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

Ecuador’s Democracy at Stake

By |7/April/2021|

With progressive candidate Andrés Arauz the favourite to become Ecuador’s next president, attacks on the country’s democracy are escalating rapidly.

In 11 April, the people of Ecuador will cast their final vote to elect the country’s next president.

But as we approach the second round of Ecuador’s presidential election, the attacks on its democracy are escalating rapidly.

In the last month alone, we have seen calls for a military coup published in Ecuador’s most popular newspapers, efforts to disqualify candidates with false accusations of fraud and an attempt to confiscate its voting databases for an illegal ‘audit’ of the first-round votes.

The presidential elections in Ecuador arrive in a context of severe economic, social and political crisis. Mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic has devastated communities across the country, with poverty rates soaring over 10 per cent since the start of the pandemic and economic output falling by over 10 per cent over the same time period. Doctors in Ecuador are now reporting a major spike in Covid-19 cases, adding to a death toll that ranks among the highest in the region.

Meanwhile, the Lenin Moreno government has been rocked by a vaccine scandal in which its members were caught red-handed giving out vaccines to their rich and powerful friends before the rest of the country. A wave of resignations from the Moreno government has ensued, fuelling discontent with a president who already had the lowest approval rating on record at just 7 per cent.

The 11 April elections therefore present a critical opportunity for the people of Ecuador to reclaim the constitutional rights that have been denied by the Moreno government. The right to health, to the right to decent work, and the right to popular sovereignty: Moreno and the creditors at the International Monetary Fund have threatened all three of them with an agenda of austerity and privatisation. The stakes of this election for all Ecuadorian citizens could not be higher.

But a range of political actors are conspiring against them. Over the course of the last several weeks, we have once again seen attempts by actors inside and outside Ecuador to interfere and undermine the integrity of the electoral process.

Inside of Ecuador, the Office of the Prosecutor and the Office of the Comptroller have come together to attack the National Electoral Council with false charges of electoral fraud, calling to confiscate their digital databases and annul their first-round vote count.

Outside of Ecuador, the Attorney General of Colombia has colluded with the Office of the Prosecutor to attack candidate Andrés Arauz with absurd lies about a loan from the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army [based in Colombia] to his presidential campaign.

It is for this reason that the Progressive International is mobilising again to Ecuador. During the first round of these elections, international observation delegations like ours played a critical role in resisting these antidemocratic pressures. Now, once again, bringing parliamentarians and data scientists from around the world, our delegation will travel across the country to help ensure free, fair and transparent elections.

Alborada is part of

Colombia’s Ongoing Human Rights Crisis

By |30/March/2021|

As Colombia approaches the fifth anniversary of its historic agreement, the peace process is under strain from political hostility, failures in implementation and an escalating human rights crisis.

The peace agreement signed in 2016 between the Colombian government and the country’s largest Marxist guerrilla organisation, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), brought hope to millions of people – in Colombia and around the world, including the many Colombians forced into international exile by conflict – that the country was finally leaving decades of violence behind. Following four years of negotiations in Havana, Cuba, the peace agreement not only addressed ending armed confrontation between the state and the FARC, but also the root causes of the conflict to ensure peace would be permanent.

The ambitious scope of the agreement provided for, among other areas, political participation, infrastructural development in the poorest rural regions and a new approach to the long-running issue of drugs production. Previous attempts by the left to participate in electoral politics had been met with massacre – orchestrated by the state and its paramilitary proxies. At the same time, chronic underdevelopment across swathes of rural Colombia denied millions of people access to healthcare, schools or decent roads.

Repressive anti-drugs policies, meanwhile, criminalised and targeted those at the very bottom of the production chain. These were poor rural farmers left with little alternative to growing coca – the base ingredient in cocaine – and marijuana due to Colombia’s free-market trade deals that saw small-scale agriculture crushed by multinational food imports.

Many Colombians – particularly those in regions most impacted by conflict and state abandonment – saw a negotiated settlement as vital to move the country forward. Yet the peace process encountered bitter hostility on the political right, centred around the hardline former president Álvaro Uribe. His Democratic Centre party led opposition to negotiations with the FARC, successfully mobilising its base to stun many observers when Colombians narrowly rejected the agreement in a public referendum in October 2016. Nevertheless, with a few amendments, the agreement was ratified in the national congress soon afterwards.

