On April 28, 1987, Benjamin Linder , a U.S. citizen, and two Nicaraguans were murdered by the contras who attacked the site of a small dam they were building to measure the flow of water . The work was part of the Cua-Bocay Integrated Development Project, which supported the building of such plant s to provide electricity , potable water and boost develop- ment. Electricity from such plants allows for the refrigeration of medicines and vaccines, provides light for night adult education classes , and facilitates agro-mechanization classes.
The Cua-Bocay region, where Linder had been working part-time since 1984, is a locus of some of the most consistent and brutal contra attacks. Schools, health clinics, farming coop eratives , and development projects have been systema tically destroyed. In December 1986 Linder moved to the area full-time and took on prime responsibility for coordinating the plan ning of new hydroelectric plants . His job re quired him to travel through the zone, explore the rivers and wate rfalls, look for potential sites, and consult residents and local officials. In April 1987 Linder and others began build ing the weir in San Jose de Bocay. He was usually accompanied by about five or six Nica raguans to help with the constru ction. On April 28 they arrived at about 8:00 a.m. The dam was half finished , a wooden board partially dam ming the stream . Sand , stone, boards, beams, metal bars, bags of cement , and assorted tools were scattered aroun d. A contra patrol of at lea s t 12 persons had been lying in wait since approximately 5:00 a.m. that morn ing . The patrol had been told that every day, at approximately the same time, a construction crew, which included two foreigners, arrived at the dam site.
The contra patrol, positioned on high ground above the dam, launched the attack with gre nades and machine gun fire. No fire was re turned. Linder was immobilized by wounds to his legs and a bullet wound to his left arm. In a supine and defenseless position, he was then executed by one of the contras who shot him in the temple from a distance ofless than two feet. Pablo Rosales , a Nicaraguan on the project. suffered non-fatal wounds in the initial attack. and was executed by a contra who stabbed him in the chest with a bayonet. The third person killed was Sergio Hernandez. He was found in the stream, a fatal bullet wound through his head. The other workers escaped.
Approximately one year after Linder’s killing the CCR filed a lawsuit in the federal distri ct court in Miami again st the contra organi za tions and their leaders, charging them with the death of Linder. The complaint alleges tha Adolfo Calero , Enrique Bermudez, and Ari – tides Sanchez, as the contra leaders, order ed the killing or were at least aware and condoned the contra practice of killing civilians and exe cuting the wounded . Plaintiffs, the family of Benjamin Linder , are asserting a cause of ac tion under international law and the wron gfu: death law of Florida – the state in which the contras have headquarters and where much o its leadership resides. Argument on a motion tc dismiss is expected some time in the fall.
The past year (1999) was dominated by discovery disputes related to CCR’s efforts to obtain U.S. government documents that might shed light on the death of Benjamin Linder, a U.S, engineer who was murdered in 1987 by the U.S. supported Contras in Nicaragua.
In 1988, CCR filed suit in federal district court in Miami against the contra organizations and their leaders, charging them with Linder’s death. (Linder and two Nicaraguans were murdered in April 1987 by contras who attacked them while constructing a small dam in a poor, rural area of Nicaragua.) Linder’s father, mother, sister and brother asserted a cause of action under international law and the wrongful death law of Florida–the state in which the contras then had their headquarters and where much of their leadership lived.
In 1990, the district court dismissed the case on political question grounds–a discretionary doctrine that precludes federal courts from deciding cases that could interfere with foreign policy. But in a precedent-setting opinion, the appeals court reversed in 1992, indicating for the first time that tort suits–suits for damages–could be based upon violations of the customary laws of war.
CCR subpoenaed government documents relevant to the case in late 1993. A year and a half later, after the government had refused to even consider complying with the subpoenas, the court ordered it to produce some documents. However, the National Security Agency (NSA) refused to cooperate, the lower court and the appellate court sustained this position on administrative grounds, which CCR asserted did not properly balance “plaintiffs’ need for information with the government’s need for secrecy.”
In late August 1995, CCR filed a motion for further relief concerning the remainder of the agencies, asking the court to order the CIA, the Department of Defense, the Department of State and the FBI to supply the Linders with more information on the withheld documents and conduct a further search for documents. In December 1996, a lower court judge ruled in favor of the argument by the FBI and Departments of State and Defense that they had the right to withhold documents deemed “secret.”
CCR appealed the denials to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. On January 16, 1998, the court granted CCR the right to pursue the documents from the government agencies about the structure of, and human rights abuses perpetrated by, Nicaraguan Contra organizations. The Court of Appeals ruled that the district court failed to apply the proper standards pertaining to third party subpoenas, and ordered the district court to reassess the plaintiffs’ demands for documents. the case is now back before thedistrict court , where the government agencies continue the attempts to block access to records that would support the Linders’ claims, but might also provide evidence of U.S. knowledge of, or acquiescence (or worse) in the commission of contra atrocities. After a decade of legal action, the suit to seek justice for Benjamin Linder continues to work to force the U>S> agencies to disclose their own role in the deaths of U.S. citizens working to aid social change in other countries.
