Trujillo regime, a special section chronicles its first well-known, large-scale crime against humanity, namely the genocide of Haitians, also known as Operation Perejil – see under history
The exhibition then works its way through numerous acts and personalities of the resistance, illustrating some of them with a few original artefacts such as badges, ammunition, boots, guns and personal belongings as well as letters and documents. Keeping one's concentration up through all those very detailed accounts, is at times a bit draining, until it gets to the latter years of the dictatorship.
Here, some of the most dramatic stories come in, not least that of the Mirabal sisters who Trujillo had murdered in November 1960 (see under Mirabal House
and La Cumbre
). In addition to detailed text panels, in the style already familiar from the previous sections, about the “14 of June” revolutionary movement that the sisters were part of, the museum dishes up some of its more inventive and modern-media approaches at this point.
In a darkened section you get to “meet” the Mirabal sisters in person – well they are only projections of actresses impersonating them, delivering moving speeches to visitors, buts still. It's a bit wooden, but the good intentions of providing some degree of media variation come across.
The next big topic is the assassination of Trujillo, which is also given a detailed account. Amongst the usual text-and-photo panels are also yet more displays of artefacts, including a gun of the type used in the plot.
Within the section about the phases immediately following the death of the dictator comes what I found the museum's absolute star exhibit: an animated puppet of Manolo Tavarez, leader of the “14” movement and husband of Minerva Mirabal (he was shot almost exactly three years after his wife's murder). The audio guide went into raptures about how lifelike and “realistic” this display was, but I had to struggle not to burst out laughing. Any toy robot delivers a more convincing performance …
Following the OTT glamorization of Tavarez, the exhibition continues with the years that led from hopes for democracy to the beginning of the Balaguer era (see, again, under history
). This involves the largest of all the museum's installations: a mock bridge with mock political graffiti (e.g. “viva Bosch”).
The final section chronicles the Balaguer years from the “stolen” elections of 1966 to his finally stepping down in 1996, mentioning along the way both the political repression under his regime and the investment in infrastructure that was also initiated during his rule.
You then come back out at the rear of the complex and step into the courtyard. To the right there is another section of the museum, a reconstruction of the torture centre “LA 40”. You descend stairs that lead to a few low, underground rooms. In the largest of these, stands an electric chair that was apparently used routinely in the torturing of political enemies by the Trujillo regime's secret police, the SIM. Some gruesome photos of victims underscore the horror of this theme. In another room, a video screen was playing some extra material, including interviews. But since this was, again, only available in Spanish and the audio guide didn't reveal anything about it, it remained a mystery to me what it was all about.
On the opposite side of the courtyard two more sections also form part of the museum complex. The first is a register of victims, i.e. some kind of archive, the other provides space for temporary extra exhibitions. At the time of my visit this was one about the peaceful revolution in the GDR
in 1989 and the subsequent reunification of Germany
in 1990, so from my personal
perspective this was quite interesting (especially the various political cartoons from the time that were on display).
Then you step back into the ground floor of the front part of the main building. Here some kind of hall of remembrance was still in the process of being set up. Back in the foyer you can check out (and/or add to) the guest book, next to another set of displays. Then you exit through the museum shop.
The shop has quite a few items relating to the museum's topic, but unfortunately none of the books or DVDs were available in languages other than Spanish. And I didn't feel like purchasing a T-shirt or coffee mug here.
in the old Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo
, at 210 Calle Arzobispo Nouel, between Calle Sanchez and Calle Jose Reyes.
Access and costs: Easy to find and not expensive.
the location right in the old Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo
, just one block from the main pedestrianized thoroughfare El Condo, which makes it easy to walk to the museum from within this most touristy area of the city. If you're coming from outside the Colonial Zone, it's best to get a taxi.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission: foreign adults 150 RD$ (locals 100RD$, children and seniors 50 RD$, students 25RD$).
Rental of an audio guides in English costs 40 RD$
Time required: depends very much on whether or not you know Spanish well enough to read the many info panels and watch the video material. If you do, you can probably spend several hours in here. If you have to rely on the English audio guide alone (if you can get it to work), then about an hour will be enough.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
being located in the heart of the Colonial Zone the museum is very close to most tourist points of interests in this city – see under Santo Domingo
- Resistance Museum 01 - in the foyer
- Resistance Museum 02 - courtyard
- Resistance Museum 03 - exhibition
- Resistance Museum 04 - Trujillo exhibit
- Resistance Museum 05 - the Goat on a plate
- Resistance Museum 06 - small artefacts
- Resistance Museum 07 - larger artefacts
- Resistance Museum 08 - German rifle
- Resistance Museum 09 - Mirabal sisters animated projection
- Resistance Museum 10 - Mirabal-related memorabilia
- Resistance Museum 11 - animated Tavarez dummy
- Resistance Museum 12 - not yet the bridge to freedom
- Resistance Museum 13 - clear pros and cons
- Resistance Museum 14 - victims register
- Resistance Museum 15 - barbed wire
- Resistance Museum 16 - entrance to the torture chamber
- Resistance Museum 17 - down in the torture chamber
- Resistance Museum 18 - electric chair
- Resistance Museum 19 - model of the torture centre
- Resistance Museum 20 - remembrance hall
- Resistance Museum 21 - museum shop
- Resistance Museum 22 - outside