Under the terms of the agreement, the FARC reformed as a political party, taking a number of seats in congress, and more than 13,000 guerrillas put down their weapons and began transitioning to civilian life. Based in specially-created ‘reincorporation zones’ scattered around the country, former guerrilla combatants developed sustainable projects, enrolled on educational courses and undertook vocational training. They took up diverse new roles in medicine, journalism, tourism, textiles, agriculture and even beer brewing. The vast majority remain in the peace process today.

Unfortunately, as Colombia approaches the fifth anniversary of the signing of the agreement, the peace process is under strain from ongoing political opposition, failures in implementation and an escalating human rights crisis impacting much of the country. The presidential election in 2018 of Iván Duque – like Uribe, a member of the Democratic Centre – sparked concerns in the pro-peace movement over his party’s strong opposition to the agreement.

Indeed, Duque soon sought to make unilateral changes to the agreement’s

British Media Silence on Lula’s Persecution

By |30/March/2021|

Why was the British media silent for so long about Lula’s predicament under Operation Car Wash?

During the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s international reputation was positive, based on combatting hunger and lifting people out of poverty. Brazil was seen as a culturally rich, joyful ‘country of tomorrow’. Under Lula its foreign policy aimed to make the world a more egalitarian and peaceful place and he left office with record levels of popularity at home and abroad.

However, during Dilma Rousseff’s mandate, news from Brazil began to be focused almost entirely on governmental corruption. President Rousseff was impeached in a soft coup for alleged ‘creative accounting’, as the anti-graft Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato) that put former President Lula in jail dominated coverage of the country.

Overnight, a low-level judge, Sérgio Moro, from a provincial capital in the south of Brazil, became a world celebrity. He was praised and awarded prizes for daring to go against the ‘mighty and powerful’. He made the covers of international magazines, whilst Lula languished in prison.

After almost five years of smears, Lula is back in the news. So, what happened to the celebrated Car Wash that put him in jail? The British press decided to focus solely on the ‘downfall’ of Brazil’s charismatic former leader, portrayed as the leftist mastermind behind the largest corruption scandal in Brazil.

But Lula is back in the news. Back because his legal processes were quashed by the Supreme Court and because he is still the most likely presidential candidate to take on Bolsonaro and steer Brazil out of the mire.

So why did Lula go from hero to pariah to riding high again? Don’t look towards the British media for an explanation. There is hardly ever any context of what goes on in countries in the global south. Politics shapes things in the UK, the US, sometimes in Europe, but if you follow the media, elsewhere things just happen. The Amazon is destroyed, the indigenous peoples are massacred, criminal gangs run favelas, regardless of politics. Weird and horrific figures like Bolsonaro and the extreme-right just pop-up like mushrooms out of nowhere.

But politics does matter. It matters at home and it matters abroad. The context to what happened to Operation Car Wash, described by Supreme Justice Mendes as the ‘biggest legal scandal in history’, and why Lula is back is a lesson not just for Brazil, but for the world.

Right from the beginning of the corruption task force, the Brazilian media was co-opted. It received first-hand information they never checked or investigated. For years, people were named and shamed and tried by public opinion, even before they got to court.

However, though the media ignored it, academics and legal experts were warning about the illegal and unorthodox practices of the Operation which, this Tuesday, led the Supreme Court to declare former Judge Moro biased.

At the time, an atmosphere of terror against dissenting opinion ruled over Brazil: if you questioned Car Wash in anyway or defended the rights of its victims, you were against

Democracy Under Attack

By |29/March/2021|

The left has sight of victory in the second round of Ecuador’s presidential election, but fears persist of intervention to stop it.

When Ecuadorians go to the polls to choose their president on 11 April, the choice could not be starker. A young left-wing economist, Andrés Arauz, will run off against Guillermo Lasso, the founder of one of Ecuador’s largest banks, arch free-marketeer and a former minister linked to Ecuador’s deepest ever economic crisis.

Arauz is the clear favourite, with a double-digit poll lead and having topped the first-round vote with a 12 per cent advantage over Lasso.

