Articles2017-09-08T23:48:22+00:00

Best of the Web: July 2020

By |3/August/2020|

Our monthly selection of the best articles on Latin America from around the internet.

1) Brazil, Southcom and the Push Towards War in Venezuela (Brasil Wire)

Brazil’s former President Lula da Silva has expressed concern about the threat of armed conflict involving Brazil, and questioned the new National Defence Policy announced by Bolsonaro’s military dominated government.

2) Berta Cáceres in Her Own Words (Asís Castellanos and Adrienne Pine/Toward Freedom)

Much of what has been written about Lenca/Honduran activist Berta Cáceres has focused on her identifications as an Indigenous woman and as an environmentalist. While neither is false, those two facts alone paint an anemic picture of Berta’s militancy, and that of COPINH (the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras).

3) Like Water for Capitalists: Understanding authoritarianism, privatization and capitalism in Bolivia (Esha Krishnaswamy/Historic.ly)

American corporate media and American hegemony want you to believe that many socialist governments are authoritarian. But none of the socialist governments, past and present, are as violent or as repressive as a capitalistic government captured by for-profit corporations.

4) Colombia’s Disappeared (Forrest Hylton/London Review of Books)

With more than 80,000 official cases, Colombia has more disappeared people than the rest of the region put together, at least until Mexico began to spiral out of control in recent years.

5) Bolivia’s Ongoing Coup (Oliver Vargas/Tribune Magazine)

Faced with a victory for Evo Morales’ MAS party, the Bolivian government has postponed elections once again – the latest attack on democracy by a coup regime which Western powers supported in its name.

6) Cuba’s Nobel Nomination and Baldwin’s Call to “Begin Again” (Susan Babbitt/Counterpunch)

When an event is unexplained, it can’t be repeated. Cuba’s astonishing internationalism, the “good news” of the pandemic, is talked about (outside Cuba) as if a miracle, without cause. Support grows for the Nobel Prize nomination but the justification for the Henry Reeve Brigade, established in 2005, is left out. The explanation is ideas.

7) How a police spy’s stunning testimony threatens the US-Israeli AMIA bombing narrative (Gareth Porter/The Grayzone)

Revelations by a former police spy upend the official story blaming Iran for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, and suggest a cover-up by dirty war elements may have let the real culprits off the hook.

8) Guyana: Sovereignty Imperiled by Disputed Election (Tamanisha J. John/Council on Hemispheric Affairs)

The manufactured political crisis makes Guyana vulnerable to foreign intervention, given Guyana’s ascent into the ranks of the world’s oil exporting countries in 2020 and its geographical positioning as Venezuela’s neighbour. These factors have placed the political situation unfolding within Guyana on the radar of many Western countries looking to secure contracts for oil from a Guyanese government, and the U.S. government in particular which wants to intervene in neighbouring Venezuela.

9) Corporate Greed Drives COVID-19 Pandemic Inside Peruvian Amazon (Aman Azhar/The Real News Network)

Peru’s lawmakers are weighing a vote on crucial legislation, which, if passed, will declare large areas of pristine Amazon rainforest off limits to drilling and mining projects—a clear showdown between Big Oil and corporate mining

‘Social Movements are Making a Big Effort’: Freddy Condo on Bolivia

By |29/July/2020|

Freddy Condo, a former vice-minister under Evo Morales, talks about Bolivia’s coup regime, the role of social movements and prospects for the election scheduled for October.

In November of last year, a coup overthrew Bolivian president Evo Morales, and rightwing politician Jeanine Áñez took his place. Her government has since led a wave of repression that has left over 20 people dead and established a climate of fear and political persecution in the country.

New elections are now tentatively scheduled to take place in October of this year. The Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Morales’ political party, is participating in the election, as is Áñez, former president Carlos Mesa and other candidates.

I spoke with Freddy Condo in La Paz this past March about the political landscape in the country. Condo is an advisor to the National Federation of Women Rural Workers of Bolivia ‘Bartolina Sisa’, and was a vice-minister of rural and agricultural development during Morales’ first term in office. He worked in the Huanuni mines as a young man, participating actively in the labour struggles in this militant sector. Condo has advised indigenous, labour and campesino movements in Bolivia for decades.

