NicaNotes: Ben Linder: At 37 Years, Presente!

By Becca Renk

(Becca Renk has lived in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, for more than 20 years, working in sustainable development with the Jubilee House Community and its project, the Center for Development in Central America. Becca also coordinates the Casa Benjamin Linder solidarity project.)

Children celebrate at the annual event held by the organization founded to finish the work of Ben Linder and his colleagues at San José de Bocay. (Photo: Becca Renk)

“I was three years old when he was killed,” says Xiomara Hernández. “My little brother who is here with me today is the baby, he was just six months old.” Xiomara is standing on a rock above a rushing stream, looking down on the spot where her father, Sergio Hernández, was murdered along with U.S. engineer Ben Linder on April 28th, 1987. Another fifty meters downstream, Pablo Rosales was killed; shot and bayoneted through the heart. The three were ambushed and murdered by U.S.-backed Contra forces while they were building a weir, measuring the stream to install a hydroelectric system so the rural community of San José de Bocay could have electricity.

We’ve brought a small delegation from Casa Ben Linder in Managua to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the murders, joining 200 people from San José de Bocay for the annual event organized by the Bocay Electrical Service Development Association, APRODELBO. This organization was founded to finish the work Ben, Pablo and Sergio started on the hydroelectric plant and continues to provide electricity to 2,000 people in the region today.

From the beautiful pond created by the small hydro system, we have hiked up the heavily wooded trail to the spot where the three were killed. Xiomara tells me this is only the second year that Sergio’s family has participated – for many years no one knew where they were, and Pablo Rosales’ family still hasn’t been located. Through the magic of the internet, however, Sergio’s family now been found and Xiomara feels it is important to be here.

“It’s very hard, you know?” she says. “It’s painful to be here today, but it’s important to remember.”

In 1987, Sergio and his family were war refugees, having been displaced from their home further north by Contra attacks. For a time, they were part of a farming cooperative near El Cuá, but the El Cedro co-op was attacked by the Contras twice in three years – they killed 17 members and kidnapped 9 others, burned the homes and slaughtered the cattle. Sergio and his wife moved their seven children to San José de Bocay, where he volunteered to work with Ben Linder on a project to bring electricity to the town.

Ben Linder was a peace activist and engineer from Portland, Oregon, who had moved to Nicaragua in 1983 to contribute his skills to the Popular Sandinista Revolution. He was a clown and a unicyclist who worked with the people’s circuses in Managua. As an engineer, Ben worked to bring electricity to war zones in northern Nicaragua where U.S.-funded contras attacked villages in the dark. Electricity made them safer. After building a successful hydroelectric plant in El Cuá, Ben and his coworkers began work on a new plant in San José de Bocay, near the Honduran border.

Pablo Rosales was a young farmer who had been kidnapped by the Contras the previous year and forced to fight with them. He managed to escape, and then brought his wife and four children into town where they were living in a plastic house in the refugee settlement in San José de Bocay.

On 28 April 1987, Sergio and Pablo went to work with Ben along with other farmers from the refugee settlement. Sergio took the lead as the small group hiked to the construction site. When Ben sat down to write in his notebook, Sergio stood nearby and Pablo Rosales waited aways downstream.

Froylan Jarquín was there that day. “I was part of the Ministry of the Interior at that time, working nearby and my boss called me to say, ‘Get over there.’ When I arrived here at the site, I found the three of them dead. A group of Contra came here and killed them.” Froylan points to the thick tree cover where the Contras had waited to ambush the group, emptying 30 bullets into the clearing.

“Then, they threw a grenade, it landed in the sand and shot fragments everywhere. Down there is where Ben fell,” Froylan says, pointing to a large flat rock in the stream. “And Sergio fell there next to him. Pablo was 50 meters downstream.” The Contra were waiting for them that day because they had orders to kill Ben for the work he was doing on behalf of the Nicaraguan people. Ben was the first North American to be killed by the Contra, killed by the government of his own country of origin, the United States.

