This guest blog post was written by Francie Royce, a co-founder and current board member of Green Empowerment. Francie spent over 23 years with the City of Portland in various positions from City Planner, Annexation Coordinator to Project Manager focusing on alternative transportation programs and policy development. She is also a founding member of both the Portland-Corinto Sister City Association and the npGreenway, a trail advocacy group.
Thirty years. A lifetime. Ben Linder would be in his 50s today if he hadn’t been murdered by US-funded Nicaraguan Contra soldiers on April 28, 1987. Ben was a young engineer who had gone to Adams High School in Portland then on to the University of Washington to earn an engineering degree. He left for Nicaragua after graduation, inspired by the Sandinista revolution and his desire to help the Nicaraguan people. His parents, sister and brother lived in Portland.
On that spring day thirty years ago, Ben was working to bring electricity to a small Northern Nicaraguan community, San José de Bocay. Ben and two other men, Sergio Hernández and Pablo Rosales, were killed as they worked at a stream in the forest to measure water flow and determine the amount of electricity that could be provided to the town from a small microhydro system.
During the civil war in Nicaragua, the Contras sought to disrupt social improvements that the Sandinista revolution was bringing to rural communities, targeting teachers, community workers, and other people like Ben and his colleagues who were working to improve the lives of Nicaraguans.
Back in Portland, hundreds of people who disagreed with the US government’s support of the Contras were getting involved in Nicaraguan support organizations like the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee (PCASC) and the Portland-Corinto Sister City Association.
Tuesday, April 28th, 1987 was a warm spring evening in Portland. Several members of the Portland-Corinto Sister City Association were meeting at the second-floor SE Hawthorne office to plan a celebration for July 19th, a holiday celebrated in Nicaragua to mark their Sandinista revolution. A member of the planning committee rushed breathlessly up the stairs to where the meeting was being held to break the news she had heard on the radio: Ben Linder had been murdered. We were in shock, and were overwhelmed with sadness at the loss, anger at our government for funding the Contra war, and confusion about what to do next. But within a few minutes we knew what had to be done next. We realized that the world needed to understand the significance of the US supporting Contras who killed not only Nicaraguans, but now a US citizen as well. A friend and activist in PCASC who knew Ben in Nicaragua had heard the terrible news and was already visiting Portland TV stations with photos and video clips of Ben’s engineering work. The rest of us turned to planning a tribute/rally for Ben in Terry Schrunk Plaza in downtown Portland for the next evening. In the 1980s, before social media and cell phones, that meant making phone calls and leaving voicemails to spread the word. The following evening, a large crowd packed the brick and grass plaza across SW Third Avenue from the Federal Building. Some came to grieve. Others came to express their outrage that our government was waging a proxy war on Nicaraguans. Most just came to be with others who shared their grief and anger. While speakers at the makeshift podium spoke, some of us passed a hat through the crowd. The funds collected that night became the start of the Ben Linder Fund, an initiative that merged with Green Empowerment a few years later to continue Ben Linder’s work in Nicaragua and carry his inspiration to empower communities around the world.
Today, thirty years later, I remember, I grieve and I am proud to be a part of Green Empowerment’s commitment to honoring Ben’s legacy by working to fulfill his dream of a more equitable and sustainable world.