In this interview, Condo speaks about the role of the right, military and police in the coup, the political and social climate under the Áñez government, the MAS’s relations with social movements and prospects for the upcoming general election.

How do you see the conflictive times of October and November of last year?

What I’ve seen from a constitutional framework is a coup d’etat. There is no justification. So, Áñez self-proclaims as the president. But who is the one who puts the presidential sash on her? It should be the parliament, right? But the general commander of the armed forces is the one who does it. That tells us clearly that the protocols established in the legal framework haven’t been observed.

The police and military were crucial in ousting Morales. Can you talk about their role in this coup?

Apparently, during the 14-year period [under the MAS], the armed forces were assisted like never before – their budget was increased, they received war equipment, it was like giving them a raison d’être. The Air Force, for instance, didn’t have planes, didn’t have helicopters, nothing! Now they have all that. So, what happened?

You can’t change a way of thinking going back years and generations. Commanders entered the military 30 or 35 years ago, so expecting to change them overnight is very difficult. I think [the MAS government] didn’t read the situation very well, they thought the Armed Forces had changed.

You have several Mamanis and Condoris [Indigenous surnames] who joined as cadets, but they still are second lieutenants or lieutenants at best, a low rank, while the others remained.

In the police force, however, there were sergeants. And there’s a lot of privilege there. For instance, telling them they will retire with ‘the 100 per cent’. Any member of the military when they retire, they receive 100 per cent of their income. It was a difficult problem. We’re talking

From Conflict to Congress: FARC Senator Sandra Ramírez

By |26/July/2020|

The election of Senator Sandra Ramírez in the Colombian Congress demonstrates the FARC political party’s commitment to its post-2016 struggle within electoral politics.

Less than a decade ago, Sandra Ramírez was a FARC guerrilla engaged in conflict with the State, knowing that each day could be her last. Today, she sits in the Colombian Senate as its newly-elected Second Vice-President, a development that has raised hopes for the future of the peace process and reaffirmed the FARC political party’s commitment to its post-2016 struggle within electoral politics.

Under the peace agreement’s terms on political participation, one of its core components, the FARC reformed as a political party and entered the Colombian congress, where it is guaranteed ten seats for two electoral terms, a total of eight years. As one of the FARC’s nominated senators, Sandra Ramírez, who is also known as Griselda Lobo, has represented the party and its supporters at the highest levels of national politics, a situation unthinkable not so long ago. The peace process shifted the parameters of possibility in a country where conflict has been the rule, rather than the exception, for most of its history. While it is unusual enough for a woman to hold the position – let alone one from a rural background – the fact she is a former guerrilla makes this a landmark in the country’s political history.

Sandra Ramírez was elected as the representative of a broad coalition formed of opposition parties which support the peace process and progressive policies such as economic redistribution, social investment and national sovereignty, whether that be with regards to US involvement in Colombia or a policy of non-intervention towards neighbouring Venezuela. While the coalition’s initial nominated candidate was Senator Gustavo Bolívar of the Decency List party, he stepped aside in agreement with the coalition and to ensure gender parity. The backing for Sandra Ramírez to assume the role reflects the wide recognition within the Colombian opposition of the FARC’s important role within the formal political system. It is also a clear gesture of support for the peace process. Since its embryonic stages, the Colombian peace process has faced intense opposition from powerful right-wing sectors, particularly within the governing Democratic Centre party.

Following her election, Sandra Ramírez gave an interview in which she said:

‘This appointment is a recognition of the peace that we have been seeking since 1984 through a political solution to the social and armed conflict. The best thing that happened to Colombia was to sign the Agreement, which meant we would assume these positions to make visible and advocate for the implementation of the Havana peace agreement, and we will address the situation we are going through with the COVID-19 pandemic.’

Among the policies advanced by Sandra Ramírez and her party, as well as the broader progressive opposition, are full implementation of the peace process. One example is in the regional development programmes, known as PDETs, stipulated for several of the poorest

Bolivian Historian Roberto Choque Canqui 1942-2020

By |25/July/2020|

In these troubled times, Choque Canqui’s works will resonate with all activists and historians dedicated to emancipatory struggle in Bolivia and beyond.

