In the Spring of 1987, I was still new to Portland, having moved to the Northwest neighborhood the previous Fall, a refugee from the Rajneeshpuram commune. I therefore never got to meet Ben Linder but in the years following Bens death I got to know his parents Paul and Elisabeth Linder. Our common connection was the Food Front Food Coop. The Linders had been one of the founding families of the coop having moved to Northwest Portland from San Francisco in the early 70's.
The late Aprils morning New York Times at the coop checkout stand had a picture of Ben Linder highlighting the story that he had been killed by Contra mercenaries at the site of a village hydroelectric dam that Ben had been helping build. Ben had arrived in Nicaragua in 1983, civil engineering degree in hand, eager to help the fledgling Sandinista government implement its vision for a more equitable society.
From my coworkers who knew the Linder family I could sense their concern for Paul and Elisabeth. There was also an outrage that Reagans evil empire had brought the war home and violated our protective bubble.
It would be several weeks before we would see Ben's parents in the store. In the interim they would go to Nicaragua to bury their son and then to Washington DC to protest a foreign policy that had murdered their son. They would be chided by Reagan officials as being derilict parents for allowing their son to go to the dark side.
In mid May the Linders had returned home and what I thought was a remarkable weekend gathering of hundreds of people occurred in Wallace Park in the northwest neighborhood. The first part of the program was held in the Chapman Elementary School auditorium where Ben had attended school and then shifted to the park. The program included comments from Bens high school friends, neighborhood friends of the Linders that had watched Ben grow up; fellow internationalistas that had worked with Ben in Nicaragua; Portlanders that had worked on Portland having a Nicaraguan sister city,
I was moved by the emotional support that was evident for the Linder family and the solidarity that was shown for the Nicaraguan people. I was heartened that the sense of community and common purpose that I had thought could only exist in a communal setting was possible in the secular world.
Thirty years later Portlands northwest neighborhood has changed significantly. The Sandinista government was broken by repressive American sanctions and embargoes. Outrageously architects of the Contra war against Nicaragua have emerged again to eviscerate the Venezuelan regime. (It's particularly galling to see Elliot Abrams rehabilitate himself as an American envoy to Venezuela. He was one of the Reaganites that told the Linders that Ben had put himself in harms way and therefore deserved what happened to him.)
Still the hydroelectric project that Ben Linder helped construct continues to produce electricity to a previously isolated village in Nicaragua. His generosity of human spirit should not be forgotten. On Ben Linders grave in Nigaragua is the following inscription: "La luz que encendio brillara para siempre" (The light he lit will shine forever).
Ben Linder, presente'