By Circles Robinson
An unofficial US Ambassador by the name of Benjamin Linder was buried 20 years ago in the city of Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
A very talented young person, Ben had two professions: one, as a professional clown and the other, as a mechanical engineer. Both were in need in war-torn Nicaragua.
Linder was killed at the age of 27, on April 28, 1987. His assassins were soldiers of the Reagan administration’s “Contra” war, who reined terror on the impoverished Central American country for having overthrown the brutal and corrupt US-backed Somoza dictatorship.
CBS News correspondent Dan Rather said at the time: “This wasn’t just another death in a war that has claimed thousands of Nicaraguans. This was an American who was killed with weapons paid for with American tax dollars. The bitter irony of Benjamin Linder’s death is that he went to Nicaragua to build-up what his own country’s dollars paid to destroy —and ended up a victim of the destruction.”
Despite being tainted by the Iran-Contra scandal involving weapons and drug trafficking, some of the same Cold War hawks from the Reagan years —led by John Negroponte, Elliot Abrams, Otto Reich and John Poindexter— have been back in the driver’s seat during the administration of George W. Bush.
In an article published earlier this month, Ben’s mother Elizabeth said: “Its’ foreign policy that killed Ben and thousands of Nicaraguans, and it’s happening again. I think of Ben’s death ever time I see another death.”
Well attended events commemorating Ben’s life were held over the weekend in Portland, Oregon, where his family lives, and Berkeley, California, as well as in Managua, Matagalpa and San Jose de Bocay, Nicaragua.
A BADLY NEEDED ROLE MODEL
Linder was one of those people who cared more about humanity than creature comforts or personal wealth. He paid the ultimate price for supporting a cause he believed in thousands of miles away from home.
During his four years in Nicaragua, Ben, dressed in his clown uniform, used his juggling and unicycle skill to promote health campaigns. He also helped design a mini-hydroelectric plant for El Cua, a mainly coffee farming community without electricity.
The event that most comes to mind in my occasional encounters with Ben was the Xmas before his murder. He had hitched a ride with a group of leaders from a Nicaraguan farmer’s organization including its President Francisco Javier Saenz (1939-96) to El Cua, nestled in a valley where the “Contras” had terrorized the local population.
The trip was on Christmas Eve and Ben was looking forward to his late night chicken dinner, a custom in Nicaragua. Many things were scarce in the blockaded country but the best was always served on December 24th and New Years Eve.
As he got out of the jeep, elated that we finally arrived after a grueling trip, Ben invited our group to come by the following morning and have a look at the hydroelectric plant he helped design.
I can still see the shine in his eyes as he gave us a detailed explanation and cranked up the turbine. I remember upon leaving that Saenz, my boss, commented: “Benjamin has certainly realized himself.”
Four months later when Linder and two Nicaraguan co-workers were killed, the threesome were working on another small scale hydroelectric plant design at a dam site a few kilometers from the isolated town of San Jose Bocay, a couple hours up the dirt road from El Cua.
The Ben Linder Association of Rural Development Workers went on to finish that project and several others. They receive support from the Green Empowerment organization based in Portland, Oregon (www.greenempowerment.org).
At a time when the US has lost considerable prestige abroad it could sure use a whole lot of Benjamin Linder’s to turn things around.
Laughter and light… not a bad combination!
For readers wishing to learn more about Benjamin Linder I recommend the book “The Death of Ben Linder” by Joan Kruckewitt and the documentary “They can cut all the flowers, but they can not stop the spring.”