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U.S. Parents Still Question Why Son Died in Nicaragua


PORTLAND, Ore. — In one of his last letters home, Sandinista volunteer Ben Linder predicted the end of the Contra war in Nicaragua.

He didn't live long enough to see his prophecy fulfilled.

Five years ago, Linder was shot to death by U.S.-backed Contra rebels--the first casualty among hundreds of Americans who went to Nicaragua to help the leftist government then in power.

Much has changed since then. The Sandinistas are no longer in power, voted out of office in April 1990 by a coalition led by Violeta Chamorro.

But Linder's parents, Elizabeth and David, are still trying to come to grips with the death of their 27-year-old son.

"It doesn't get any easier," his 64-year-old mother said. "That's all I can say. I'm bothered by the time that goes by. And I feel very angry. It didn't have to be, it shouldn't have been."

In 1983, Linder, fresh out of college, set out for Nicaragua to see for himself the results of the 1979 socialist revolution that overthrew the pro-Western government of dictator Anastasio Somoza.

He was hired by a public utility and went to work on a tiny hydroelectric project in Contra territory in northern Nicaragua.

"There were thousands of Americans like himself who went down there to--almost to witness the dream change of independence, freedom," said his 68-year-old father, a retired pathologist.

Linder helped complete one hydroelectric project and had begun surveys for a second when he was killed on April 28, 1987.

The Linders say an autopsy showed that their son's face had up to 40 needle puncture marks, suggesting he was tortured before he died. But the Contras say he was wearing a Sandinista uniform and died in a firefight.

The couple filed a $50-million wrongful death lawsuit against three Contra leaders they believe plotted their son's death.

A judge in Miami dismissed the lawsuit in 1989, ruling it would have interfered with the U.S. government's ability to conduct foreign policy. They have appealed.

They also have raised more than $400,000 toward the hydroelectric project their son was working on when he died. It is nearly complete.

"We asked Ben what he was going to do when the hydro plant was built," David Linder said.

"He said he wanted to work as an engineer in a country where the main concern was the people, so that when he did something it would go to the people.

"He said you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of engineers in the entire world who go to Third World countries with a socialist base and make life better. And he wanted to be one of them. That was fulfillment for him."

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