Scholarship remembers Portlander murdered by Contras

PSU student David Taniyama will attend a workshop in Tlaxco, Mexico, this summer as part of the Ben Linder scholarship which he recently received. The Ben Linder scholarship looks to promote the cause of Linder, who was killed by Contras in 1987.

Taniyama is the first recipient of the annual award. Taniyama was born and raised on Oahu and lived a normal island life, going to school, surfing every day and hanging out.

“I think the first time I had an interest in doing some humanitarian work was after graduating from high school. I almost did a mission to South America but at the time felt lost with nothing to contribute,” Taniyama said. “I decided to attend college instead and obtained a B.A. in sculpture the University of Hawaii.”

Taniyama was introduced to the scholarship while attending classes at PCC, where Professor David Bergerbrought it to his attention. Taniyama completed the application which involved a pair of essay questions on the issues that Ben Linder felt most strongly about: justice and environmentally sound engineering, as well as humanitarianism, and how one can combine all these with an occupation not often thought of as “green.”

As for the future, Taniyama said, “I would like to graduate in a couple of years and pursue the environmental arena of engineering – nothing corporate I assure you.”

Susan Bloom and Betty June Marsh, both friends of the Linder family, started the scholarship fund..

“[We] started the Ben Linder Scholarship Fund with a garage sale in the summer of 1998 and made enough money to send a letter to Oregon supporters. With the response from that letter, we sent a letter to Washington state and so on until this summer when we were able to award the first scholarship/internship to David,” said Bloom of the scholarship’s beginnings.

Ben Linder graduated from Adams High School and majored in engineering at the University of Washington. A vegetarian, professional clown and unicyclist, Linder’s death came as a shock to Oregonians in 1987. The U.S.-funded Contra war in Nicaragua was already an unpopular endeavor with liberal Oregon residents, but the death of one of their own was seen as a call to action.

Linder went to Nicaragua to help San Jos퀌� de Bocay build a small hydroelectric dam to provide them with electricity.

It was there that a Contra patrol ambushed Linder and his two coworkers, executing them all. When news broke in Portland of Linder’s murder, mourners filled Schrunk Plaza to remember Linder. Later, a national conference drew 1,000’s of activists from across the nation, including Alexander Cockburn, Ed Asner and Barbara Kingsolver, who dedicated her novel “Animal Dreams” to the memory of Ben Linder. More than a 100 Portlanders joined Ben Linder Brigades and traveled to Nicaragua to finish the dam that Linder had begun as well as build hospitals and clinics.

Ben Linder’s parents, David and Elisabeth Linder, were themselves activists and worked hard to keep the ideals that Ben died for on the forefront of public discussion. The Linders appeared on radio and TV, calling attention to the Contras as a Nicaraguan force financed, trained and directed by the U.S. government to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.

David Linder died in 1999, leaving the Ben Linder Memorial Fund under the control of the Magrath Foundation.

Susan Bloom, cofounder of the fund, has run Portland’s Ash Creek Press with her husband for the past 20 years and shared her skills with nonprofit community organizations.

Bloom met the Linders through the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee, and cofounder Betty June Marsh met Elizabeth Linder through the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Contributions to the scholarship fund can be sent to Ben Linder Scholarship Fund 5623 N.E. Cleveland Ave. Portland, OR 97211.