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Slain American's legacy continues in Nicaragua

Ben Linder, the only US citizen killed by US-backed contras during Nicaragua’s war in the 1980s, continues to inspire a new generation of foreign activists working with the country's poor.

By Tim RogersCorrespondent / May 9, 2012



Jinotega, Nicaragua

Of the countless bullets fired during Nicaragua’s brutal counterrevolutionary war in the 1980s, few shots have continued to resonate as loudly as the one that ended the young life of US citizen Benjamin Linder on April 28, 1987.

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Twenty five years after contra insurgents killed Mr. Linder as he worked at a small hydroelectric plant for the Sandinista government, his life continues to reverberate. His death was front page news, and further inflamed the US debate over support for the contras, coming just months after the Iran-Contra scandal had erupted. Linder's angry friends and family complained that the US had paid for the bullet that killed him, while officials in the Reagan Administration said he should have known better than to go to a war zone.

The political passions that surrounded Sandinista Nicaragua, with US supporters viewing that socialist government as an agent of positive change and its opponents decrying it as a communist beachhead in Central America, have largely cooled today.

But the Oregonian continues to inspire young North Americans who want to use their skills to promote change in this Central American country.

“Although we never met Ben Linder, his legacy certainly exceeds him,” says Alyssa Brandfass, a young woman from San Francisco who was part of a commemorative trek in the mountains to honor Linder on the 25th anniversary of the fatal ambush that further divided international opinion over US involvement in Nicaragua.

The two women say his legacy inspires their own work, “Project Mango Mundo,” which produces media and art projects to raise awareness about Nicaragua, increase socially responsible tourism, and promote educational and cultural exchange.

Linder legacy

She’s not alone. In the northern mountains of Jinotega and Matagalpa, the “Benjamín Linder” Association of Rural Development Workers (ATDER-BL), continues to install rural electricity and improve access to clear water in Linder’s honor. In the past two decades, the non-governmental organization has installed more than 60 miles of electrical lines, expanded rural electrification by 830 percent, and built smaller micro-hydroelectric plants in 30 remote communities that are off the national power grid. The organization also works on reforestation and conservation projects to protect the watersheds for the hydroelectric plants.

Linder's death remains controversial. Even some in the solidarity movement claim Linder, a 27-year-old engineer and clown, was “pushing the envelope” by toting an AK-47 into the mountains accompanied by half a dozen Sandinista militiamen. Others, however, claim he would have been crazy to go unarmed, given the threat of contra ambush.

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