(On the morning of April 28, 1987 a 27 year old American engineer named Ben Linder from Portland, Oregon, and two of his colleagues, Sergio Hernandez and Pablo Rosales were murdered beside a quiet stream
while measuring the flow of water for a dam they were constructing for the purpose of bringing electricity to the nearby village of San Jose de Bocay in Nicaragua)
Among the things he would take with him
beside the clothes he would need
and a few traveling digestives,
were his engineering textbooks
and notebooks; and, of course, his face paints
and magic tricks and newly bought clown costume,
and the big bulbous red nose;
and everywhere he went his unicycle was sure to go.
It was undoubtedly this last item
that kept our CIA
and their terrorist vassals, the Contras,
up at night;
In Nicaragua the Reagan Boys knew better.
They weren't about to lose all that misbegotten
$millions they tried to hide from Congress
and the good ol' American people-
say whatever happened to them anyway?- ,
some worthy patriots went to a lot of trouble
to follow through on the Gipper's authorization
of covertly funding and arming
his favorite freedom fighters.
No unicycle was going to stand in their way
of subjugating an entire country to
deprivation, poverty, disease, and political terror.
"I'm a Contra, too." said St. Reagan just before
his memorable gesture of achdung at Bitburg,
and his courtier, Elliot Abrams,
Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (at the time)
would stand convicted of deliberately
withholding evidence of illegal funding
from Congress, sentenced to two years
probation, and, I believe, he was disbarred
in the District of Columbia; but
unlike the thousands who were killed by the right-wing
(our network news insisted on freedom fighters) terrorists he aided and abetted- in Nicaragua, Guatamala, El Salvador, Angola-
facilitating and defending genocide-
he was pardoned by George H.W. Bush and
continued on in his stellar career of encouraging
war and supporting authoritarian bullies in
I am taking a lot of this history for granted in the dim hope
that my mighty reading public still remembers-for
the roots are deep and ugly, and we are witness
to the consequence of sending "our mandates
for the certain death of thousands
and ten thousands."
Thirty years on we even harbor the same people in place
and harken to their counsel to "swell the
war-whoop" again: Elliot is still around,
rejected by Trump for another high State Dept. post
because of something he said about Trump, nevertheless, still
penning his passion for war - the kid who came up with
the "Reagan Doctrine" for defeating the bad old commies
wherever they reared their evil heads, is today a founder of
what is called the Tea Party but what is really the John Birch
bunch redux; still demanding of Obama to show his real
birth certificate; once a Reagan warrior
and now a stormtrooper for Trump.
Funny that you will find the Heritage Foundation
waist deep in both schemas - thinktanking all the time.
Turn on any Sunday morning punditshow- the same faces
show up and too many new ones spouting the same nonsense
"trundling smoothly o'er their tongues
like mere abstractions, empty sounds to which
we join no feeling and attach no form-as if
the soldier died without a wound."
So, soon after his graduation from the
University of Washington in 1983,
he put his mechanical engineering diploma
in his back pocket and set out for Nicaragua
and his goal of bringing electricity and running water
to the rural villagers there, because isn't that
what one does with a newly earned engineering
certificate - put oneself in potential harm's way to
help some poor village people you have
never met in a place you have never seen-
a thousand miles away from any number of
lucrative entry level positions with bigshot
engineering and manufacturing corporations,
eager for young and talented American wellsprings.
(At the time of the Sandinista overthrow of
the Somoza dictatorship -our guy in Managua-
in 1979, Nicaragua, a country the size of
New York State, had a population of 3 million,
a majority of its citizens living in rural areas. There
was a life-expectancy of 53 years-men and women-;
the main causes of death were diarrhea and TB;
two-thirds of the children under 5 years old suffered
from malnutrition and 80% of all the houses did
not have running water while 60% had no electricity.
The revolution had made enormous strides in
addressing the utter desolation the Somoza Years
had left it their wake, but still there was a whole lot to do
and all the while having to dodge American supplied bullets
and American army surplus mines that frequently took
its toll among the isolated villages.)
He lived in Nicaragua for almost 4 years, staying on even
as his own country's terrorist clients continuously
committed what was formally charged as war crimes
and the United States -ourselves- was found guilty (June 27,1986)
by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of "violating
international law by supporting the Contras and by
mining Nicaragua's harbors."
Of course, the United States, ourselves, dismissed this
judgment saying the Court had no jurisdiction and we thus
blocked any attempt by Nicaragua of obtaining reparation;
How dare they.
He worked on designing and building hydroelectric projects
that would bring electricity to people living in isolated villages
with names like El Cua and San Jose de Bocay. Names that
you will probably not remember after reading them
here (that you're here at all is a wonder);
but the people
from those places remember him and how he would entertain
the children (children that may perhaps have kids of their own now)
of these war-threatened places with his juggling
talent and his magic tricks - usually in service in assisting something
like a vaccination effort - and there was that unicycle.
