On April 28, 1987, U.S.-backed "Contras" in Nicaragua killed Portlander Ben Linder—a mechanical engineer, juggler, clown, unicyclist and volunteer in a country that was a battlefield in the Cold War.
|See also: "The life and times of Ben Linder" (pdf, 1988)|
As the 20th anniversary of that infamous slaying nears, Linder's family is planning several events to mark a death that rocked Portland and earned worldwide scorn for Washington's foreign policy.
For Linder's mother, Elisabeth, her son's death still offers relevant lessons today in Iraq.
"It's foreign policy that killed Ben and thousands of Nicaraguans, and it's happening again," she says. "I think of Ben's death every time I see another death [there]."
Linder, 27, had lived in Nicaragua for nearly four years when he was assassinated at point-blank range after being injured by a grenade. He had helped to complete a small hydroelectric plant, providing light and electricity for the first time in the town of El CuÁ. He was doing prep work for a dam in San Jose de Bocay when he and two Nicaraguan co-workers were killed.
According to autopsy reports, Linder was carrying a Russian-made 7.62 mm assault rifle when he was shot. Linder's mother calls that report "a bunch of bullshit." She also doesn't believe rumors (including a Wikipedia entry) that her son frequently wore a Sandinista uniform. She says he wasn't involved in politics.
"He was an idealist who was just going to change a little piece of the world," she says.
Work on the San Jose de Bocay project continued with help from international aid organizations and tourists responding to work-for-food ads in hostels. Linder's family has raised about $800,000 for the Central American Solidarity movement through speaking engagements across North America.
"It was exhausting and in some ways exhilarating," says Elisabeth Linder, who took turns with family members speaking at churches, community centers, schools and anywhere someone would listen.
Linder's legacy in Nicaragua includes a lighter side—training locals in the art of clowning. And thanks to his help, two small villages have 24-hour electricity. For Nicaraguans who Linder helped, his life transcends politics. And for a mother who would have a 47-year-old son if it weren't for a war 20 years ago, Ben Linder's legacy will live on forever.