Ecuador looks set to be the latest Latin American country to elect a left-wing government after Bolivia, Argentina and Mexico in recent years.

But faced with this progressive threat, there are growing concerns that some – both inside and outside Ecuador – are pursuing undemocratic means to prevent a left victory.

Recent regional developments offer plenty of reasons to be apprehensive. The 2019 military coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia and the jailing of Lula da Silva in Brazil after a politicised judicial witch hunt to stop him winning Brazil’s presidential election cast a dark shadow over Ecuador’s election.

In one worrying turn, Ecuador’s third-placed candidate Yaku Pérez recently endorsed a call to annul the first-round results and for Ecuador’s military to intervene in the electoral process to stop a left victory.

But perhaps the most serious attempt to prevent an Arauz victory, or to remove him as president if elected, is one using the kind of judicial processes that targeted Lula in Brazil known as ‘lawfare’.

While recent court rulings have highlighted how Lula was the victim of political, judicial and media persecution, this has taken years and prevented the left from winning elections it otherwise would have.

In Ecuador, one absurd but dangerous claim is that Arauz’s campaign is funded by the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional – ELN) guerrilla movement in neighbouring Colombia, one of the groups that has fought that country’s decades-long civil war.

This baseless claim was first published by the right-wing Colombian magazine Semana (Week) before being widely circulated across Latin America. The claims soon fell apart. But it was then followed by a video of masked ELN gunmen allegedly in the Colombia rainforest announcing their support for Arauz.

This clearly staged video quickly became an international laughing stock. As the Guardian reported, a local bird enthusiast proved the video must have been shot in Ecuador as bird noises heard in the video are from a rare species found in Ecuador but not Colombia.

This should have been the end of the bizarre affair. But then in a clear political intervention, the Colombian Attorney General Francisco Barbosa arrived in Ecuador claiming to have ‘intelligence’ that proved the guerrillas’ links to Arauz. This was followed up by a visit last week of Colombia’s deputy prosecutor to meet with her Ecuadorian counterpart with information to help make ‘progress with the investigations’ against Arauz.

Colombia is perhaps the closest ally of the US in South America, a recipient of vast

Piñera’s Wall of Nothingness

By |26/March/2021|

In Santiago’s Dignity Plaza, a heavily-policed wall guarding an empty space has come to represent another challenge to neoliberalism in Chile.

On Monday 15 March, neighbours of the newly christened Dignity Plaza (formerly Plaza Italia) in the centre of Santiago, found a three-metre tall metal wall surrounding the place where the statue of General Manuel Baquedano (1823-1897) is located. The only problem is that the statue was not even there. It was removed for repair – as the official narrative indicates. Why, then, build a strong wall weighing twelve tons? What are the Chilean authorities attempting to ‘protect’?

Dignity Plaza has been the battlefield between protestors and the police since the start of Chile’s mass revolt in October 2019. Gatherings and manifestations have not ceased, even during Covid times – except during total lockdown in winter 2020. These activities go unreported, especially in the international arena. News of a wall being erected in the plaza may seem random if one does not know that Chileans are still fighting in the streets. Galería Cima, a gallery whose headquarters  overlooks the plaza, and whose management have strategically installed a camera, have been recording what takes place since the revolt began. Going through their footage, it is possible to watch the wall being erected. It took place undisturbed, during curfew, to the annoyance of neighbours who reported loud noise at late hours. There was police presence at all times during this procedure.

Prior to the wall’s installation, the statue was removed following the International Women’s Day demonstrations (8 March; known as 8M), when it was completely covered in red paint. The four-ton structure took six hours to be removed. The Santiago police department then deployed around 800 special forces to guard the area. This excessive display of state force clearly had one objective in mind: a clash with protestors. This police-led strategy is repeated every Friday evening, which is when citizens gather at the plaza to remind Sebastián Piñera’s government that their demands have not yet been met.

The results of the October 2020 constitutional referendum, in which 78 per cent of Chileans voted to draft an entirely new constitution, may have led some to believe that protests were over. Nevertheless, the demand to overhaul the neoliberal model has not been forgotten. It takes more than a pandemic or a high wall to appease those who seek a dramatic change to Chile’s unequal structures. Support for President Piñera remains obscenely low – a survey from a sympathetic think-tank put his approval ratings at 24 per cent. Still, it’s a vague improvement: the president had a 4.6 per cent rating at the end of 2019.