Michael Ratner, David Cole, Margaret Ratner , with CCR cooperating attorney Jules Lobel
About Ben Linder
Outrage channeled into activism
Event honors Ben Linder and his work with rural Nicaraguans
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Given the good works inspired by Ben Linder, it’s fitting he will be remembered Friday in an event marking the 20th anniversary of his death. Linder, 27, of Portland, was killed April 28, 1987 in Nicaragua by U.S.-backed, anti-Sandinista forces while helping build a hydroelectric plant as a volunteer in a rural northern region near the Honduran border.
Ben Linder (left) working on his first hydroelectric project in Nicaragua.
His death — at the time, he was the only American killed by the Contras — galvanized opposition to U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. The attention helped raise awareness of the Contra war and its human costs after Linder became a victim of U.S. efforts to help overthrow the elected Sandinista government.
In the months after Linder was killed, family members — mother, Elisabeth; father, David (he died in 1999); and siblings, John and Miriam — and four friends and co-workers from Nicaragua scattered across the U.S. in a 7-month speaking tour. It launched a campaign that raised $800,000 over 11 years.
Yet, even as political events that surrounded Linder’s death fade with time, family members are committed to a belief that Linder’s life — and death — is as relevant today as it was two decades ago.
“We want to share Ben’s example because we think it’s a good one,” John Linder said.
“He knew he was in a dangerous situation, and he decided to stay because he identified with the people he was working with. And that’s something that speaks in many ways to the deepest values of most Americans, who would like to do something to help others and don’t often get the chance to do it on as, perhaps, large a stage as Ben.”
Elisabeth Linder said the remembrance of her son’s death is community-based and internationally centered, citing work in Nicaragua by Green Empowerment, a Portland-based nonprofit.
Elisabeth Linder, mother of Ben, and her son John will be part of a remembrance Friday marking the 20th anniversary of Ben’s death. “I love to talk about Ben because he was such a positive character,” Elisabeth says. “He was fun and funny.”
“It’s considerably more than the family,” she said. “No. 1, it’s the fact that the work in Nicaragua continues . . . and makes a difference there. That people continue to be dedicated down there. The foundation, after we did the fundraising, was then taken over by Green Empowerment. And their work has expanded beyond Nicaragua.”
Money raised by family and friends helped build several projects in the Jinotega region of Nicaragua where Linder was killed. Among them is a 230-kilowatt hydroelectric plant finished in 1994 in San Jose de Bocay.
Earlier this year, a 930-kilowatt plant was completed in El Bote. The $3 million project will provide electricity for 12,000 people when it begins operation. Once a development loan is paid off in about 13 years, the plant is expected to generate $250,000 in yearly revenue by selling surplus power.
In Portland, Susan Bloom administers the Ben Linder Scholarship Fund of Oregon. Each year since 2002, the $1,500 award has helped send at least one Portland Community College engineering student to a two-week program in Tlaxco, Mexico.
“They teach many of the things that Ben Linder was working for as an engineer: appropriate technology and stewardship of the land,” Bloom said.
Green Empowerment, a Portland-based nonprofit, works in Nicaragua with Atder-BL, or Association of Rural Development Workers-Benjamin Linder. Atder-BL coordinates and oversees the Linder-inspired hydroelectric plants and other projects, including installation of drinking water systems and protection of watersheds being built in the region.
The Linders are especially grateful to Rebecca Leaf, who worked with Ben Linder in Nicaragua. She has been there since as the driving force behind completion of the work Linder started, as well as overseeing new projects.
“She’s made this her life and under incredibly trying conditions,” said John Linder.
Those projects also have been central to Niko Kozobolidis, a Vancouver, B.C.-based civil engineering consultant who has worked with Atder-BL the past 20 years. Kozobolidis said Linder’s legacy “probably has a lot to do with his family, and also his individual spirit and the foundation he started with, which I think was a lot of courage, determination and love.”
Kozobolidis said he met Linder via phone conversation only, including making arrangements to join Linder and others in June 1987 to work on projects in Nicaragua. He is involved in ongoing projects, communicating with Leaf regularly, and has made nearly a dozen trips to Nicaragua, staying at least five weeks and up to 10 months.
John Linder said the 20th anniversary remembrance is politically significant also.
“Today, more than ever, U.S. foreign policy is identified with invasions, interventions, torture, denial of sovereignty to other people, international bullying, rejection of international agreements. And Ben’s story helps to show that, for those who think that Iraq is just a well-intentioned attempt at democracy gone wrong, it’s very important that they gain the larger picture of U.S. foreign policy.”
Still, John Linder said, his brother’s efforts were grounded in basic values and needs.
“Ben’s work in Nicaragua was based on the idea that all human beings have the right to peace, to sovereignty and to a clean glass of drinking water and an electric light.”