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Vacations in Cuba

July 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Yosuan is a sixteen year old high school student who has a special plan for his summer vacation: beach and reggae. His father is in jail. He got an eighteen-year sentence for killing cows. When his mother can afford to she gives him some hard currency, and then he can go to a high-class discotheque.

“But for sure I will ride a crowded bus toward the beaches to the east of Havana in order to take a dip, go to the movies with my girlfriend, and most important of all, dance reggae in one of those “on the left”*(1) (illegal) parties organized in my neighborhood,” says Yosuan.

In Havana, with the arrival of summer, the number of ‘house’ parties (private) increases, as do the Mettalica or Pop ones. They are improvised in a trice, and always with the desire to make a profit.

Rodney, 35, disc Jockey by experience, rubs his palms together. “Four times a week we put on a party in a friend’s house. We charge 10 pesos per person (0.50 US cents). We sell ham sandwiches, mayonnaise, roast pork, bottles of soda, rum and Parkinsonil*(2) pills so people can get ‘high’. When the party is over, we share between $1,500 and $2,000 pesos (65 to 85 US dollars)”.

Affordable recreational options in the capital city are rare. A nice discotheque charges between 7 and 10 dollars: the bi-weekly salary of an engineer. This is just the entry fee. In order to drink a Daiquiri, Cuba Libre or Ale, you should have more than 20 dollars in your wallet, and don’t even think about cocktails.

It is not easy being a Romeo In Havana. A wad of money is more useful than a pretty face. The pretty boys can only date someone from the army of camouflaged hookers who swarm the city, promising them marriage or a USA visa. After leaving the bar or nightclub, if you weren’t cautious enough to keep 10 convertible pesos to take a taxi, either state or private, you  risking getting home at dawn. The early morning public transportation service is almost nil.

The children of workers and doctors who live without stealing from their jobs, rule out  recreational options in foreign currencies. Better off are the descendants of the generals, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and musicians who travel abroad.

Those who receive dollars from across the puddle can also go to a nightclub. Although the thing is ugly. The crisis has the relatives abroad paddling upstream and making phone calls to their family in Cuba asking them to stretch the dough. People who, last season, were bragging about being spendthrifts, now are counting even the pennies.

This is what happens with Ismael, 40. “In 2010 I could do a full itinerary on children’s facilities. But this year my parents lost their jobs. I had to make cuts. I told my daughter: plays, books, amusement parks, beaches in the outskirts and carry snacks. Everything in national currency.”

Cuba is a country difficult to understand. The roof is falling in on a lot of people. They eat little or poorly, with an excess of carbohydrates and fats. Their breakfast consists of black coffee mixed with peas as a filler.

However, they are able to spend $200 US dollars on buying the latest iPhone sold in the underground market. Diesel jeans or Nike sneakers. Or a five-day stay at the Melia Las Americas in Varadero beach, paying $600 cash.

According to Alberto, manager of an office that offers all-inclusive packages on different circuits in the country, with the arrival of summer the number of domestic tourists is expected to double.

There are no exact figures, but since 2008, when Raul Castro authorized that those born in the island could stay in the foreign currency hotels, hundreds of Cubans have paid a year’s salary to spend three days enjoying the first class tourism facilities.

Despite the stationary economic crisis that Cuba has been living for 22 years, in the months of July and August the number of tourist from our own yard increases. But most people still see the tranquil blue waters of Varadero beach on postcards. Ordinary Cubans will have to settle for watching American films or Brazilian soap operas in the TV.

They are lucky if they go camping. In families where the dollars are slippery, the vacations are a headache. In addition to an extra meal, they drink more water and consume more electricity. And at night, when the boredom is killing them, they want to buy a bottle of rum. And that’s the bad news. There is no money for such luxuries.

For those who live from day-to-day, the main issue is to feed their family; summer vacations become a true torment. Add to this 90 degrees in the shade, and an old Chinese fan that when you need it most, stops running.