On 16 July, Roberto Choque Canqui, the pioneering Bolivian historian of indigenous rebellions died in La Paz.

His numerous works explored histories of Indigenous resistance in Bolivia, especially among the Aymara speaking communities of the highlands. Choque was born on 3 January 1942 in the town of Caquiaviri, Pacajes province in the Bolivian highlands. His mother was Agustina Canqui and his politically active father Simón Choque was involved with the 1945 Indigenous Congress, a landmark event that brought together Indigenous communities to mobilise over land rights, educational reform and political freedoms.

Perhaps the most celebrated of his works is the recently re-published The Jesús de Machaqa massacre. It documents the uprising in 1921 by Aymara ayllus (communities) around the town of Jesús de Machaqa in the highlands outside of La Paz, who rose up in protest at the loss of their lands and abuses committed by the local authority. In reprisal, President Bautista Saavedra dispatched over a thousand troops who looted, torched fields and killed at least 50 Aymara people in a massacre which looms large in the collective memory of the communities today.

‘Roberto Choque Canqui was a trailblazing historian way ahead of his time. His work impacted generations of historians, activists, students, and scholars in Bolivia and around the world,’ says Benjamin Dangl, lecturer at the University of Vermont and author, most recently, of The Five Hundred Year Rebellion: Indigenous Movements and the Decolonization of History in Bolivia.

‘Choque’s archival and historical research efforts directly shaped and informed the ways that Indigenous and campesino movements in Bolivia, from the 1970s onward, incorporated historical knowledge, symbols, narratives and consciousness into their own organizing and movement-building. He was a kind and generous man, a giant in the field, and put ignored, silenced, and forgotten Indigenous histories back on the map.’

Dangl recalls how Choque himself was a key figure in the Indigenous political struggles of the 1970s and 80s in Bolivia. ‘During our meetings in La Paz, Bolivia, in recent years, he told me of visiting the historic CSUTCB [peasants’ union] leader Genaro Flores while Flores was in jail in the 1970s. Choque said he shared histories of Bolivian Indigenous resistance with Flores. In particular, they discussed 18th century Indigenous rebel leader Tupac Katari and how to recover the symbol and legacy of Katari within the growing Indigenous and campesino movements of the time. Such collaborations, as well as Choque’s hugely influential research and publishing record, helped transform the landscape of historical knowledge in Bolivia.’

In 1989, Choque ran for office in La Paz with the left-indigenous party Revolutionary Liberation Movement Tupac Katari (Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Katari de Liberación, MRTKL), part of the broader katarista movement which mobilised around a radical indigenous politics from the 1970s onwards. Later, he would become Vice Minister of Decolonisation between 2009 and 2010 under President Evo Morales, who was ousted in a rightwing coup last November.

He was also

A New ‘Good Neighbour Policy’ for Latin America

By |23/July/2020|

Instead of continuing down this imperial path of endless confrontation, US policymakers need to stop, recalibrate and design an entirely new approach to inter-American relations.

US policy towards Venezuela has been a fiasco. Try as it might, the Trump regime-change team has been unable to depose President Nicolás Maduro and finds itself stuck with a self-proclaimed president, Juan Guaidó, who President Trump was reported to have called ‘a kid’ who ‘doesn’t have what it takes.’ The Venezuelan people have paid a heavy price for Trump’s debacle, which has included crippling economic sanctions and coup attempts. So has US prestige internationally, as both the UN and the EU have urged lifting sanctions during the pandemic but the US has refused.

This is only one example of a string of disastrous policies toward Latin America. The Trump administration has dusted off the 19th century Monroe Doctrine that subjugates the nations of the region to US interests. But as in past centuries, US attempts at domination are confronted at every turn by popular resistance.

Instead of continuing down this imperial path of endless confrontation, US policymakers need to stop, recalibrate and design an entirely new approach to inter-American relations. This is particularly urgent as the continent is in the throes of a coronavirus crisis and an economic recession that is compounded by low commodity prices, a belly-up tourist industry and the drying up of remittances from outside.

