28 held special meaning for Ben Linder’s family members in
Oregon, for me, and for those at the University of Oregon who helped
dedicate a campus auditorium in his name. It is the date of his
murder while trying to help peasants in Nicaragua during the Iran-Contra
conflict in the 1980s.
has resonated even more in recent years with the 2005 Bush appointment
to high position of the man who has a basic responsibility for Ben’s
Linder’s death—John Negroponte. Recently placed in charge
of the new federal post of Intelligence, Negroponte served in two
earlier high-profile positions under Bush—U.S. ambassador to
the United Nations, then ambas- sador to Iraq.
covert actions is not new to Negroponte. He is as ready to advance
government policies—often secret—under Bush as he was
two decades earlier under Reagan. At the height of the Iran- Contra
scandal, Negroponte was ambassador to Honduras, a position from
which he served as facilitator for Reagan policies in Central America.
Reagan’s “point-man,” Negroponte expedited covert
arms- for-hostages dealings that involved the U.S. and Iran. Linder
was a minor player in the overall picture. But he was in the way
and, in 1987, was targeted, along with countless others, by the
Contras whose orders were funneled to them by Negroponte.
of Negroponte’s complicity with Reagan are based on evidence
that he made possible torture and death squads and circumvented
Congress and the Constitution. Marc Lacey of the
New York Times
wrote in 2004: “Inquiry by the CIA several years ago found
serious rights violations in Honduras not properly reported to Washington
during Negroponte’s tenure. Most of the CIA report is blacked
out. Parts that remained unclassified raise questions about Negroponte’s
actions, but provide no answers.”
Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson of the
a report about substantiated evidence from various sources who said
Negroponte knew of Honduran human rights crimes. The Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights in Honduras told them Negroponte oversaw
U.S. training camp expansion where Contra terrorists detained, tortured,
and executed suspected dissidents.
Bush administration is adept at hiding or doing away with incriminating
data and people. A
Los Angeles Times
article by Maggie Farley
and Norman Kempster told of the sudden deportation from the U.S.
of former Honduran death squad members who could have given testimony
against Negroponte in Senate hearings leading to his UN appointment.
wrote that Negroponte’s predecessor in
Honduras, Jack Binns, made public his concerns about human rights
abuses by the Honduran military and gave Negroponte a full briefing
on the abuses. Binns was direct in his criticism: “Negroponte
denies having been told anything. He is an exquisitely dangerous
man whose Honduras role is eerily similar to the Bush administration’s
stance in Iraq. Negroponte represented the U.S. during one of the
most corrupt periods of its foreign policy under Ronald Reagan and
George Bush, Sr. With courage, he could have challenged what was
happening.” Negroponte challenged nothing.
Linder was 27-years-old when, as he built a small dam (weir) to
measure water flow in a stream for a project to bring electricity
to a nearby village, he was assassinated by Contra rebels. The circumstances
of Ben’s death, like many others at the hands of U.S.-armed
Contras, were not revealed.
attended the University of Washington where in 1983 he got a degree
in mechanical engineering. After working in the capital of Managua
for the Nicaragua Energy Institute, he chose to go inland to build
a rural electric source. It was dangerous. Rebels from neighboring
Honduras would terrorize the area during the day, then return to
Honduras—to the protection of Negroponte.
father, David, said Ben went to Nicaragua to provide “appropriate
technology”—small hydroelectric plants to help people
make revolutionary changes in their lives. As he interacted with
Nicaraguans, Linder became known as the clown who rides a unicycle,
something he did in costume to entertain children. Before David’s
death, he and Ben’s mother, Elisabeth, traveled the nation
to lecture about the wrongful death of their son. The hydroelectric
plant in San Jose de Bocay where Ben was killed was completed in
1993. His parents raised money to help complete other hydro plants
and water purification systems in the area.
he chose to go to Nicaragua, Linder told his father: “I wonder
if we can count on the fingers of one hand engineers going to Third
World countries where they hope to make life better.”
think it would take more than one hand—covered with blood—to
tally Reagan’s accomplices and their successors, who continue
such work under George Bush.
was on the committee that dedicated the Ben Linder Auditorium at the
University of Oregon.