Photo: Stuart Kane, Picasa. If you only have 10 Cuban pesos, then you go to ‘copelita’ and ask for ten scoops of ice cream, one Cuban peso per scoop, although the only flavor is strawberry. Like these two young men did, photographed in Bayamo. Wouldn’t it have been better to be served five scoops on each of two plates rather than ten scoops in ten cups? (TQ)

*Translator’s notes:

*(1) In Cuba “on the left” means illegal, as the black market .

*(2) Trihexyphenidyl HCL, is an antiparkinsonian agent. Alcohol may increase drowsiness and dizziness while taking this medication.( Extracted from Wikipedia.)

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Translated by : Adrian Rodriguez.

July 25 2011

The Spaniard Sebastian Martinez will be Judged Monday in Havana

July 18, 2011 Leave a comment

The Spanish businessman Sebastián Martínez Ferraté, charged with corruption of minors, pimping and illegal economic activities, will be judged on Monday July 18 at the Provincial Court of Havana, whose official seat is located on Prado, Teniente and Rey. However, trials in the presence of diplomats and the media are usually held in the 10th of October Municipal Court, on Carmen and Juan Delgado.

On a ward of La Condesa, a special prison for foreigners on the outskirts of the capital. Martinez Ferraté has been waiting for a year for a trial whose verdict is known beforehand.

The prosecution requested 15 years’ imprisonment, maybe reduced to 10 or 5. But it is clear that they will have him pay the bill for having made, or contributing to making, in 2008, a documentary showing the full extent of prostitution, including child prostitution.

It also exposed the corruption existing around prostitution on the island. The documentary was shown on Tele Cinco, a private TV channel in Spain. It was a blockbuster.

And a blow to the Cuban authorities. So they began plotting their revenge. It is known that every year the US State Department places Cuba on the list of countries where child prostitution is practiced. Something that bothers the government a lot. And the Sebastián case served to send a message to the insolent foreign visitors who might dare to show the ugly face of the country.

The documentary might be new for those who support the Castros in Spain. But for a Cuban independent journalist it is more of the same.

What the audio-visual documents continues to happen in Cuba. Each day the prostitutes are younger and almost an industry of prostitution has been erected. I’m not saying the police stand around with their arms crossed, but for every prostitute, pimp or child molester put behind bars, four more appear.

Prostitution is a social phenomenon. Dragged down by poverty, lack of opportunity and the desire to emigrate, a legion of women sell themselves to tourists for two 20-dollar bills.

The government has never offered an estimate of the number of people enrolled in prostitution. But there are thousands. The public knows about the increase in prostitution and pimping, and they mention it under their breath.

What bothers the authorities is that the subject is being put on display by the mainstream media. And with child prostitution being a sensitive issue, the director of a hotel chain in Mallorca prepared a trap for Ferraté Martinez.

According to the writer Ángel Santiesteban in his blog, The Children that Nobody Wanted, through a Cuban “friend” related to Martinez, in July 2010, they had ​​him come to Cuba believing that he would be making a documentary about the hotel business. No sooner did he arrive in Havana then he was arrested and put into jail.

The Spaniard sinned by naiveté. The Cuban government does not forgive certain “offenses.” They punish them. Harshly. Sebastian Martinez joined the list of guinea pigs that serve the Castro regime for negotiating future deals.

He will become a currency of exchange. Like the American Alan Gross or local dissidents. There are a range of options for exchanging Martinez. From a line of credit, asking the Spanish politicians to raise support for the unique position of the EU, up to silence and complicity with the regime in Havana.Or anything else. You can figure it out.

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Translated by Regina Anavy

July 18 2011

Dissident Sonia Garro Detained in Havana

July 17, 2011 2 comments

According to Mercedes Fresneda Castillo, fighter for Afrocuban rights and member of the Ladies in White support group, the community activist and dissident Sonia Garro Alfonso, 35, was detained by the police on Thursday, July 14 at 7 PM.

“I was with her until 6 PM. Hours later, a neighbor telephoned me and told me the police had taken Garro away to an unknown location, along with her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz, also a dissident.  Then I asked around and found out that Sonia is under arrest in the 7th police station in the Havana neighborhood of La Lisa,” said Fresneda.

Previously, Garro had been advised by the intelligence services that they were not going to allow her to carry out the public protests that, along with six other women, she frequently carries out in various Havana locations and plazas.