A good reference point for a policy makeover is Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ‘Good Neighbour Policy’ in the 1930s, which represented an abrupt break with the interventionism of that time. FDR abandoned ‘gunboat diplomacy’ in which Marines were sent throughout the region to impose US will. Though his policies were criticised for not going far enough, he did bring back US Marines from Nicaragua, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and scrapped the Platt Amendment that allowed the US to intervene unilaterally in Cuban affairs.

So what would a Good Neighbour Policy for the 21st Century look like? Here are some key planks:

An end to military intervention. The illegal use of military force has been a hallmark of US policy in the region, as we see from the deployment of Marines in the Dominican Republic in 1965, Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989; involvement in military actions leading to the Guatemalan coup in 1954 and destabilisation in Nicaragua in the 1980s; support for coups in Brazil in 1964, Chile in 1973 and elsewhere. A Good Neighbour Policy would not only renounce the use of military force, but even the threat of such force (as in ‘all options are on the table’), particularly because such threats are illegal under international law.

US military intimidation also comes in the form of US bases that dot the continent from Cuba to Colombia to further south. These installations are often resisted by local communities, as was the case of the Manta Base in Ecuador that was shut down in 2008 and the ongoing opposition against the Guantanamo Base in Cuba. US bases in Latin America are a violation

Get Your Free Copy of New Digital Magazine ‘Alborada 10’

By |22/July/2020|

We are giving away our brand new digital magazine published to celebrate ten years of Alborada.

To celebrate Alborada’s tenth anniversary, we have published a special 32 page digital magazine. If you’d like to receive a copy, simply email us at:

info[at]alborada[dot]net

We will then send you the magazine in PDF format.

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Film Review: Zama

By |21/July/2020|

Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel’s 2017 film is a decadent commentary on the colonisation of America and its aftermath.

2017’s Zama marked Lucrecia Martel’s awaited return to feature filmmaking after a nine-year hiatus. Martel intended the film as a homage to the Argentinian writer Antonio di Benedetto, imprisoned and tortured during the military dictatorship of General Rafael Videla, and forced to spend most of his life in exile in Europe. According to Martel, the 1956 book of the same name gave her a real feeling of euphoria, in the sense that she felt that she understood ‘something fundamental about human existence’ — although she didn’t know what it was exactly. She subsequently tried to make a film which reflected this feeling, a film about, in her own words, ‘what time is like when one does not have time anymore, when life is over’.

The eponymous character, Diego de Zama, is indeed a man who does not have time anymore. While his life is not ‘over’, per se, his existence is stuck in a continual loop, a stagnating limbo that mirrors the palpably decadent 18th-century Spanish colony in Paraguay where the film is set. Zama is a Spanish magistrate, avidly waiting to be re-assigned to a post in the city of Lerma, but the more he begs for this promotion, the more it seems to escape him. Like Sisyphus carrying his immense boulder to the top of the hill, only to see it roll back down every time, he waits and waits, his bitter frustration growing painfully into resentment. Martel gradually builds the portrait of this man, who is, in essence, the absolute loser, his frustrated yearnings piling one on top of the other in a very dry but comedic way.

Zama is unlucky in every single aspect of his life. He keeps getting thrown out of his various households and ends up living in a dilapidated house for the majority of the film. The object of his desire, the noblewoman Luciana Piñares de Luenga, rumoured to have the most beautiful body in the region, uses Zama for the benefits he can provide as a civil servant, but constantly rebuffs his sexual advances.

Zama’s absolute fiasco of an existence is a close microcosm of the failure that was the Spanish colonisation of America. Indeed, Zama finds himself in the midst of a chaotic panorama: the news from Europe never arrives, the mail goes missing, there is an absolute lack of political coordination, a total neglect from Spain and a cholera epidemic sweeping the land. All of these issues point towards the disastrous administration of the colonies by the Spanish settlers. Every aspect of life is tinted in a decadent sense of ridiculousness. The costumes are degraded, torn and dusty. One can imagine the smell of Zama’s crimson jacket he wears for the entirety of the film. The characters sometimes do not even bother to wear their old white regency wigs on top of their black hair. Martel sees humour in the absurdity of the ‘on-the-ground’ failings of

AMLO in the Lion’s Den

By |19/July/2020|

Despite the criticism it received, Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s recent meeting with Donald Trump was a shrewd diplomatic move that will help consolidate the Mexican president’s progressive agenda.

When Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was inaugurated as President of Mexico in December 2018, he encountered what seemed on the face of it to be a hostile and inimical environment, with a more antagonistic incumbent in the White House than had been seen in generations. With Trump expressing open disdain for Mexicans and talking of building a wall to keep them out, the prospects seemed grim.

As a candidate in 2017, AMLO had called Trump a ‘neofascist’ and roundly condemned his anti-Mexican prejudices. Trump threatened to tear up NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, and while AMLO like much of the Mexican Left had condemned this neoliberal treaty, it seemed likely to be replaced with something even worse if Trump got his way.

But AMLO surprised most observers, and probably the US administration, by seeking good relations from the word go. Despite the imbalance of forces, the Mexican leader and his team correctly calculated that Washington would not really want to exclude migrant workers completely or to disrupt the closely integrated economy of the border regions and of major industrial production chains like the automobile industry.

While totally opposed to neoliberalism, AMLO realised that with 80 per cent of Mexico’s foreign trade being with its northern neighbour the idea of simply tearing up NAFTA was a non-starter. The only viable solution (although far from easy) was to seek revision of the treaty in ways beneficial to Mexico.

Rather than indulge in futile, indeed suicidal, anti-imperialist gestures, AMLO sought to engage with the vain and irascible occupant of the White House by a combination of flattery and hard bargaining. Trump’s preference for personal dialogue and deal-making could be used to Mexico’s advantage.

On his election in 2018, AMLO contacted the US President proposing a new stage in bilateral relations ‘based on mutual respect’, and Trump responded in kind, with warm congratulations on AMLO’s victory. Shortly afterwards a high-level US delegation arrived to push trade negotiations forward.1 While domestically AMLO advanced with his ‘Fourth Transformation’ (4T) agenda, he also sought rapprochement with Mexico’s hegemonic neighbour.

Two years later, in July 2020, the inconceivable has happened: a new trade treaty (USMCA, the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement) has come into force, with significant benefits for Mexico; and AMLO has just visited Washington as a favoured guest of President Trump. Moreover, despite scepticism from many on both sides of the political spectrum, this gesture may well go down in history as a triumph of Mexican diplomacy.

The Transformation of Mexican Foreign Policy

In the year and a half since his inauguration, AMLO and his remarkably capable Foreign Secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, have discreetly but firmly undertaken a radical reorientation of Mexican foreign policy. Rather than a supine submission to Washington and a steady rightward drift, as had been the case with the neoliberal presidents of the previous 30 years, they have reasserted Mexico’s historic

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Pink Tide’s Solidarity With Palestine

By |13/July/2020|

Progressive movements in Latin America have called for sanctions against Israel over its annexation plans in the West Bank.

The Michael Brooks Show discusses the response from several former heads of Latin American progressive governments – often referred to collectively as the ‘Pink Tide’ – and other high-profile figures to Israel’s attempts to annex parts of the West Bank.

Watch it on YouTube.

Pinochet-era Intelligence Agent Faces Extradition from Australia

By |12/July/2020|

Adriana Rivas served in the Chilean intelligence agency under dictator Augusto Pinochet. Later this month, an Australian court will decide whether she will be extradited to Chile.

Ardriana Rivas arrived in Australia in 1978 from her native Chile and worked as a nanny. She lived a good life in affluent Bondi Beach, Sydney, in public housing provided by the Australian government. Rivas, now 67, was active in football and church activities in the Chilean community, one of Australia’s largest Latin American diasporas.

Her comfortable life took a turn in 2013, when Rivas decided to talk to journalist Florencia Melgar of the Australian broadcasters SBS. Melgar was researching the collaboration of two Australian intelligence (ASIO) officers with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The ASIO officers were posted to Chile in 1973, when General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the socialist government of Salvador Allende, with the support of the CIA.

In her interview, Rivas conceded that she had been a member of the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (Directorate of National Intelligence, DINA) from 1973-1977 during the Pinochet dictatorship. Known as “la Chany,” Rivas took an abrasive and arrogant tone as she admitted that in 2007, she had been arrested by Chilean authorities during a routine trip to her home country. In 2011, she fled Chile to avoid prosecution.