In El Cua he helped finish a dam that was started years earlier but was
delayed because of the war. A small dam, I read, but capable
of providing continual power to a village that never had
such a source of power before. Light, running water, perhaps
electric fans too and small plug-in appliances or maybe a
donated refrigerator. Dangerous, world-changing events
that could only lead to making people's lives a little better.
These gestures of solidarity, these human touches
in these brutal places were among the favored targets of the
Contras. Part of our CIA's Psych Ops- manuals were
enthusiastically distributed among the contras - some I imagine were even printed in Spanish- winning the hearts and minds once again
How to terrorize the locals and beat the commies- It
worked like a charm in Vietnam,no? How about in Chile?
Small agricultural cooperatives in the same vicinity
as the new dam, local food coops and health clinics were
all contra targets - along with any number of teachers,
healthcare workers, engineers, reporters. Even with our
thumbprints on the bullets the International Court
still couldn't establish what they considered total dependence
on the part of the contras on America's aid and support. They did
however, find a "partial dependency" stating that such
could be "inferred from the fact that the leaders
were selected by the U.S. and from other factors
such as organization, training, and equipping of the contras,
planning of the operations, the choosing of targets and the
operational support provided." I suppose if we
had done the cooking and cleaning then they would have
established the total dependence they so generously rejected.
He was killed- in reality assassinated- on this day in 1987. He was
murdered along with his Nicaraguan colleagues, Sergio Hernandez
and Pablo Rosales; ambushed by contras as they were working
at a new dam site near a village called San Jose de Bocay.
According to all accounts I have found online he was
first severely wounded by a grenade - then shot point blankly
in the head- execution style. Later, years later, it
was reported that the murderers knew him; knew his work.
Eyewitnesses confirm there was no exchange of gun fire-
it happened so quickly. He was wearing his work clothes.
The Reagan gang said he had a rifle- made by the commies.
He may have had one nearby. It was customary at that
time and in that place to carry protection. There was
war all around; and the terrorist were particularly fond
of hydroelectric dams."His assassination was part
of a deliberate contra policy to murder civilians
working in education, health and development programs,"
said The Center for Constitutional Rights (1988).
"...the contras extended this policy of targeting development
workers to include foreign as well as Nicaraguan civilians. Their
goal was to dissuade foreigners from working in
Nicaragua and to cut off support for these programs."
The always quotable and deep thinking
analyst, Elliot Abrams, soon after the execution
offered that perhaps he should have known the risks
of working in that place, as if he had it coming.
That pretty much summed up the United States
official government response; VP Bush has a recorded
comment somewhere inferring that he was "on the other side";
After burying their son in a nearby town named
Matagalpa - President Daniel Ortega and his wife attended
the funeral. They walked arm in arm with his parents, David and Elizabeth,
|President Ortega with Mr. & Mrs. Linder|
from the Nicaraguan National Circus and they in turn
were followed by thousands of Nicaraguans -
returning from their son's funeral, as I say, they were asked to testify at a House of Representatives
hearing about their son's death-he was, after all, the
first (and only?) American killed in the Sandinista-Contra War-
wherein the conservative congressman from Florida,
Connie Mack, later elected Senator, vehemently
declared that his mother's grief was merely
"to politicize this situation," and then went on
to add, "but I really feel you have asked for it."
Thus was born Compassionate Conservatism.
Just before the first grenade exploded he was
seen writing in a notebook. His two associates
and he this day went up to the work site-near the town of
San Jose de Bocay - to inspect the weir-
which I'm told has something to do with
measuring the flow of water in smaller rivers
and streams - he was writing in his notebook
perhaps marking the measurements that would
soon bring electricity and light and running
water and new systems of sanitation and power
for refrigeration and safer foods and to make
peoples lives a little better; there's a formula
to determine such a rate and whether
the calculation is appropriate for that size
and area and other factors that engineers consider,
its called the discharge calculation and he was
writing in his notebook, perhaps calculating the "Q"
the Flow Rate of water-
He had written in his journal notebook when he
first arrived in Nicaragua : "I'm working in El Cua.
It is the reality of war. Zelaya province is falling
under Contra control. They are killing children.
I've asked myself what is my path....
I've asked myself about my love for Alison and
my family. I've asked myself about my love for my people.
But we must act before we hear."I must not cower
from the task ahead. In Nicaragua I was shown the trail ahead.
Tonight I vow to set forth upon that trail...
"Great is the eternal power at the heart of life;
mighty the love that is stronger than death."