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DomRep museum to honor victims of dictatorship

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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – A new museum honoring the more than 50,000 people who died under former dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo is scheduled to open Sunday, a day before the 50th anniversary of his death.

Officials expect to unveil for the first time what is believed to be a comprehensive list of those killed during Trujillo's 1930-1961 regime. The $2.7 million museum, located in a renovated colonial home in the capital, Santo Domingo, also will feature a re-creation of a prison torture chamber, along with audio of some of the actual torture sessions.

In 1937, Trujillo ordered the killings of 20,000 Haitian migrants in his quest to cleanse his country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Soldiers raided shantytowns and sugar cane fields as they executed migrants along the shores of the Massacre River, named after a 17th-century battle.

"The Haitian genocide was the greatest crime against humanity of Trujillo's tyranny," said Luisa De Pena, director of the Dominican Resistance Memorial Museum. "Dominican society has to face the crimes that occurred and make them part of its public conscience so that way it can move forward."

Officials with nonprofit organizations began to compile the list of victims six years ago by researching government documents and interviewing survivors. Each name was verified by a group of historians who independently confirmed the victim's identity and disappearance or death, De Pena said.

The list includes political prisoners who died on the tiny, deserted island of Beata, and those who perished while performing forced labor in agave and rice fields.

"We only know about some of these (work) camps thanks to survivors," De Pena said.

In some cases, Trujillo's brother, Jose Arismendy Trujillo, killed workers so as not to pay them, while others were executed so the government could obtain their property, De Pena said.

Among the opponents killed by Trujillo's secret police were the Mirabal sisters, whose story has been made into several films based on Julia Alvarez's book, "In the Time of the Butterflies."

Also believed to have been killed by Trujillo's forces was ex-CIA agent Jesus de Galindez.

Trujillo was shot to death in 1961, part of a plot designed by former military loyalists backed by members of the wealthy elite.

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