Ben Linder
Benjamin Ernest "Ben" Linder (July 7, 1959 – April 28, 1987), was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 engineer who was working on a small hydroelectric dam in rural northern Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The country is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places it entirely within the tropics. The Pacific Ocean...

 when he was killed by anti-government Contra
The contras is a label given to the various rebel groups opposing Nicaragua's FSLN Sandinista Junta of National Reconstruction government following the July 1979 overthrow of Anastasio Somoza Debayle's dictatorship...

 rebels. Coming at a time when U.S. support for the Contras was already highly controversial, Linder's death made front-page headlines around the world and further polarized opinion in the United States.


The California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

-born Linder graduated from Adams High School
Adams High School (Oregon)
John Adams High School was a public high school in Portland, Oregon. It was in the Portland Public Schools, and closed in 1982....

 in Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon
Portland is a city located in the Pacific Northwest, near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers in the U.S. state of Oregon. As of the 2010 Census, it had a population of 583,776, making it the 29th most populous city in the United States...

 in 1977. While in College at the University of Washington
University of Washington
University of Washington is a public research university, founded in 1861 in Seattle, Washington, United States. The UW is the largest university in the Northwest and the oldest public university on the West Coast. The university has three campuses, with its largest campus in the University...

, Linder enjoyed juggling
Juggling is a skill involving moving objects for entertainment or sport. The most recognizable form of juggling is toss juggling, in which the juggler throws objects up to catch and toss up again. This may be one object or many objects, at the same time with one or many hands. Jugglers often refer...

 and was often seen around Seattle riding a 5 to 6 ft (1.5 to 1.8 m) unicycle
A unicycle is a human-powered, single-track vehicle with one wheel. Unicycles resemble bicycles, but are less complex.-History:One theory of the advent of the unicycle stems from the popularity of the penny-farthing during the late 19th century...

. He graduated in 1983, with a degree in mechanical engineering
Mechanical engineering
Mechanical engineering is a discipline of engineering that applies the principles of physics and materials science for analysis, design, manufacturing, and maintenance of mechanical systems. It is the branch of engineering that involves the production and usage of heat and mechanical power for the...

. He left his Oregon home that summer and moved to Managua
Managua is the capital city of Nicaragua as well as the department and municipality by the same name. It is the largest city in Nicaragua in terms of population and geographic size. Located on the southwestern shore of Lake Xolotlán or Lake Managua, the city was declared the national capital in...

, the capital of Nicaragua, bringing his unicycle along with him.

Linder felt inspired by the 1979 Sandinista
Sandinista National Liberation Front
The Sandinista National Liberation Front is a socialist political party in Nicaragua. Its members are called Sandinistas in both English and Spanish...

 revolution, and wanted to support its efforts to improve the lives of the country's poorest people. The Reagan administration
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

, however, saw the Sandinistas as a beachhead of Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 in the Western Hemisphere
Western Hemisphere
The Western Hemisphere or western hemisphere is mainly used as a geographical term for the half of the Earth that lies west of the Prime Meridian and east of the Antimeridian , the other half being called the Eastern Hemisphere.In this sense, the western hemisphere consists of the western portions...

, and was determined to cripple the revolution. Beginning in 1981, the Central Intelligence Agency
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

 secretly trained, armed and supplied thousands of Contra
The contras is a label given to the various rebel groups opposing Nicaragua's FSLN Sandinista Junta of National Reconstruction government following the July 1979 overthrow of Anastasio Somoza Debayle's dictatorship...

 rebels. A major element of the Contras' strategy was to launch attacks on rural schools, health clinics and power stations — the very things that most exemplified the improvements that had been brought about by the revolution.

In 1986, Linder moved from Managua to El Cuá, a village in the Nicaraguan war zone, where he helped form a team to build a hydroelectric plant to bring electricity to the town. While living in El Cuá, he participated in vaccination campaigns, using his talents as a clown, juggler, and unicyclist to entertain the local children, for whom he expressed great affection and concern.

On 28 April 1987, Linder and two Nicaraguans were killed in a Contra ambush while working at the construction site for a new dam for the nearby village of San José de Bocay
San José de Bocay
San José de Bocay is a municipality in the Jinotega department of Nicaragua. With an area of 3,990.40 km², the municipality of San José de Bocay was created on March 13, 2002, as a result of the division of the El Cuá-Bocay municipality. As of 2006, San José de Bocay is the newest municipality in...

. The autopsy
An autopsy—also known as a post-mortem examination, necropsy , autopsia cadaverum, or obduction—is a highly specialized surgical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of a corpse to determine the cause and manner of death and to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present...

 showed that Linder had been wounded by a grenade
A grenade is a small explosive device that is projected a safe distance away by its user. Soldiers called grenadiers specialize in the use of grenades. The term hand grenade refers any grenade designed to be hand thrown. Grenade Launchers are firearms designed to fire explosive projectile grenades...

, then shot at point-blank range in the head. The two Nicaraguans — Sergio Hernández and Pablo Rosales — were also killed at close range. He was posthumously awarded the Courage of Conscience award September 26, 1992.


Linder's death quickly inflamed the already-polarized debate inside the United States, with opponents of U.S. policy decrying the use of taxpayers' dollars to finance the killing of an American citizen as well as thousands of Nicaraguan civilians.

The administration fought back, with White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 spokesman Marlin Fitzwater
Marlin Fitzwater
Max Marlin Fitzwater was White House Press Secretary for six years under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, making him one of the longest-serving press secretaries in history.-Early life:...

 quoted in The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

as saying that U.S. citizens working in Nicaragua had "put themselves in harm's way". Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams
Elliott Abrams
Elliott Abrams is an American attorney and neoconservative policy analyst who served in foreign policy positions for two Republican U.S. Presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. While serving for Reagan and in the State Department, Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, and retired U.S. Marine Corps officer...