Back at the pond, students from the Ben Linder Elementary School and other schools dance folklore, recite a biography of Ben Linder, and have a drawing contest. Our group contributes songs and a juggling show, and everyone helps break four piñatas. The children’s joy is palpable; the spirit of Ben’s playful clowning is present.

“Last year was the first year I was here, I came on my own,” says Xiomara. “But this year, three of my father’s kids are here and many of his grandkids. My dad has 31 grandkids now, and our family is still growing.”

Xiomara introduces us to her sister via video call. Isabel Hernández grins at us from her hammock in the North Caribbean Autonomous Region, and assures us that she’ll be here next year with her family in tow.

After the event, we go to see the hydroelectric plant run by APRODELBO, the Nicaraguan organization that represents the legacy of Ben Linder, continuing to fulfill his dream of renewable energy for the region.

They tell us that just this week they have just finished installing electricity to 85 houses built for families living in extreme poverty in the Barrio Benjamín Linder. The new homes were built by the Nicaraguan Housing Institute and the municipality of San José de Bocay, and were given free of charge to the families, complete with a stove and gas tank. José Luis Olivas, head of the environmental management unit of APRODELBO, drives our group out north of town to see the new houses at dusk, just as the lights are coming on in the yellow and lavender and green homes.

Workers finish installing electricity to 85 new houses for poor families in the Barrio Ben Linder in San José de Bocay. (Photo: Becca Renk)

I marvel at the sight, thinking that the project is a worthy tribute to the spirit of Benjamin Linder: the joy of colorful houses, the most vulnerable families cared for, the renewable energy that provides electricity, light and safety. We can feel the spirits of our heroes and martyrs. Ben, Pablo and Sergio, are indeed ¡presente, presente, presente!  

After seeing how much things have changed for the better for the people of Bocay in recent years, we return to the hotel where I am immediately reminded that the treatment of Nicaragua by the United States remains the same as it was in 1987. We find urgent messages waiting for us from our colleagues in the Nicaragua Solidarity Coalition in the U.S. “We just found out that the new sanctions package against Nicaragua will be voted on by the full Senate any day now!”

We wave goodbye to Xiomara and her family and immediately sit down to send out emails and post on social media to gather signatures against the latest in a long list of U.S. aggressions against Nicaragua going back 200 years to the Monroe Doctrine.

Why is the U.S. targeting tiny Nicaragua yet again? Two weeks ago, Nicaragua brought Germany to the International Court of Justice for aiding and abetting Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people. Soon, the ICJ will hand down its initial ruling, and the U.S. Senate plans to immediately punish Nicaragua with further illegal unilateral coercive measures. In the spirit of Ben Linder, the peace activist who gave his life for Nicaragua, I will do everything I can to stop these sanctions. I hope you will join me – please sign here to tell the U.S. Senate to say NO to more sanctions on Nicaragua.

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By Nan McCurdy 

Nicaragua Issues Press Release on World Court Case
On April 30, the Nicaraguan government issued the following press release about the preliminary decision of the International Court of Justice in The Hague related to Nicaragua’s case against Germany:

The Government of Reconciliation and National Unity informs the people of Nicaragua and the international community that today the International Court of Justice ruled on the request for provisional measures made by Nicaragua against …Germany for violations of the Convention

on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, the Geneva Conventions of 1949,… the principles of international humanitarian law and other norms of international law in relation to the occupied Palestinian territory, in particular the Gaza Strip. In its application to the Court, Nicaragua made two requests, first, that Germany suspend its military support to Israel, and second, that it renew its financial support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the near east (UNRWA).

The court decided that there was no need for interim measures as Germany explained that it had decreased the amount of material to be exported to Israel from US$200 million in October 2023 to 1 million in March of 2024 and that no further arms sales have been approved. Germany stated that it had provided new funds for UNRWA, which have been completely renewed.

