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Ben Linder collection

Identifier: Coll 304

Scope and Contents note

The Ben Linder Collection contains material relating to Linder’s engineering work in Nicaragua (such as notes and calculations concerning the hydro-electric dam near San Jose de Bocay), and Linder’s personal life in Nicaragua and the United States (such as correspondence and artifacts). Linder’s death, however, had public effects in the spheres of foreign policy, human rights, and political activism.

The collection contains transcripts, statements, and correspondence regarding the Linders’ testimony before Congress in May of 1987; legal documents from the case ‘Linder v. Portocarrero’; documents released by the FBI and CIA regarding Linder’s work in Nicaragua and United States policy generally; and newspaper clippings, statements, and photographs from the Peace Tour.

The Linder family is also represented in the collection: correspondence, political and engineering information about Nicaragua, and photographs. These materials date in general from after Linder’s death.

The collection has been arranged into 14 different series: Series I: Ben Linder Personal Papers, Subseries A: Correspondence, Sub-subseries 1: Incoming, Sub-subseries 2: Outgoing, Subseries B: School/College Records, Subseries C: Journal, Subseries D: Political Activism and Engineering Information, Series II. Congressional Hearing and Testimony, Series III: Benjamin Linder Peace Tour, Series IV: ‘Linder v. Portocarrero’ legal case, Series V: Obituaries and Memorials, Series VI: Linders’ Political Information about Nicaragua, Series VII: Linders’ Hydro-electric dam information about Nicaragua, Series VIII: Unclassified CIA and FBI Documents, Series IX: Linder Family General Correspondence, Subseries A: Incoming, Subseries B: Outgoing, Series X: Photographs, Series XI: Audio Recordings, Series XII: Video Recordings, Series XIII: Artifacts, and, finally, Series XIV: Oversize.

Series I, the Ben Linder Personal Papers, contains original letters (to friends and family members while in Nicaragua), school and college papers, journal entries, documents (newspaper clippings, notes) regarding Linder’s anti-nuclear activism, and information concerning mechanical engineering, both in Nicaragua and at the University of Washington.

Series VI and VII, the Linders’ information about Nicaragua, contains newspaper clippings and magazine articles that impart political information about Nicaragua generally, and do not necessarily relate to Linder’s work there.

Likewise, the Linders’ information concerning engineering work in Nicaragua, contained in Series VII, consists mainly of material gathered after Linder’s death, since the hydro-electric dam project (Series VII) was only just completed, using funds from the Peace Tour (Series III), in 2002.

The general correspondence of the Linder family (contained in Series IX) denotes material that does not clearly relate to either political or engineering work, the Peace Tour, or the aftermath of Ben Linder’s death. The series, for instance, includes the Linders’ correspondence between friends and colleagues in Nicaragua and the United States.

Photographs represent Linder at work in Nicaragua, and the nature of life there, as well as the funeral services and memorials after his death in both Nicaragua and the United States. Also represented is the construction of the hydro-electric dam near San Jose de Bocay, a project which continued after Linder’s death.

The videotapes are political documentaries, interviews with the Linder family after Linder’s death, and footage of the funeral procession in Nicaragua. The audiotapes contain Joan Kruckewitt’s recordings of interviews with the alleged counter-revolutionaries (‘Contras’) who assassinated Ben Linder. Artifacts consist of Linder’s personal effects (wallet, cards, passport, etc.) as well as his graduation cap and FSLN armband.

Oversize materials include photographs, posters, and prints.


  • 1966-2003


Conditions Governing Access note

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time. Collection includes sound recordings, moving images, and digital files to which access is restricted. Access to these materials is governed by repository policy and may require the production of listening or viewing copies. Researchers requiring access must notify Special Collections and University Archives in advance and pay fees for reproduction services as necessary.

Conditions Governing Use note

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical/Historical note

Ben Linder is regarded by many involved in political activism as an exemplar of revolutionary idealism and hardworking goodwill who was able to effect practical change for the Nicaraguan people. His tragic death at the age of 27 symbolizes the violence and contradictions of American foreign policy.