This past May her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz, played a leading part in a famous incident when he chained himself, machete in hand, on the roof of his house while demanding freedom for Sonia, who was under arrest at the time.  This indignant Cuban still keeps up his rebellious attitude: he goes out in public with one arm in chains.

Garro has been particularly active in the past few months, but without neglecting her community project to help the poor children of her neighborhood, no matter what the political beliefs of their parents may be.

These women’s street protests are considered a serious threat by the State Security forces.  They have been threatened with arrest and trial, particularly Sonia.  In the month of June she complained that the number of the case they have opened against her is 2801/2011.

Sonia Garro as well as Mercedes Fresneda and other women have been reminded by the authorities of what Fidel Castro said in his day, and which has been firmly reiterated by his brother: that in Cuba the street belongs to the revolutionaries.

Photo: Laritza Diversent.  Sona Garro with some of the children from the independent cultural center that operates in her home, on Avenida 47 No. 11638, between 116 and 118, Los Quemados, Marianao.

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Translated by S. Solá

July 17 2011

Cuba, a State in Liquidation Sale

July 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Cuba’s fate will be decided in 10 years. Or less. By that time Fidel Castro, will be 95 years old. If he is still alive then, a nurse will try to feed him with puree or apple compote with a spoon.

His brother Raul, around the same, will turn 90 years old and I don’t think he will have the strength to blow the birthday cake candles. If God’s grace lets them live, they will be two boring grandpas. A piece of Cuban history prostrated in wheelchairs.

In 2021, probably before, those who rule the nation’s destinies would have been adjusting the itinerary on their political sextant. If the ship still being captained by the olive-green entrepreneurs, Cuba will be a mix of a virtual communism and state capitalism enthroned in the principal economic sectors.

Maybe by that time Cuban intelligence will have designed an obedient and nice opposition. And, not to be outdone, they will hold elections every five years. There will be two or three political parties with pompous names that will preach the same, but using different formats.

Of course, the military magnates will have the complete control of the economy and the political life. They will let  private enterprise and will encourage and reward it with lower taxes. And the powerful Cuban-Americans, will be compensated for the expropriated properties during the first years of the revolution.

If by then, the commercial firms such as Bacardi, Fanjul and other millionaires of Cuban origin would prefer to invest and leave aside “those absurd ideas like democracy and human rights,” the doors to doing business in Cuba will be open.

Those annoying political activists and independent journalists who step out of the script will have to  be careful. When a honeymoon with the Florida’s wealthy fellows exists, the embargo will be a relic, and from time to time the United States president will spend his vacation in Varadero, it won’t be necessary to set up political circuses against the dissidents.

The trouble makers will end in a grave. They will be buried three meters under, with a shot in the neck. Like in Mexico or Colombia. Nobody will want to know who killed them.

Cuba is a State in liquidation sale. The subsidies are already being dismantled and the creole mandarins now talk about profits and loss. To work, damn it! It has been said in all assemblies.

On the economy side everything is figured out. The preservation of the planned economy is to appease Fidel Castro, who hates the free market. But there are areas, such as real estate, crude oil extraction or tourism advocating  for mixed enterprises.

Many generals-turned-businessmen, dressed in white guayaberas, will give the welcome speeches at some golf tournaments. The black caddies will return to carry the golf clubs and the cash registers will be ringing with so many stunning greenbacks.

The Mariel seaport will be a goldmine. It will make Miami look small. In the Chinese factories the people will work for two dollars a day. And they will be satisfied. In a State enterprise they would only receive fifty cents of a dollar.

So this, more or less, will be Cuba’s outlook after ten years.

To put in place or not a two-headed system, combining the worst of the capitalism along with the totalitarian society’s repressive brutality, will be left in the hands of a dissidence that must mature and gain political conscience.  Otherwise, they will be blatantly bought with hard currency, in order to get a slice and keep their mouths shut.

The future looks ugly. I may be missing details. But not too many.

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Translated by: Adrian Rodriguez

July 15 2011

Racism a la Cuban(a)*

July 13, 2011 1 comment

When it comes time for sex, black Cuban women don’t feel discriminated against. Rather used. Roxana, 36, an architect, endures with Asian patience the sexual harassment from her white bosses, the gross come-ons, and the outright proposals to go to bed for 20 dollars.

