By Catherine Cusic. This article was first published on NicaNet.
Remembering Ben Linder, PRESENTE!
April 28, 2015, marks the anniversary of the assassination in 1987 of 27 year old Ben Linder and two Nicaraguans, Sergio Hernández and Pablo Rosales.
My first introduction to Ben was when I was asked to carry a packet of makeup to him in Nicaragua. It wasn’t the strangest packet I ever carried, and makeup to a man was no big deal to me (once I was asked to carry a large amount of black hair dye to a San Franciscan Nicaraguan high up in the Sandinista Ministry of State – OK start guessing … most of you know him).
It turns out that Ben Linder used the makeup for his clown act. He lived in the far regions of the country and his main work was helping to bring small hydro-electric dams to remote villages. These dams meant that people could store medicine, had light at night to study and become literate and educated (the greatest enemy of dictatorships, like ours). They brought many parts of Nicaragua out of the 19th and sometimes the 18th century.
But his clown routine was part of the public health vaccine drive to eliminate measles (they had already won a UN prize for the elimination of polio after the revolution). Ben would ride his very large unicycle in his clown outfit and lead children to the vaccination sites.
Ben and the Nicaraguan hydroelectric development team had received many threats from the Contras against their lives. (Contras – remember them? Ronald Reagan’s “Freedom Fighters”, known for murdering hundreds of health care workers, teachers, journalists).
On April 28th, 1987, Ben, Sergio and Pablo were out inspecting the project they were working on. I read Ben’s autopsy report and although it is reported that they were first stunned by a grenade, it is my impression that they were brought down by shotguns (they were hit in the back of the legs by multiple small fragments).
I won’t go into details, but Ben, at least, was clearly tortured before being executed at close range: Ben by a gunshot wound to the temple, one of the other men by a gun, and the last by a knife wound to the chest.
It was clear to all of us that Ben would not have been killed without the OK from the U.S. His death was after multiple threats, not a spontaneous act. The killers were waiting at the site before murdering the three men.
The following days were hectic. His family flew in from the States; his body was transferred to the nearest large town, Matagalpa (where he lived much of the time) and a funeral was organized. One of his closest friend, Lois Wessel, and I were asked to go to the funeral representing his many friends in Managua, the capitol. We hitched a ride in a truck driven by a Swedish woman. She offered her condolences and when we thanked her and offered ours for the Swedes murdered in Nicaragua we all began to cry.
In Matagalpa, thousands of people came to the memorial, following the casket (or caskets – I don’t remember). Thousands of ordinary Nicaraguans, many of whom had survived similar attacks under Somoza, before the revolution, and by the Contra after the revolution.
The march was led by President Ortega and the Linder family, followed by friends of Ben and other internationalists and behind us, mothers of children also killed by the Contras. (I am open to correction by those of you who were there).
All the politicos were there (except the U.S. representative of course). Andrew Young happened to be in town, he had been U.S. ambassador to the UN. I spoke with him and he seemed genuinely touched by the tragedy. He gave a very moving speech honoring foreigners who came to do humanitarian work. Later, while Mayor of Atlanta, he proudly announced that he had arranged for the Guatemalan national airline to have a hub in his town. Guatemala, a total military dictatorship who murdered thousands of indigenous people and others resisting their government. And so it goes.
A word about Ben Linder’s family. His mother spoke fluent Spanish, because her Jewish family fled Czechoslovakia during the Nazi era to live in Mexico. A lovely and courageous woman she testified in Congress as to her son’s death and was mocked and accused of “using” her son’s death to her own political ends.
The U.S. plead ignorance of the killings and State Department spokesman for Central America, Elliott Abrams (remember that snake? – he now sells timber from the rainforest in Honduras) said that Linder had “asked for it” by being in a war zone. Presumably Sergio and Pablo also “asked for it” by being civilians who wanted to bring electricity to their pueblo.
Let us also never forget that every lying word that came out of Elliot Abram’s mouth about the Sandinista government was treated as gold by the New York Times (Ronald Reagan’s mouthpiece about policies in Central America).
But lest I get carried away by bitterness, I really mean to post this as a tribute to Ben, his family, Sergio, Pablo and to all people who dedicate themselves, and sometimes lose their lives, to build a world where we can all live together in peace, harmony and justice.
To my friends in Nicaragua and abroad fighting to maintain the ideals of the revolution which so many people died for — Ana, Maria, Ana, Joel, Rebeka, Lois, Julie, Estelle and so many others…
This is also dedicated to our local people who fight for a decent world-to the three young black lesbians who started #blacklivesmatter, to the housing activists in SF, to those fighting the kind of brutality in the SFPD that resulted in Alex Nieto and Amilcar Perez-Lopez deaths. To Bay Area groups working for divestment from Israeli investment (BDS), both Jews and Palestinians. For LGBT people fighting for all of us – transpeople, interest, etc., the priority being equal treatment not limited to the right to be married and in the (WTF) U.S. military.
Most of all, to remember the little guy on the big unicycle. Humble, funny and totally committed – BENJAMIN LINDER PRESENTÉ!