, an ardent proponent of the Contra War, echoed that view, saying that Linder should have known better than to be in a combat zone.

Linder's mother Elizabeth, in Nicaragua for her son's funeral, said, "My son was brutally murdered for bringing electricity to a few poor people in northern Nicaragua. He was murdered because he had a dream and because he had the courage to make that dream come true. ... Ben told me the first year that he was here, and this is a quote, 'It's a wonderful feeling to work in a country where the government's first concern is for its people, for all of its people.'"

During a Congressional hearing in May 1987, some defenders of U.S. policy in Nicaragua responded, launching personal attacks on Linder's family and other witnesses. The Village Voice reported one exchange between Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 Congressman Connie Mack
Connie Mack III
Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy III , popularly known as Connie Mack, is a former Republican politician. He served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from Florida from 1983 to 1989 and then as a Senator from 1989 to 2001. He served as chairman of the Senate Republican...

 of Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

 and Elizabeth Linder, who had just given emotional testimony about her son's work and motivations. Mack accused Mrs. Linder of using her grief "to politicize this situation", adding, "I don't want to be tough on you, but I really feel you have asked for it."

The death of Linder, coming as Congressional hearings investigated the Iran-Contra Affair
Iran-Contra Affair
The Iran–Contra affair , also referred to as Irangate, Contragate or Iran-Contra-Gate, was a political scandal in the United States that came to light in November 1986. During the Reagan administration, senior Reagan administration officials and President Reagan secretly facilitated the sale of...

, fueled the debate in the U.S. over the covert war in Nicaragua. The next year, Congress refused to renew aid to the Contras. But the civil war, conscription into the army, the collapse of the economy, and the curtailment of civil liberties
Civil liberties
Civil liberties are rights and freedoms that provide an individual specific rights such as the freedom from slavery and forced labour, freedom from torture and death, the right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial, the right to defend one's self, the right to own and bear arms, the right...

 in the mid-1980s all combined to cause the defeat of the FSLN government in February 1990 elections.

In July 1996, an American journalist named Paul Berman
Paul Berman
Paul Berman is an American writer. His articles have been published in numerous periodicals, such as: The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review and Slate...

 wrote an article in The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

("In search of Ben Linder's killers" The New Yorker. Sep 23, 1996. Vol. 72, Iss. 28; p. 58), which featured an interview with a man who claimed to have killed Linder. Linder's parents and their lawyers publicly denounced the article and disputed the veracity of the man Berman interviewed. In 2001 Joan Kruckewitt, an American journalist who lived in Nicaragua from 1983 to 1991 and covered the war between the Sandinistas and the Contras for ABC Radio wrote a book The Death of Ben Linder (Seven Stories Press 2001) giving a more sympathetic portrait of Linder's life, work, and death.

The song "Fragile
Fragile (song)
"Fragile" is a song composed by English musician Sting from his 1987 album ...Nothing Like the Sun. Released as a single the following year, it placed to number 70 on the UK Singles Chart. Sung additionally in both Spanish and Portuguese under the title Fragilidad, it appeared twice more on his...

" on Sting's 1987 album, ...Nothing Like the Sun
...Nothing Like the Sun
…Nothing Like the Sun is a 1987 album by Sting. The title comes from Shakespeare's Sonnet #130 , which Sting used in the song "Sister Moon"...

, is a tribute to Ben Linder. The 1990 book Animal Dreams
Animal Dreams
Animal Dreams is a 1990 novel by Barbara Kingsolver. A woman named Cosima "Codi" Noline returns to her hometown of Grace, Arizona to help her aging father, who is slowly losing his struggle with Alzheimer's disease. She then takes a biology teacher position at the local high school and lives with...

by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in the former Republic of Congo in her early childhood. Kingsolver earned degrees in biology at DePauw University and the University of Arizona and worked as a freelance writer before...

 is also dedicated to his memory, as is the Ben Linder Cafe in Leon, Nicaragua
León, Nicaragua
León is a department in northwestern Nicaragua . It is also the second largest city in Nicaragua, after Managua. It was founded by the Spaniards as Santiago de los Caballeros de León and rivals Granada, Nicaragua, in the number of historic Spanish colonial homes and churches...

, which is adorned with his photo and memories of his life's work.

See also

  • Witness for Peace
    Witness for Peace
    Witness for Peace is an United States-based activist organization founded in 1983 that opposed the Reagan administration's support of the Nicaraguan Contras, alleging widespread atrocities by these counterrevolutionary groups. Witness for Peace brought U.S. citizens to Nicaragua to see the effects...

  • Bill Stewart
    Bill Stewart (journalism)
    Bill Stewart was a reporter for ABC news in the US who was summarily shot by Nicaraguan government forces while reporting in Managua in 1979.Stewart was originally from West Virginia, and was a 1963 graduate of The Ohio State University...

    , an ABC
    American Broadcasting Company
    The American Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network. Created in 1943 from the former NBC Blue radio network, ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Company and is part of Disney-ABC Television Group. Its first broadcast on television was in 1948...

     reporter killed along with his interpreter a decade earlier in Nicaragua.
  • Brian Willson
    Brian Willson
    S. Brian Willson is an American Vietnam veteran, peace activist, and attorney-at-law.Willson served in the US Air Force from 1966 to 1970, including several months as a combat security officer in Vietnam. He left the Air Force as a Captain...

    , an American injured by a Naval Munitions train while protesting US arms shipments to Central America.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.