Volunteers Defy U.S. Policy to Help Nicaraguans With PM-Nicaragua-American, Bjt
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ They are old and young, rich and poor, political activists and non- ideological altruists with a feeling of guilt about their country’s role in the history of Central America.
Hundreds of American volunteers, including professionals, technicians and tradespeople, are defying their government’s policies and working with Nicaraguan agencies or church groups in development projects.
They can be seen in small provincial towns and driving battered pickup trucks through Managua, struggling with Spanish, unmistakably American in dusty shorts or faded jeans. Most are deeply tanned, courtesy of the tropical sun.
Many work in northern, isolated areas near the Honduran border where in recent years the U.S.-backed rebels known as Contras have become increasingly active, attacking both civilian and military targets.
The leftist Nicaraguan government says it was a Contra commando unit that killed mechanical engineer Benjamin Ernest Linder, 27, Tuesday morning as he worked on the construction of a small hydroelectric power plant in La Camaleona village.
Linder was the first American volunteer reported killed in fighting in the 5-year-old Contra war.
The U.S. government says the volunteers should not be helping a government the Reagan administration considers a threat to regional security. The Contras have declared them enemies.
The Americans’ total number is not known but is estimated at nearly 200. They and the West Germans, also with an estimated 200, provide the largest number of foreign volunteers.
They differ from other so-called ″internationalists″ who come for brief tours of solidarity with the Nicaraguan revolution, and from the ″brigades″ from several countries that visit for a few weeks to pick coffee or work on development projects.
″They are highly motivated,″ said Ebert Loschcke, a West German volunteer working in Nicaragua in a project sponsored by the West German Lutheran church.
″Basically all volunteers come because they want to help Nicaragua develop in peace and justice,″ he said. ″There are political and humanitarian reasons. In some cases, it is a way of protesting their developed countries’ exploitation of Third World countries.″
″Many of the Americans come here because they want to know what the reality of Nicaragua is,″ said presidential press officer Manuel Espinoza. ″When they do, some decide to stay here.
″Others have questions about the U.S. policy toward Nicaragua or oppose it and come here to express their opposition and they stay to work.″
Espinoza said Linder ″came to work first with a government agency and then he became an unpaid volunteer. He got money from his family and obtained other funds for his projects. He did it all on his own.″
″We are first motivated intellectually,″ said Terry Parker of Witness for Peace, an organization that does humanitarian work here and campaigns in the United States against U.S. policy toward Nicaragua.
″When we come here we see the results of U.S. policy first-hand in the war zones. This makes us want to work to change it.″
Linder was a member of the Nicaraguan Appropriate Technology Project of NICA, a pro-Nicaraguan group based in Bellingham, Wash., said Tom Voorhees of Clinton, Wash., another member of the group.
At least seven other volunteer workers, all European, have been killed since 1983 in Contra attacks.
They were Pierre Grosjean, a French doctor, killed in February 1983; George Pflaun, a West German doctor, in October 1983; Maurice Damierre, a Swiss technician, in Feburary 1986; Ambrosio Mondragon, a Spanish nurse, in May 1986; Claude Leyvraz of Switzerland and Bernhard Koberstein of Belgium, in July 1986; and Paul Dressers, a Swiss volunteer, in November 1986.