In February 2019, Rivas was arrested in Sydney. Later this month, an Australian court will decide whether Rivas will be extradited to Chile. Chileans in Australia say she may not be the only DINA agent who is evading the justice system. Her case will set a precedent for how Australia handles other Chileans who have committed human right violations during the military regime.

In her original interview with SBS in 2013, Rivas defended the use of torture under the brutal US-backed Pinochet regime, saying that, “The same way the Nazis did, it was necessary. It’s the only way to break people.” She said her work only consisted of being a translator and an intelligence analyst. Rivas claimed those were the “best years of my youth.”

But Rivas did not tell her interviewer on camera about her arrest in Chile for the alleged kidnapping and disappearance of seven members of the Chilean Communist Party including a young woman, Reinalda Pereira, who was five months pregnant at the time.

The DINA, according to Chilean journalist Juan Cristóbal Peña in Los malos, was responsible for the “majority of the almost 3,000 dead and 40,000 tortured and political prisoners which the Pinochet dictatorship left.” According to Peña, Rivas studied at the Escuela Nacional de Inteligencia de Maipú (The National Intelligence School of Maipú) and completed an intelligence course at the Tejas Verdes barracks, led by Ingrid Olderock, a specialist who trained dogs to rape prisoners.

Manuel Contreras, head of the DINA and the second most powerful man during the dictatorship, was Rivas’ commander. According to Rivas, Contreras was “an excellent person, and excellent boss.” When Contreras died in 2015, he was serving a

Film Review: Home in a Foreign Land

By |6/July/2020|

Ivannia Villalobos Vindas’ film contributes towards understanding the socio-political and economical dilemmas that produce forced migration and continue to impact Central American countries.

Home in a Foreign Land is a vast documentary from 2016 that exposes the intricacies of forced migration in Central America, surveying the perspectives of those who stay in their countries and those who flee. Based on the book Exclusion and Forced Migration in Central America: No More Walls (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) by Carlos Sandoval, the narrative provides a unique scope and focus to the migrant crises, from the historical to the present. By clearly addressing the socio-political factors that continue to produce this mass displacement, such as government repression, US intervention and multinational exploitation of natural resources, the documentary promotes a contextualised and critical perspective. Striking a balance between on-the-ground interviews and an informative backstory, the filmmakers uncover moments of hardship and resistance, alongside bringing to light control mechanisms as well as acts of community solidarity.

Although the film goes on to cover more commonly seen topics, like the problems faced by people en route to the United States, the most insightful contributions are by those who remain in their home countries, struggling against their socio-political contexts. Director Ivannia Villalobos Vindas makes these interviews resonate throughout the narrative, as they put in a specific context the strenuous circumstances that led many to escape from war and dispossession in the first place. As these communities strive for a more just society, their efforts are put to the test by governments who favour foreign interests over the well-being of their own people.

The documentary illustrates how foreign companies move into different Central American countries, aided by neoliberal governments, without regard for the negative effects they have on local populations or the environment. In the case of Guatemala, the multinational hydroelectric and mining industry has taken advantage of the lack of regulations, leading to multiple cases of human rights violations, such as forced land evictions which echo the experiences of indigenous people in the colonial past. Notably in 2013, an Ontario Court allowed for the first time the prosecution of a Canadian mining company by foreign claimants due to the increasing cases of human rights violations in Guatemala.

An important segment of the narrative is dedicated to the Casa del Migrante de Saltillo (Migrant’s House of Saltillo), located in Mexico’s border state of Coahuila, which functions as a spot where travelling migrants may find shelter and community support. The moments shared in this location help understand the stories of hope and anguish alike, as migrants struggle to cross the border into the United States whilst confronting harsh control mechanisms.

Covering these issues in broad strokes, yet with enough detail to be insightful and original, Home in a Foreign Land contributes towards a broader understanding of the socio-political and economical dilemmas that produce forced migration and continue to impact Central American countries like Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Watch full film on Youtube (English subtitles available in settings)

Further suggested viewing:

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