What I have to put up with is incredible. From one boss who undresses me with his eyes and tries to blackmail me with a promotion or a trip abroad in exchange for sleeping with him, to the drunks on the street who offer me money,” says Roxana, while waiting for the bus going her way back home.

Racism in Cuba has several faces. And variations. More or less subtle. Even the forms are more explicit. But when it comes time to “play the tune” (fuck), skin color disappears as if by magic.

Especially if you are a woman. In a quick survey of 14 white men, ten said they wanted to sleep with black and mestizo women, “and if they are hookers, the better.” To the other four, mulatto women, “light skinned mulatto females without bad hair (kinky),” make them horny.

The story changes when it comes to marriage. Of the 14, only 2 would marry a black woman, and maybe 6 with a mulatto female if she were spectacular. “But I prefer to marry a white woman,” says one of those asked.

According to sociologist Edna Ramirez, racism on the island is an authentic Pandora’s box. “Cuban laws sanction discrimination by skin color, but in any society you can not legislate the mind and behavior of people. Always in Cuba there have been borders delimiting black and white. With the coming to power of Fidel Castro, the racial phenomenon apparently decreased due to the participation of blacks and mestizos in the social process that had just begun. Despite being a mestizo nation, where we have always coexisted without serious problems, for 20 years now there have been signs of racism toward blacks. On the part of whites and even mestizos, with higher standards of living or senior positions in companies and government institutions.”

You can see it from a bird’s eye view. Those who live the worst are blacks. Visit the filthy rooming houses of the slums or the huts reinforced with cardboard and aluminum that flourish in several Havana suburbs and you will see that almost all the tenants have dark skin

Of those swelling the island’s prisons, around 90% are black. The most violent and bloody crimes are usually committed by blacks. Youth gangs devoted to robbing occupied houses or assaulting people on the street, to steal their hard currency, an iPhone or a Messi T-shirt, generally are made up of blacks and mulattoes.

At the time of migration there are also differences. Sociologist Ramirez is conducting a comparative study of Cubans living abroad. “And, with few exceptions, blacks earn less and thus send less money to relatives in Cuba. It is an issue with an historical, educational and even political background.”
The government and cultural institutions accept that there is racial discrimination. Among the thorny issues in the history of Cuba in the twentieth century is the armed uprising of the Partido Independiente de Color in several cities in May 1912. 3,000 blacks were lynched, or died fighting. Among those who met the order to appease the rioters with fire and blood was Colonel Francisco José Martí, son of José Martí, the national hero. A hundred years after the events, it’s still an incorrect historiographical approach or it is preferably ignored.
Then, blacks and mulattoes rebelled to demand equality and also to be part of government and institutions. A century later, most key positions are still occupied by whites. To reverse the situation, the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party gave a coat of dark paint to the central committee. According to a Party member, there are guidelines to attract more blacks.
Even the census conducted on the island does not show the exact number of blacks and mestizos. “When it comes time to check the box for race, many mestizos declared themselves white in the census. It was optional, “says Daniel who worked on the development of the last Population and Housing Census in 2002.

The Census showed that 65% of Cubans are white, 24.9% mestizo and 10.1% blacks. But when you walk through the streets, will notice that the number of black Cubans and mulattoes are significantly higher than the official data.

Not even the dissidence is saved from racist attitudes. Sonia Garro, opponent since 2007, and who performs an outstanding community work with poor children in the neighborhood of Marianao where she lives and often along with other women go to the streets of Havana to protest, suffers it firsthand.
The night of her graduation as a nursing technician had to endure the humiliation of being separated from a group photo by a leader at the time to pick her diploma. “Don’t be upset, is that those of race don’t look good in the pictures,” he said. “Such was the shame I felt I didn’t even want to collect my diploma. I cried uncontrollably, “recalls Garro. Now, being a high caliber opponent, she still has to swallow bitter pills because of her colored skin.
“The officers of State Security themselves who utter racial slurs do not understand that a black woman can be a dissident. Even worst, is that there are groups within the dissidence where they ignore you and don’t pay any attention to your projects or actions, because of pure racism, says Sonia.