Benjamin Ernest Linder was born July 7, 1959, in San Francisco, California. He died just outside of El Cua, Nicaragua, on April 28, 1987. His parents were Elisabeth Linder and the late David Linder. He had one sister, Miriam, and one brother, John. Linder was enrolled in elementary school in San Francisco until 1970, when his family moved to Portland, Oregon. While in San Francisco, the young Ben Linder protested against the Vietnam War, and his parents regularly discussed political and social issues around the dinner table. Linder’s mother, Elisabeth, is a member of the progressive organization the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), founded in 1915 by feminist Jane Addams.

Linder graduated from Adams High School in 1976 and attended the University of Washington in Seattle. He received a B. S. in mechanical engineering in 1983. The previous summer, Linder had traveled to Costa Rica to learn Spanish. After his university graduation, Linder traveled to Nicaragua and was hired by the Nicaraguan public utility agency the National Energy Institute (INE), with whom he worked until October 1986. Linder focused initially on geothermal power; later, in 1984, he started working to develop a 100-kilowatt hydro-electric plant. The plant was to be situated four kilometers from the rural northern village of El Cua.

Linder was active in the unicycle and clowning community both in Washington State and in Nicaragua. He was also politically active, and participated in several anti-nuclear demonstrations against the Trojan nuclear power plant while in high school in Portland, Oregon. He was involved in various health care campaigns in Nicaragua, and often rode his unicycle and performed as a clown in the Nicaraguan circus. Upon his graduation from the University of Washington, Linder rode his unicycle down the coast to Nicaragua.

In October of 1986 Linder stopped work at the INE and began working on a small 200-kilowatt hydro-electric plant in order to bring electricity to the town of San Jose de Bocay, in northern Nicaragua. Linder was appointed the project’s engineer. On April 28, 1987, Linder was working at the hydro-electric dam site roughly one mile away from San Jose de Bocay. Linder and six other workers had been working at the site for four days, attempting to construct a weir (used to measure water flow). In the early morning hours of April 28, Linder and his co-workers were attacked by approximately 10-20 Contras. Survivor reports indicate that the Contras were camouflaged and awaiting the arrival of the engineers. Linder and two co-workers, Pablo Rosales and Sergio Fernandez, were killed—Rosales by a stab wound to the chest and Fernandez by a bullet wound through the ear. David Linder, a pathologist, and Dr. Francisco Valladares concur that Linder was “killed by a bullet which entered his right temple and exited in the left and posterior aspect of his head. The entry site was marginated (surrounded) with gunpowder burn marks” (testimony, page 3).

Linder, they argue, was first “immobilized” by shrapnel from the contras’ grenades and then killed by a gunshot fired at point-blank range (page 3). The testimony from eyewitnesses indicates that there was no exchange of fire between the contras and the workers: the ambush took place so quickly that there was little time to react. According to eyewitnesses and colleagues, Linder was not affiliated with the Sandinista army, and he was killed while wearing civilian clothes. The Reagan administration maintained that Linder was carrying a Soviet-made rifle, and that he was killed in a firefight with the contras. Elliot Abrams, the Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, added that Linder should have known the risks of working in a war zone. David Linder, in his testimony to members of Congress, stated: “Ben and the others had been there long enough for the contras to know what they were doing. This was an ambush, not a chance encounter. This is murder. I consider the United States government and its effectors—the contras—guilty of this crime. This was not an accidental result of U. S. policy; it is the essence of U. S. policy” (testimony page 3).

After Linder's death, his family and friends traveled to Nicaragua to mourn his passing, express their outrage at U.S. policy, and meet Ben’s friends and co-workers. Linder’s funeral was held on April 30 in Matagalpa. Several hundred people, including Nicaragua’s President, Daniel Ortega, attended.

Linder’s death sparked debate within the United States on the Reagan administration’s support of the Contras. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that United States citizens working in Nicaragua had “put themselves in harm’s way” (Wikipedia). Another supporter of the Contra war, Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams, held that Linder exercised bad judgment in entering a combat zone. Those opposed to U. S. foreign policy were furious that an American citizen was killed by American proxy forces using taxpayers’ dollars, and that thousands of Nicaraguan civilians continued to be killed. Reporting on his death, CBS news anchor Dan Rather commented: “the loss of Benjamin Linder is more than fodder in an angry political debate. It is the loss of something that seems rare these days: a man with the courage to put his back behind his beliefs [...] he chose to follow the lead of his conscience.”