Nicaragua welcomes the outcome of its campaign for Germany’s compliance with its international obligations. After reaffirming its concern about the catastrophic situation in Gaza, the Court essentially recalled that it is an obligation of all states, including Germany, that are aware of the serious risk of the commission of genocide to employ all reasonable means to prevent genocide. The Court noted that under all circumstances the obligation to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law must be respected.

The Court in its decision emphasizes that it considers it particularly important to remind all states of their international obligations relating to the transfer of arms to parties in an armed conflict in order to avoid the risk that such arms may be used to violate the aforementioned conventions. The Court emphasized that these obligations are incumbent upon Germany as a state party to the conventions with regard to its provision of arms to Israel. Finally, the Court rejected Germany’s request to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction and therefore will continue with the judicial process which involves a review of Germany’s conduct before it reduced its material support to Israel, among other points.

The Government of Reconciliation and National Unity wishes to express its recognition of the Court’s decision to remind all states of their international obligations with respect to the transfer of arms to Israel, including Germany. No state can ignore its obligations with respect to the risk of genocide in Gaza and other violations of international law.

The Government of Reconciliation and National Unity reaffirms its firm commitment to the rule of law at the international level and to the peaceful settlement of disputes between states. Managua, April 30, 2024

Ortega Speech: Economic Growth Makes Possible More Hospitals and Roads
On April 30, President Daniel Ortega said that, in the midst of the difficulties in the global economy, Nicaragua has grown. “A moderate growth, but it gives us the capacity to perform miracles, because here it is a miracle is to build a road that was never built by the governments imposed by the Yankees; the Yankees never gave money to build that road, not even loans, for the roads linking the Pacific Coast with the Caribbean area,” he said. The leader recalled that the Caribbean was isolated, but now, just since the 2018 coup attempt there are many new roads. “A road that goes from Managua to Bilwi, in the North Caribbean, a modern concrete road, because the rains there are so persistent that asphalt is destroyed; that is a real miracle, something unthinkable in another time, when people were totally marginalized.”

During the ceremony to mark the 12th anniversary of the death of Comandante Tomás Borge and on the occasion of International Workers’ Day [May Day], Ortega also referred to the modern highway that leads from Managua to the city of Bluefields. “And the road from Managua to Bluefields, also a modern road that connects the South Caribbean area with the Pacific, that might be a normal project in another country. Here it wasn’t built until these times and it is a real miracle for these people, for all these communities to have these roads,” he said. He urged the population to continue fighting for peace so that employment continues to multiply in the country. “Today, April 30, we are just a few hours away from May 1st and, on this day, we join the workers of the world in the struggle for peace, because fighting for peace is fighting for work and for the welfare of workers. And to the Nicaraguan workers our commitment is to continue fighting together so that employment multiplies in its different modalities, so that every day we have more employment, we have more insured employees, and we have more and better hospital services.” See photos: (La Primerisima, 30 April 2024)

Food Packages Delivered to Mothers of the Heroes and Martyrs in Estelí
The mothers of heroes and martyrs and people living in critical situations in the second district of the city of Estelí received food packages at the doors of their homes last week. The packages contained beans, rice, sugar, and cereals, among other things that will help the food security of the beneficiaries. The delivery was made by members of the Solidarity Promotion of the Sandinista Youth July 19. See photos: (La Primerisima, 27 April 2024)

More than 12,000 Orthopedic Services Provided at Fair in Nueva Guinea
The group of doctors who participated in the mega orthopedic health fair that took place on April 27 and 28 at the Jacinto Hernández Primary Hospital in Nueva Guinea, Central Zelaya, did a titanic job by providing more than 12,000 medical attentions. More than 4,000 people from the municipalities of Muelle de los Bueyes, El Rama, El Coral, Nueva Guinea, Bluefields, El Almendro and San Miguelito received medical attention. Among the procedures performed at the mega orthopedic fair were: 404 infiltrations, 194 X-Ray studies, 43 hip and knee replacement surgeries, as well as minor surgeries and 75 electromyography’s (measurements of muscles and nerves. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 28 April 2024)