The race issue in Cuba is a real time bomb. The state looks the other way and attempts to minimize the issue. Meanwhile, white guys still crave black and mulatto women to lay with them in bed.

* Translator’s note: In Spanish the letter A after a noun indicates feminine, therefore cubana is a Cuban female.

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July 10 2011

Who Benefits From the Cuban Embargo?

July 12, 2011 3 comments

What I always admired about the United State policies is their pragmatism. It has an unmistakable capacity to dump in the trash can the strategies that don’t work. And to overcome the errors.

But regarding the Cuban embargo, the Americans show a notable stupidity. Let’s see it from its supporters’ angle. Its advocates think that if the United States lifts it, Castro and his olive green entrepreneurs, will be lining up their pockets with dollars.

They will keep on governing for decades. So the democrats and the human rights activists on the island will continue to be harassed or beaten by the mobs egged by the political police. With the embargo, they say, the United States tries to asphyxiate the regime, promote people’s discontent and provoke the angry Cubans to start a protest on the Havana waterfront.

But neither one thing nor the other happened. In 52 years, the common people didn’t throw themselves on the streets. Or maybe. On August 5, 1994, not to change the status quo, but to make Castro open the gate and to throw themselves into the sea heading to Florida using any floating object.

Of course, the embargo is pure gold for Castro’s propaganda. According to the official media, the Cuban economy is walking with crutches because of the “blockade’s” effects. I don’t think so.

The reality is that the system adopted by the brothers from Biran doesn’t work. All the ill conceived authoritarian ideas, where several essential human rights are suppressed, didn’t take off coherently in any nation.

Only under the boots and the tackling of the secret services is the system maintained. Actually, the commercial embargo affects common citizens. Sufferers of cancer or AIDS cannot afford the latest generation medicine patented in the United States. A regular Cuban can not make bank transactions with United States based branches.

Cuban Americans and foreign tourists can not use American credit cards. The trite excuse used by the embargo supporters, that if it didn’t exist the Castros would be a kind of rich guys, falls by itself.

Long ago, the Castros became the McDucks. I don’t think that the embargo’s toughening will turn them into panhandlers. The embargo is an authentic mirrors game. Its defenders didn’t achieve nothing. The authoritarianism and the lack of freedom continues. 

Of course, the ones who blame the embargo for all the misfortunes that have been happening are also lying. Cuba’s bad situation is the fault of the government. And if you decide to visit Havana, with hard currency, you can buy Coca-Cola, Dell computers and Motorola mobile phones.

Ninety-five percent of State computers use Windows programs. The buses running on the Cuban streets have General Motors components. The foreign currency pharmacies sell American antibiotics and Johnson and Johnson syrups.

The embargo is a real sieve. It has more holes than a Swiss cheese. Add the fact that the United States is one of the Cuba’s main food providers .

Through donations to the island, previous generation medicines and antibiotics come to the island. More than a billion dollars annually are received through remittances. And another billion dollars in equipment, electric appliances and shoddy textiles, sent by Cubans living overseas.

What embargo are we talking about then? A policy or a rule is efficient if it works. But the Cuban embargo has not been working. In addition, it is not politically profitable.

Every year, a majority of countries vote against it in the UN, and for the record, many of the countries condemning the embargo are also critics of the island dictatorship. When the president of the United States decides to abolish the embargo, he will put the Havana regime against the wall.

Because the Cuban economy will still be a disaster. The people won’t live better. Nor will the pantries will be replenished with food. But there will be no excuses or emotional fuel to harangue the masses. The people governing will be naked to the world’s public eye. And therefore will be forced to change.

Who benefits from the Cuban embargo? Fidel and Raul Castro. No one else.

