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Ben Lives On

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The following piece is an expanded version of a May 5 speech given al the memorial service for Benjamin Ernest Luider, held on the steps of the Federal Building in Ann Arbor. My name is Ellen Rusten, and lama member of the First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor. I lived in Nicaragua for about two years from 1984 to 1986. I met Ben when I returncd to Nicaragua in November. I knew Benjamin Linder only a very little. He was a diminutive, wirey man with scraggly whiskers. The strong Nicaraguan sun had bleached his brown hair and bumt his skin until he became mostly rust in color. He was intense and quick in his movements. He seemed nervous, and - to be honest - really didn't make all that good of a first impression. But when he walked into a room full of those who kncw him, it was as if he had tumcd on a switch connected to all thcir smiles. He was an outragcous jokester. Neither Nicaraguan nor U. S. politica] leaders were safe from his wisecracks. Ben worked as an electrical engineer in the very northern reaches of Nicaragua in the lush mounlains of the Department of Jinotega. He brought electric lights to several villages using hydropower, and was working on a new project when he was ambushed by six contras and killed by one of five grenades, along with two peasant workers. He lived in a town namcd El Cua, in a región ihat has been barraged by terrorist attacks. It was not too far from where a mine exploded killing thirty-four civilians last July - most of them from one extended family. It takes courage and dedication to continue to live in that area. Ben's commitment to helping the poor caused him to forget about his own comfort and safety. I knew him more for his exploits as a clown than as an engineer. Long before I met him, an Australian friend told me of the exploits of the "puny Yank" who had come to a party dressed as Rambo. She told me how he would visit wounded children in clinics - masking his natural shyness with a clown's white face and preposterous humor. I'm told by a family friend that he had been seriously "clowning around" since he was fourteen years old. At his funeral in Matagalpa, where he was buried, children dressed up as clowns in remembrance of the joy he had given them. Benjamin Linder, the twenty seven-year-old Oregonian, joins at least three other North Americans who have been killed in Reagan's war. The other three were mercenaries - two shot down with Hasenfus, the other killed in 1984 while flying a helicopter gun ship which killed two little girls and, I believe, two mothers. He also joins nine Europeans and more than 25,000 other Ameri-cans - Central Americans - who are casualties of this terrible conflict. Of those, about 16,000 were civilians, and about 3,000 of those were children. Alongside Ben's body lay two Nicaraguans - their names rarely mentioned in the press. They were two peasants, Paulo Rosales and Sergio Hernández, from San José de Bocay, a town about a mile from where they were murdered. The contras say they were justificd in attacking these peasants and this engineer because there were four armed militia with them. As it was during our own revolution, militia in Nicaragua are civilians who resort to arms only because of an aggressive thrcat against their lives and their homes. For example, in 1985 in Matagalpa, I met nine-year-old Gilberto who proudly told me he was in the militia and had already seen two attacks. In a scorching field in Managua, I met eleven-year-old Maria who took part in an aftemoon's "militar'" training. She said shc wanted to leam how to protect her grandmother from an expected invasión by the "Yankees." This is the mililia that the contras say they have the right to attack: schoolchildren, retired teachers, farmers, all fïghting to protect their families. Lately, I have been remembcring the murders at Kent State more than a decade ago. A great chasm dividcd our society then. While an unjust vicious war raged on another country's shores, we fought a war back here at home. Political corruption grew and brought down a president. Those days are with us again, with minor differences. The war is in Nicaragua and El Salvador. We hire brown-skinned foreigners to fïght the war for us. Red-baiting is popular once again, and branding someone a Communist is reason enough for murder. An even a more deadly political corruption is eaüng away at the people entrusted with our govemmenL And we are killing our own again. Ben Linder was one of about 2,000 U. S. citizens estimated to be living in Nicaragua right now. Forty thousand U.S. citizens have been to Nicaragua each year for the last several years to observe or particípate in this experiment that dares to hope that people working together can end centuries of injustice and devastating poverty; that dares to support with the strength of a govemment the revolution that comes with the theology of liberation. How many of these sojoumers will end the way Ben did? Will we be sending our sons, our brothers, our husbands and the women who aid them, from our homes to their shores to commit murder en masse? We have no altematives. We must stop this terror. Together, united, bound togciher by our grief, our love of humanity and the potcntial for good, we can end this war. But we must act. We cannot fcel our fatigue nor heed our doubts. Today, tonight, I ask you to write your congressional reprcsentatives one more time. This time dcmand that justice come down on the heads of those who have the responsibility for Ben's murder. Write letters to the editor thanking the city council for coniinuing the Ann Arbor Sister City Task Forcc. Make plans to visit Nicaragua so you can see first hand the faces of the pcople we are killing, and make up your mind for yourselvcs whethcr Nicaragua is Iruly Ronald Reagan's totalitarian dungeon. I also ask you to join with the First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor by contributing to a memorial fund in Ben Linder's name. We have a sister church in a tiny town named Nandasmo. A work group is going there in August, and we want to take street lamps to this village of 3,000. So we have bcgun the Benjamin Linder-Nandasmo Elcctrification Project - continuing in his name, what he cannot finish. Ben is not dead, you know. He lives in us as we strugglc - as he did - for justice, peace and light.


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