Chinandega Departmental Hospital Reports on Its Work
The departmental hospital of Chinandega is one of 25 new state-of-the-art hospitals in Nicaragua. It opened its doors on April 27, 2022. In 24 months, it has provided the following services:

–317,698 imaging studies. Of these 174,112 were X-rays, 116,30 ultrasounds, 14,711 tomographies and 12,845 mammograms.
–95,314 examinations for the diagnosis of heart conditions including 77,184 electrocardiograms, 16,325 echocardiograms and 1,805 electromyographies.
–127,428 outpatient visits, 65,625 hospitalizations and 12,313 births attended.
–52,039 surgeries performed, of which 31,224 were emergency surgeries.
–30,888 hemodialysis sessions performed.
–14,378 gynecological cancer treatments, of which 4,317 were colposcopies, 4,311 pap smears and 3,266 cryotherapies.
–12,651 endoscopies, 2,475 rectal examinations and 822 colonoscopies. See photos:  (La Primerisima, 29 Abril 2024)

Restoration of Rights for Thousands of Workers
“May 1 is a date to commemorate struggles and celebrate achievements. Thank God in Nicaragua we have a revolutionary process that has been restoring rights. The policy of Nicaragua and of the revolution, of the government of Daniel and Rosario, has been to restore what has historically been taken away from the working class,” said the executive secretary of the National Workers Front (FNT), José Ángel Bermúdez. Bermúdez stated that optimal conditions for decent employment have grown in the country through the large investments promoted by the government and these will continue to increase the quality and conditions of employment. “It is wonderful that Nicaragua can celebrate a May 1 with a working class that is fighting, that is organizing more and more and that is mobilizing in support of the actions of the government,” he said. The FNT, currently has more than 920 unions made up of 800,000 members and 150,000 members of the CTCP (Confederation of Self-Employed Workers), which watch over the rights of the labor sector. “We are a union movement working to build progress and welfare and to prevent injustices from being committed anywhere, and to continue advancing in the restoration of people’s rights,” he insisted.  (La Primerisima, 29 April 2024)

Migrants Send More Than a Billion Dollars to Nicaragua
Between January and March 2024, the first quarter of the year, US$1.14 billion were sent to Nicaragua by migrants mainly from the United States, Costa Rica and Spain, according to a report from the Central Bank (BCN) on April 26. Departments receiving the most in remittances were Managua, Matagalpa, Chinandega, Leon, and Nueva Segovia. The report indicates an inter-annual growth of 11.8%, equivalent to US$120.6 million additional to what was registered in the same period of 2023. The main countries of origin of remittances received are the United States with US$931 million, representing 81.6 percent of the total, Costa Rica, Spain, Panama, and Canada.

Remittances from these five countries accounted for 97.4 percent of the total. In the first quarter, remittances from the US registered an increase of 12.3 percent with respect to the same period of 2023, when they totaled US$829 million. Remittances from Costa Rica increased by 14.7% over 2023 with respect to the same period when it was US$79 million. For more information: (La Primerisima, 26 April 2024)

Government Releases Jobs Figures
More than 96% of the working-age population of Nicaragua is employed, the National Institute of Development Information (INIDE) reported on April 29. According to the March 2024 monthly employment survey, the net employment rate at the national level was 96.4 percent, which decreased since March of last year, when it reached 96.8 percent. The national underemployment rate was 39.2 percent, up 2.4 percentage points from March 2023 (36.8 percent), and up 1.4 percentage points from the previous month.  Finally, the nationwide labor force participation stood at 67.4 percent, remaining the same with respect to March 2023, although it decreased by 0.9 percentage points with respect to February 2024. (La Primerisima, 29 April 20224)