In order to understand the meaning – or lack thereof – behind a wall protecting an empty space in the heart of Santiago, it is important to consider two points. The first is the figure of General Baquedano and, second, the location of Dignity Plaza within the city of Santiago and its social and symbolic meaning.

General Manuel Baquedano passed into the annals of Chilean

São Paulo Teachers’ Strike: ‘We Are Defending Life’

By |25/March/2021|

A São Paulo teacher tells the story of an insane return to the classroom. They lack staff, classrooms have precarious ventilation and infrastructure problems abound. All this fuels the collapse of the Brazilian healthcare system.

The teachers in the São Paulo municipal education system went on strike on 10 February. I joined the movement on the 15th, the date on which classes were scheduled to resume in person, along with all the teachers in my school who were called back to work in person. This decision that we took collectively was not an easy one. At the same time that we care about our students’ education and want to see them again face-to-face, it is our obligation to take care of their lives and that of their families. Going back to school, in the midst of a worsening pandemic, with a higher number of deaths, is an act of irresponsibility.

The back-to-school protocol launched by the Municipal Education Secretary (SME) is impossible to execute, given the current situation in the schools. In the school unit where I teach, infrastructure problems have long been waiting for a solution. With the pandemic, the following have become very concrete obstacles to resuming classroom activities: the precarious ventilation of the classrooms; the narrow corridors occupied by closets; the lack of open spaces with coverage; the absence of an area dedicated exclusively to meals; the precarious electrical installation to serve the digital classrooms; the lack or fluctuation of the wifi signal; the presence of only two bathrooms available to serve all students; and the fencing of the digital education lab (LED) and reading room (SL) spaces as recommended by the protocols.

The staff, which has been reduced in previous years, is insufficient to meet basic needs of hygiene and safety. There are only three cleaning staff for the whole school during the two shifts and, at certain times, only one of them is available to keep classrooms, corridors, courtyard, bathrooms, kitchen, administrative rooms and courts at a higher and more frequent standard of cleanliness, as requested by the SME protocol. Moreover, the technical education assistants (ATE), who help with supervising students, are not enough to organise the classes, keep the social distancing in common areas and ensure compliance with sanitary measures. In addition, the commute to school is done by public transportation most of the time, increasing the risk of contamination.

The situation is not safe for students, teachers, employees, and family members alike. Opening schools for face-to-face classes now will mean 30 per cent more people circulating around the city. Examples of the worsening spread of the virus keep coming. Outbreaks in schools and increases in cases after reopening appear frequently in the media. In Europe, governments have decided to postpone the in-person return. To return to school every day is to contribute to the worsening of the pandemic. In my school, one teacher who did not go on strike tested positive for Covid-19 five days after returning to work.

Faced with this, with no choice between returning and

Justice for the Victims of the Áñez Coup

By |24/March/2021|

The Progressive International statement on the prosecution of Bolivia’s coup leadership.

The victims of Bolivia’s coup regime demand justice – and the Progressive International joins their call.

The Progressive International recognises the events of November 2019 for what they were: a coup d’état against a democratically elected government, fuelled by false accusations of fraud by the Organization of American States and its allies across the region.

Now, following peaceful and democratic elections in October 2020, the people of Bolivia are petitioning their new government to hold the coup regime accountable for the massacres, repression, and human rights abuses that accompanied the rule of interim president Jeanine Áñez.

These crimes include but are not limited to:

  • Massacres at Sacaba and Senkata facilitated by a presidential decree granting the military immunity from criminal prosecution for actions done to ‘preserve public order’.
  • Beatings and other abuse of arrestees and prisoners.
  • Teargassing of protesters, and of a nearby children’s school.
  • Imposing decrees, like Supreme Decree 4200 and Decree 4231 that criminalised dissent and severely curtailed press freedom.
  • Threatening, assaulting, and arresting journalists, and accusing some of ‘sedition’.
  • Arresting state officials and students for social media posts critical of the coup administration.
  • Using racist hate speech that encourages violence against minorities, as when Áñez spoke of wanting to prevent ‘the savages’ from returning to power, and that under her rule the government would ‘at last’ be free of paganism.
  • Facilitating violent attacks on political opponents, stripping them of their basic rights, and forcing many into exile from the country.
  • Suspending democratic institutions repeatedly to grant greater powers to the interim government that followed the coup in November 2019.