Photo : In his blog the HoboTraveler, the journalist Andy Graham wrote that on Saturday December 6, 2009 he went with two Norwegians to the Jazz Café of the Gallery Paseo, a mall located at Paseo and Malecon, Vedado. Once in the interior, after paying 10 convertible pesos to enter, he asked for a Coca-Cola and they brought a 355 ml can of Coke which he decided to photograph, surprised that in Cuba they were selling the soft drink — a symbol of the USA. In his blog he also posted the picture of the back of the can, where you can see it is a Mexican coke (Tania Quintero)

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 Translated by Adrian Rodriguez

July 12 2011

Cuban State Responsible for Scarcity of Agricultural, Meat Products

July 11, 2011 2 comments

Serafín, 69, never had toys.  For his 8th birthday the gifts from his father were a pick and hoe.  He woke him at 5 AM and they went to work in a row of onions.  He told him, “If you want your children and grandchildren to have toys, you will have to get it out of the earth.  Mother earth will give you your present and your future.  There is no other option.” And that is how it has been for over five decades.

A descendant of immigrants from the Canary Islands, strong as a ceiba tree and with the blood pressure of a young man of 20, Serafïn is the owner of a small farm in the province of Sancti Spiritus, 300 kilometers east of Havana.

To get to his farm one must walk a long way and then cross the Zaza community dam, which looks like an inland sea, go along a dusty road where the invasive marabou weed and greenery stretch as far as the horizon and, after crossing a puddle somewhat dried up by the drought, reach a small village of poor people who eat little and poorly but who drink a lot of rum.  Just behind the little village is Serafïn’s farm.

In its good days it had dozens of fruit trees and 120 cows.  Fertile land that produced hundreds of hundred-pound sacks of onions, rice, greens and vegetables.

Old Serafïn and his children and grandchildren still live on the land.  But the agricultural policies of the government do not inspire them to work. “Look, Acopio (a state-owned company) pays only two pesos and 80 centavos for a kilo of onions.  And the people at the market buy them at 10 pesos a pound.  In 2008, after President Raúl Castro began to pay three pesos a liter in order to stimulate milk production, I delivered almost a thousand liters a day.  Things were not going bad for me.  But in November of last year they raised the cost of a kilowatt from 0.75 to 1.30 an hour.  And from the 2,500 pesos (100 dollars) I used to pay a month for electricity I now pay almost 10,000 pesos (400 dollars), which raises my cost of milk and agricultural production,” the farmer says while smoking a hand-rolled cigar.

According to Serafín, the government gives them supplies at non-subsidized prices. “They sell us a gallon of gas for 6 dollars.  And the seeds and work tools are very expensive.  Due to the drought, my family has had to make investments and buy pumps to extract water from wells and reservoirs, which makes our use of electricity skyrocket.  If you add to this the fact that 80% of our production is sold to the government at laughable prices, you can understand why there is so much empty land full of blight and marabou weed.”

Serafín says that for a while he preferred to sell the cows to the government instead of using them for milk production. “The last straw,” says Augusto, Serafín’s youngest son, “is that at times we have to steal our own crops”.  And when the inspector comes they claim that the crops were stolen (robbery has become a daily occurrence in the Cuban countryside), in order to have a little extra food for selling in the farmers markets where the law of supply and demand is in effect.

“The government forces you to lie and fix the figures.  I think that not even the old feudal owners demanded they be given such a high percentage of products.  In countries that are agricultural powerhouses like the United States, the government subsidizes the farmers.  This is logical, since you don’t fool around with agriculture when you have to feed 300 million people, in addition to exporting food for 2 billion more all over the planet,” comments Serafín, a guajiro who likes to read and keep himself informed.

For him, if the regime really wants to fill family tables with vegetables, fruit and pork and for people to have coffee with milk for breakfast, it should create a law under which the State is not sold more than 15 or 20% of production.

“Laws that give you a guarantee.  No regulations or orientations, that are exchanged for others according to its convenience.  I do not know any small landholder that is not upset with the government.  That is why when people travel around the island they see kilometers and kilometers of land that is not being cultivated.  Nobody wants to work the land.  There is very little stimulus,” says Serafín.

Before 1959, he remembers, Cuba had more than enough fruits and vegetables and even exported them.  “But for that to happen, the government must change its abusive methods. The main responsibility for the scarcity of agricultural and cattle products is the Cuban government,” he states.  That simple.

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Translated by S. Solá

June 25 2011

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