Remembering Ben Linder

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Friends of the ATC is launching the Ben Linder Scholarship fund to provide scholarships to amplify the work of the ATC and give more internationalists the opportunity to experience revolutionary Nicaragua. Funds will support the upcoming cohort of students at the Latin American Institute of Agroecology or IALA, as well as bring future internationalists to Nicaragua to participate in one of Friends of the ATC’s delegations. Your donation will directly support the transformative education for young peasants at IALA and increase opportunities for those who need financial support to travel to Nicaragua.

We have named our scholarship fund in honor of the life and legacy of Ben Linder, an internationalist and anti-imperialist who was killed by the US Contras while working on building hydroelectric dams during the Contra war in Nicaragua in the 80s. Read more about the life of Ben Linder written by Susan Lagos, a long-time Friend of the ATC.

Ben Linder came to Nicaragua in 1983 after graduating as a mechanical engineer from the University of Washington, inspired by the Sandinista Revolution, wanting to lend a hand. He wrote to his mother Elizabeth, “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.”  At first, he used his ability as a juggling clown on a unicycle in the capital of Managua to entertain children on days when the government was vaccinating them against various illnesses.

Eventually he was granted permission to move north to El Cua, Jinotega, where people had no electricity, and he proposed to design and help build a hydroelectric dam to provide it. Jinotega was a very dangerous area, close to the Honduran border, where the US funded and trained dissenting Nicaraguans, the Contras, to attack schools, health centers, farms, and projects of the Sandinista government. President Ronald Reagan called the Contras “freedom fighters” and told the US public that the Sandinista “communists” were being helped by Russia and Cuba, so were a threat to the United States. The Contras were trained to torture by the CIA, and in the 1980s, an estimated 50,000 Nicaraguans, mostly rural farmers, teachers, and nurses in the north of Nicaragua, were brutally tortured and murdered during Contra attacks. The efforts of the Sandinistas to reduce illiteracy, improve health care, and form cooperatives to farm the huge haciendas left by the US-backed dictator Somoza and his cronies, all were severely hampered by having to draft soldiers to defend the population against the Contra attacks.

Ben Linder and his team managed to bring electricity to El Cua, and were starting to work in Bocay, farther north, when on April 28, 1987, they were ambushed by Contras and murdered. So many Nicaraguans had died in the Revolution and Contra war, but because Ben was from the US, his death brought much more attention to the lies the US government was telling. His parents testified before Congress that May, and no more money was approved for the Contra war. So Oliver North, Elliot Abrams, et al clandestinely began using money from arms sales to Iran to fund the Contras, and also sold crack cocaine in Los Angeles and other cities. Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury newspaper brought out all the connections, but the US government defamed his reputation and he took his life.

Ben Linder’s funeral in Matagalpa, Nicaragua was attended by many foreign volunteers and Nicaraguans alike. President Daniel Ortega spoke about the 7 European volunteers who had also been assassinated by the Contra, but Ben Linder was the only one from the US. Nicaraguans remember his smile and clown act, and are very grateful for his life here. 

More information about Ben’s contributions to Nicaragua can be found in the book by Joan Kruckewitt, Death of Ben Linder.

Support more internationalists to visit & study in Nicaragua – DONATE to the scholarship fund!

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