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Views from the South: Peaceful Alternatives to the War in Colombia.

This is a publication of the American Friends Service Committee.

Current media coverage of Colombia flashes headlines about the drug trade and the violence perpetrated by leftist guerrilla organizations, the Colombian armed forces, and their collaborating paramilitary groups. Rarely do these periodic reports go beyond this portrayal, nor do they highlight the deeprooted economic, social, and political causes of the more than 40-year civil war, which predates the emergence of drug trafficking and the various armed factions. Also not mentioned are the economic interests, such as the need for oil and other natural resources, that are part of the United States' motive for its escalating involvement in Colombia.

What generates even less media coverage is Colombia's peace movement, which includes national peace, human rights, and church organizations, as well as local grassroots groups that offer peaceful solutions to the conflict. Within this movement, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities are at work as protagonists for peace.

Current media coverage of Colombia flashes headlines about the drug trade and the violence perpetrated by leftist guerrilla organizations, the Colombian armed forces, and their collaborating paramilitary groups. Rarely do these periodic reports go beyond this port rayal, nor do they highlight the deep-rooted economic, social, and political causes of the more than 40-year civil war, which predates the emergence of drug trafficking and the various armed factions. Also not mentioned are the economic interests, such as the need for oil and other natural resources, that are part of the United States' motive for its escalating involvement in Colombia.

What generates even less media coverage is Colombia's peace movement, which includes national peace, human rights, and church organizations, as well as local grassroots groups that offer peaceful solutions to the conflict. Within this movement, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities are at work as protagonists for peace.

Nonviolence as a way of life

Today in Colombia, many indigenous groups and Afro-Colombians practice nonviolence as a way of life, even in the face of crisis. This is not new and in fact is grounded in their cultural identity and traditions, which stipulate that they remain neutral toward all armed parties and offer peaceful alternatives to conflict.

The fact that Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples work to open the way for peace is significant because much of the armed conflict in Colombia takes place in areas they inhabit. As a result, they confront the violence in their day-to-day lives.

These territories, over which Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities have legal collective titles, are rich in resources. Paramilitaries, guerrillas, and the Colombian armed forces fight to control these lands and the natural wealth they contain. The ethnic minorities who live in these territories bear the brunt of the conflict. They are"”and have been"” killed, forcefully recruited by the armed actors, or displaced from their lands.

Disproportionate percentages of Colombia's internally displaced population, as well as victims of other abuses, belong to these minority groups. The conflict aggravates the already precarious living conditions of Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups, who have experienced a history of racial discrimination and socio-economic abandonment by the Colombian state.

Yet, through it all, Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities continue to believe in peace instead of vengeance. These groups define themselves as "communities in resistance," a term that differentiates them from other peace communities in Colombia, such as San Jose de Apartadó and Cacaricá, since it refers not only to the current situation but also to their historic efforts against social and racial marginalization. The communities of resistance remain neutral in the face of the ongoing violence and social hardships. They struggle to protect their territory and livelihoods and develop themselves as a community. For these groups, their belief in nonviolence is not just a tactic but comes from who they are.

Cauca Province

"Those who suffer the most from the conflict are civilians: the peasants in rural towns, the internally displaced in the cities, and all those who search for peace and the well-being of their people. In my community we have suffered greatly, yet despite this we have never taken up arms. We have been communities in resistance for 500 years. We are indigenous and we do not want to fight or take sides, we only want to live in our territory as a community.

"However, although we resist war, we are always accused of belonging to one side or other of the conflict. Guerrillas accuse us of being paramilitaries, and paramilitaries accuse us of being guerrillas. For example, when guerrilla groups came through our community, they forced me to give them food. Soon afterwards, paramilitaries came through and killed my son, supposedly because I supported the guerrillas. Paramilitaries then stayed in my house; two weeks later the guerrillas came back and killed my other son because I supposedly supported paramilitaries. Now I only have one son and no food, because both parties ate my crops. I cannot leave my town because the military is controlling the entrance and exit of people. The military says they are not going to let us leave for fear that we will go and get supplies for the guerrilla. Although our community has prepared in advance for this crisis by storing food, we do not know how long we will be able to survive like this." "”An indigenous leader

The southwestern province of Cauca marks the beginning of Colombia's Andean region. Both Afro-Colombian and indigenous groups live here, with particularly high numbers of the latter. (The Cauca province has the largest indigenous population in Colombia"”a quarter of the region's million inhabitants are indigenous.) Most of these populations live in extreme poverty, as they have since colonial times.

Cauca is the birthplace of Colombia's most vigorous and oldest indigenous rights movement. The movement strengthens the communities' ability to address their disputes with the Colombian state and the economic interests of landholders, as well as territorial fights among armed groups.

Indigenous communities respond to these situations by peacefully exercising their right to protect their territory and autonomy. These groups publicly express their refusal to side with any armed faction, identifying themselves as "communities in resistance" that only want to govern their territories in peace based on their culture and using diverse and creative strategies.

The strength to resist comes from their concept of planes de vida, or life plans. The premise is that all actions are connected to the well-being, or life, of indigenous communities, and that all activities must help protect indigenous culture. This involves controlling and protecting the land and its resources, asserting their economic, social, and cultural rights in order to strengthen their autonomy and traditions, and abstaining from all violence, since it goes against the well-being of indigenous peoples.

One recent initiative of the Cauca province's indigenous population is the use of the Indigenous Guard, a nonviolent, unarmed organized group that helps protect the indigenous peoples of the region. More than 1,000 community members of both sexes and all ages have volunteered for the Guard. They are trained in highly disciplined, nonviolent security procedures to defend their people and land. The Guard is used at events and assemblies within the indigenous communities. Often, in times of conflict, the Guard sets up 24-hour patrols. The Guard also enforces self-imposed restrictions on carrying weapons, and rejects the intrusion of armed factions into indigenous territories or any form of support for armed groups.