Upon return from Nicaragua, the Linders were called upon to testify at a House hearing concerned with Linder’s death. Republican Congressman Connie Mack declared that Elisabeth Linder’s grief served merely to “politicize this situation,” and added that “I don’t want to be tough on you, but I really feel you have asked for it” (Wikipedia). Elisabeth Linder responded, “That was the most cruel thing you could have said.” Linder’s death, and the Congressional investigation concerning the Iran-Contra affair, added to the growing outrage and controversy over the United States' support of the Contras. Congress declined to renew Contra aid in 1989.

In order to attempt completion of the Cua-Bocay hydro-electric project, and to decry the murder of their son, the Linders went on a Peace Tour across the United States from 1987 to 1988. They traveled and gave speeches and slideshows about Linder’s engineering work in El Cua, the nature of the Sandinista Revolution, and the Contra’s destruction of schools, hospitals, and other civilian areas. At her son’s funeral, Elisabeth Linder said “My son was brutally murdered for bringing electricity to a few poor people in northern Nicaragua. He was murdered because he had a dream and he had the courage to make that dream come true […] Ben told me the first year that he was there, and this is a quote, ‘It’s a wonderful feeling to work in a country where the government’s first concern is for its people, for all of its people.’” (Wikipedia)


Harris, Richard, and Vilas, Carlos M., eds. Nicaragua: A Revolution Under Siege. Zed Books Limited: London, 1985.


48 linear feet (71 containers)

Language of Materials



Ben Linder (1959-1987) was an American mechanical engineer who worked in San Jose de Bocay, Nicaragua from 1983 until his death by the Contras on April 28, 1987. The collection includes correspondence, diaries, articles on political and engineering subjects, photographs, and the Linder family’s records, all of which reflect Linder’s humanitarian work, his political activism, and the impact his death had on American foreign policy debates and within the general public sphere.

Arrangement note

Collection is organized into the following series: Series I: Ben Linder Personal Papers Subseries A: Correspondence Sub-subseries 1: Incoming letters addressed to Ben LinderSub-subseries 2: Outgoing letters from Ben Linder Subseries B: School/College RecordsSubseries C: JournalSubseries D: Ben Linder's Political Activism and Engineering Information Series II: Congressional Hearing and TestimonySeries III: Benjamin Linder Peace TourSeries IV: ‘Linder v. Portocarrero’ Legal CaseSeries V: Obituaries and MemorialsSeries VI: Linders’ Political Information about NicaraguaSeries VII: Linders’ Hydroelectric Dam information in NicaraguaSeries VIII: Unclassified CIA and FBI DocumentsSeries IX: Linder family general correspondence Subseries A: IncomingSubseries B: Outgoing Series X: PhotographsSeries XI: Audio RecordingsSeries XII: Video RecordingsSeries XIII: ArtifactsSeries XIV: Oversize

Series with locations

Series I, Box 1-11 - 1/FF/1/1 Series II, Box 1-2 - 1/FF/1/2 Series III, Box 1-9 - 1/FF/1/3 Series IV, Box 1-6 - 1/FF/1/4 Series V, Box 1-6 - 1/FF/1/5 Series VI, Box 1-5 - 1/FF/1/6 Series VII, Box 1-4 - 1/FF/2/1 Series VIII, Box 1-2 - 1/FF/2/2 Series IX, Box 1-4 - 1/FF/2/2 Series X, Box 1-2 - 1/FF/2/3 Series XI, Box 1-2 - 1/FF/2/3 Series XII, Box 1-9 - 1/FF/2/3 Series XIII, Box 1-2 - 1/FF/2/5 Series XIV, Box 1, 7 - 1/FF/2/5 Series XIV, Box 6 - 1/FF/2/1

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Gift of Elisabeth Linder.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Justin Neville Kaushall and Aimee LaBounty, in 2011; updated in 2014.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Guide to the Ben Linder Collection
Complete Description
Aimee LaBounty and Justin Neville Kaushall
2011; updated 2014
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA