Yolanda Guzmán (1943-1965)

Yolanda Guzmán
Yolanda Guzmán

Yolanda Guzmán was a young Afro Latina activist in the Dominican Republic who was killed in 1965 at the time of an uprising by supporters of the country’s democratically-installed president Juan Bosch, who had been overthrown by military-backed forces. Guzmán, who had worked for the Bosch administration, disappeared along with five companions within days of the United States’ invasion of the island republic in support of the anti-democratic forces. Most Dominicans believe that Guzmán was assassinated on May 2, 1965, by the Centro de Ensenanza de las Fuerzas Armadas (the federal branch of military education under the dictatorship). The Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States eventually gained access and identified her body.

Guzmán’s death at age 21 came to symbolize the ways in which women and young people fought against one of the longest-running and vicious dictatorships in 20th century Latin America, that of Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo had dominated the Dominican Republic for over thirty years, with the support of the U.S. government, before he was assassinated in 1961. Bosch was elected president in 1962 but the Dominican military did not like his reformist policies, and he was overthrown in 1963. In April 1965, after pro-Bosch forces attacked the military-controlled government to reinstate Bosch, President Lyndon Johnson sent in U.S. troops, who, supported by forces provided by some of the members of the OAS, helped install a conservative, non-military government.

Guzmán was born on July 8, 1943, in San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. She was the daughter of Beatriz Guzmán, a domestic worker, and Carlos Maria Paulino Fernandez, who served in the brief Bosch administration. Both of her parents were fierce anti-Trujillistas. Because of the repressive environment for those who dared to criticize the Trujillo dictatorship, and the possibility of torture, imprisonment, and death of activists, Guzmán ran in clandestine circles and the specifics of her activities are not well documented. It is known that she worked in some capacity for the women’s division in the Bosch administration and that her passion for women’s rights fueled her work. Some authors have pointed to the deaths of the well-known anti-Trujillo activist Mirabal sisters, Minerva, Patria, and Maria Teresa, known as las mariposas (the butterflies), as a crucial moment in Guzmán’s commitment to opposing anti-democratic forces in her homeland. After the sisters’ deaths, Guzmán began to engage in more public protests. Most likely she, like other female activists during this period, helped with weapons training, instructed other combatants, managed funds and food between the capital and the interior, organized secret communications and care for the wounded, procured food, and buried the dead.