The evidence for these crimes points to direct involvement of those at the very top of the coup government, including Áñez herself.

For this reason, the Progressive International supports efforts to hold Áñez and her allies accountable for the role that they played in the execution of these crimes while respecting the rights to due process granted by Bolivian law.

Restoring democracy does not mean forgetting the past. Efforts to hold Bolivia’s coup regime are, on the contrary, critical to efforts to build a democratic Bolivia: a warning against future efforts to override the popular will, and a step toward reconciliation for the victims who suffered along the way.

The Progressive International calls on the international community – and all organisations that defend human rights – to support efforts to hold accountable the perpetrators of the above crimes, as to ensure full respect for their due process rights.

This statement was originally published by Progressive International and has been edited for style.

Alborada is a member of the Progressive International wire service.

 

Documentary Review: The Mole Agent

By |23/March/2021|

The latest documentary from award-winning Chilean documentary filmmaker Maite Alberdi, The Mole Agent, is a powerful film that humanises the elderly.

‘I came because I’m curious. And also because my age is usually a barrier to getting a job. They learn how old I am and it’s game over’, explains one of the interviewees, an upright octogenarian in a dapper suit and carefully combed hair. The setting is unusual: a stream of interviewees intrigued by the advert they have answered asking for a male, aged 80-90, confident with technology. What on earth is the job on offer, and is this a film or documentary?

The interviewer, Romulo Aitken, calmly selects his ideal candidate, Sergio Chamy, an elegant, softly spoken Santiaguiño who may have overestimated his tech skills. Sergio’s job is to spend a couple of months as a spy in nursing home El Monte, because a concerned daughter wants to ensure her mother isn’t being mistreated.

He is to keep strictly to his brief and provide a daily report – are the toilets clean? Are the staff treating the residents with respect? Opinions are unnecessary; hard facts are what the client demands. He must blend in with the residents and keep regular contact. The brief bemuses Sergio, who, after explaining to his tearful daughter that everything in their home reminds him of his recently deceased wife, that he is sick of the walks to the store and wishing it was bedtime, is dropped off at the home and begins his mission, armed with gadgets he can just about manage.

Sergio’s arrival causes a stir at the residential home. Very quickly he garners a tribe of admirers. Petita, a coquettish redhead that has gifted her virginity to God, takes a shine to him immediately and asks whether he’d like to go over the road and collect her pension with her, to get to know him better. Sergio politely spurns her amorous advances and touchingly tells her is he grieving for his wife who is still in his head and heart.

Lunches and dinners are a hive of social interaction. He is selected as the king of the home during an anniversary celebration and dances with a queue of anxious ladies. But Romulo sternly reminds him his work is serious, causing tension between employee and boss. Sergio strikes up a deep friendship with Rubira, a beautiful poet crippled with Alzheimer’s who recites verses on demand. In one poignant scene, a fellow resident thanks Rubira for bringing poetry to El Monte: ‘Where else will we get to hear poetry around here?’ she reflects.

Sergio’s new inner circle includes Marta, unfortunately trapped in her childhood, eternally waiting for her mother to collect her, and with a tendency towards kleptomania; Petitia, who has reluctantly eschewed her dreams of a nursing home marriage but remains cordial; and Rubira, who has given up on family visits and tells Sergio, ‘I gave them my life. And now not even a visit. Life is cruel’, breaking Sergio’s heart. Perhaps she just

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Alborada Online: Cuban Socialism in the Era of Trump and Covid

By |10/March/2021|

Our 11th online event examined Cuba’s impressive response to the global pandemic, which includes sending health workers to several other countries, in the face of intense US hostility.

