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At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a charismatic faith healer named Liborio established a self-reliant commune in the mountains north of San Juan de la Maguana that attracted thousands of followers. Local peasants considered him a reincarnation of Jesus and worshipped him as such, though detractors maintained that he planned to march on Santo Domingo and set up a Voodoo theocracy with himself as high priest. He was branded a bandit by the American army during their occupation of the 1910s and 1920s; seeing his populist commune as a threat to their rule, they put a bounty on his head and sent out regular patrols to hunt him down. For six years he evaded capture by hiding out in the heart of the Cordillera Central with a handful of followers. When he was finally caught and murdered by American troops in 1922, rumours quickly spread through San Juan and Las Matas that Liborio had risen from the dead, and the soldiers had to dig up his corpse, drive it through the streets of San Juan in the back of a truck and display it in the Parque Central to prove otherwise.

The movement he founded, though, continued, with several local brujos claiming to have had direct spiritual contact with Liborio. In the early 1960s a group called Palma Sola, run by two peasant priests known as The Twins, set up a 1200-member utopian Liborista commune in the fields just west of Las Matas, by all accounts peaceful but deemed subversive enough by the government that on December 11, 1962, the military dropped napalm on them from airplanes – burning six hundred people to death and sending the rest scattering back to their villages. The fields outside Las Matas bear no marker to indicate that the commune members died here, but the Liboristas still dwell in the mountains around San Juan.

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