As the pandemic has plunged the world into crisis, Cuba’s response offers a lesson to other countries. By reacting quickly and decisively, mobilising their extensive public healthcare system and state-owned biotech sector, Cuba has kept contagion and fatalities down and initiated clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine. They have also treated patients and saved lives overseas.

Cuba has achieved this while still subject to illegal economic sanctions imposed by the US and amid intense hostility from the Trump administration.

How has Cuba managed this and what lies behind the Revolution’s enduring strength? What lessons should we draw from Cuba today? Now that Trump finally appears to be on the way out, will the Biden administration attempt to restart Obama’s policy of diplomacy?

Speakers:

Helen Yaffe, economic historian at the University of Glasgow, UK and author of ‘We are Cuba’

Valia Rodriguez, Cuban physician at the University of Aston, UK

Chaired by Ammar Kazmi, political activist

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Argentina’s Long Struggle for Legal Abortion

By |8/March/2021|

After many years of campaigning, Argentina’s feminist movements booked a historic victory when abortion was finally legalised.

In late 2020, Argentina’s senate finally voted for legalising abortion. This historic milestone was made possible by tireless campaigning by feminist, student and community-based social movements but also built on Argentina’s long history of women’s struggles.

Years of feminist campaigning were condensed into that vote. Hundreds of thousands of people at vigils across the country fell completely silent, holding each other’s hands as they waited for the results. When the word ‘approved’ popped up in green on the public screens, a deafening collective cry exploded. Hugs between friends and strangers mixed with tears of joy, hope and relief that the effort had not been in vain. Every woman dressed in the emblematic bright green of the abortion campaign that day was a sister, a companion who felt that victory in her guts.

After 12 hours of discussion in the senate, the law was approved with a much wider margin than anticipated: 38 votes in favour, 29 against and one abstention. The result delighted campaigners, some of whom had been camping outside Argentina’s national congress for two days. As late as the day of the debate, the senators who had declared their positions were evenly split for and against, with four undecided.

Abortion has long been the topic of a public debate between feminists, who have demanded its decriminalisation and legalisation for decades, and conservatives, who refuse to accept it as a right under any circumstances. The bill’s passing has resolved this debate in favour of the many thousands of women who have campaigned tirelessly for years for the legal right to control their own bodies.

A Memory of Resistance

Argentina has a long history of women’s struggles. Although in many cases they did not describe themselves as feminists, their demands and political praxis were nevertheless tightly linked to the foundations of the movement. Today’s feminists drew on those experiences to campaign body and soul for our right to decide. Our ideals of resistance and our demands for rights are not isolated in time but draw on past struggles, especially the period after the last military-civic-ecclesiastical dictatorship, which was marked by social and economic violence.

The memory of the resistance of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo is a fundamental pillar of the revolutionary processes that mark our present. In the middle of the bloodiest dictatorship of our modern history, they courageously demanded the safe return of their disappeared sons and daughters. They did not stop in the face of constant threats and persecution by the de facto government – they organised their militancy, reaffirmed their founding principles and convictions, received training and became undisputed leaders who still tirelessly pursue their human rights work today.

In terms of justice, sovereignty and quality of life, the 90s were disastrous in Argentina. Neoliberalism favoured the richest and brought the rest of us extreme hunger and unemployment. This ended in a terrible social and economic crisis in 2001. During this period, women comrades

Indestructible Podcast #3: Colombia’s Struggle for Peace

By |7/March/2021|

Rodrigo Acuña interviews Mariela Kohon, who worked as an advisor to the FARC before and after the signing of the historic 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian State and the FARC.

Indestructible: Latin America with Rodrigo Acuña is a new podcast from Alborada bringing you monthly discussions with some of the most interesting voices working on and from Latin America.

The podcast is available on Spotify and other podcast streaming websites.

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Please consider supporting the podcast on Patreon.

::: Episode 3:

Colombia’s Struggle for Peace: An Interview with Mariela Kohon

Listen to episode 2 on Audioboom and range of other podcast streaming websites

Click here to go to the Indestructible homepage.

Presented by Alborada contributing editor Rodrigo Acuña

Produced and edited by Pablo Navarrete

Music by Chylez Productions.

Please consider supporting the podcast on Patreon.

Get in touch with the podcast: info [at] alborada [dot] net

 

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