In 2001, the Guard successfully secured indigenous territories by fending off attacks and aggression from armed factions.

Pacific Coast

"During the time of slavery, many Afro-Colombians fled to the Pacific Coast to save their lives and to defend themselves from enslavement. There they formed "palenques" (Afro communities of resistance) which exist up until today. In these areas they sowed plots of land with the seeds brought by women, which they hid in their hair before leaving the plantations. I did not know what this was like until the day that my family and entire com- munity had to flee from the combat between guerrillas and paramilitaries, who are "cousins" to the Colombian military. We had to hide and, after searching for a long time, we finally found a hole in a mountain, where my family and some of our neighbor's children hid. We found salt and other objects that belonged to our ancestors, which they had left since their escapes from slavery.

"After the fighting, we returned to our homes, only to find everything in pieces. Suddenly, the military came and accused us of being guerrillas because we survived the attack. We have never belonged to the guerrillas, we have always been neutral and that is how we have survived; for other communities, the same cannot be said. Although we explained to the military what happened, they did not believe us and began to shoot indiscriminately. I do not know how, but fortunately I managed to escape, but all my family died. I managed to get to a city and found some friends who had been displaced by a massacre in a neighboring community. They helped me, but I cannot return to my land, and I am alone and without family. I have no work and I have had to do very hard jobs, and still I do not have enough to survive. My mother was right when she said that slavery would return when her sons lost their land. " "”An Afro-Colombian leader

Afro-Colombians form the majority population of the country's rainforest-covered Pacific Coast. According to the Colombian government, the provinces along the Pacific Coast are among the poorest in the country. Largely dependent on fishing, hunting, and traditional farming, the Pacific Afro-Colombian population is socially marginalized and lives in isolated pockets of poverty within the region's dense jungle, primarily along the region's r iver systems. For Afro-Colombians, using traditional methods to sow and cultivate the land keeps them connected to it. Holding onto and protecting seeds is vital to preserving this connection.

Afro-Colombians along the Pacific Coast have been repeatedly threatened by every armed faction, primarily due to the region's abundant natural resources and geo-strategic location. Situated below the Panama isthmus and home to Buenaventura, Colombia's main port on the Pacific Ocean, this region is a prime location for commercial interests. The mineral rich area is home to large-scale infrastructure, mining, forestry and hydro-electric projects. The Pacific region is thus a prime example of the economics underlying of the Colombian conflict. The area has become a site of territorial disputes between the armed actors, and both paramilitaries and Colombian armed forces remove people from the land to make way for development projects.

Many Afro-Colombian communities in this area do not want to leave their homes nor do they want to get dragged into the fighting. These groups call themselves "communities in resistance." They remain neutral in the face of armed conflict by declaring their autonomy vis-à-vis the armed groups. In their struggle to be left out of the fighting, they have held dialogues with guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the Colombian armed forces. Unfortunately, these communities continue to be caught in the crossfire, and many community members leave their lands to become part of the 2.5 million internally displaced Colombians. Some also leave temporarily and return to sow the land with seeds they have kept in an effort to prevent the war from destroying their livelihoods, communities, and cultures.

The current situation in Colombia and U.S. involvement

Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities of resistance are endangered because of the recent escalation of the Colombian conflict. Much of this increased vulnerability is due to the unprecedented amount of military aid the U. S. government has given to the Colombian armed forces, first to fight the "drug war" and more recently to counter terrorist threats to U. S. national security.

Since 2000, a large portion of U. S. military aid to Colombia has supported a "push into southern Colombia" for anti-narcotics and counter-insurgency efforts, primarily in the southern border province of Putumayo. This has had a ripple effect on Putumayo's surrounding areas such as Colombia's southwest and Pacific regions, where armed factions have dramatically increased their activities. Both areas have large populations of indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians. Thus, the U. S. military aid package has worsened the already precarious economic, social, and political status of indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups, as well as the entire nation.

In 2002, the situation in Colombia took a turn for the worse. The four-year-old peace process between the government and the largest guerrilla group in the country, the FARC ( Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), collapsed. Furthermore, President Pastrana was succeeded by Álvaro Uribe Vélez, a hard-line candidate favored by the paramilitaries. There has been an increase in the scope of action by paramilitary forces, whose human rights violations and massacres are made possible by the military's implicit blessing. In addition, throughout Colombia there has been a drastic increase in military operations by guerrilla forces, who operate with little respect for conventions of international humanitarian law.

While President Uribe has requested help from the United Nations in mediating peace talks between the Colombian government and the guerrillas, no cease-fire has taken place. Concomitant to his proposal for negotiated peace, Uribe is strengthening the Colombian counter-insurgency operations, in large part through U. S. financing, and is implementing war-like policies that further jeopardizes the lives of the civilian population.

Both the current political situation in Colombia and the military backing from the Untied States will likely lead to a further escalation of the Colombian conflict, thus affecting the peaceful work of Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups.

American Friends Service Committee: Supporting Peace in Colombia

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has taken a multifaceted approach to its work for peace in Colombia.

For one, the AFSC is working with and supporting peace communities on the Pacific Coast of Colombia, primarily Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities in southwest Putumayo. To date, the AFSC is the only international organization maintaining a presence in the region. AFSC offers training in methods of peaceful resistance, helps people develop strategies to keep their children from being recruited as combatants, provides material aid so people do not have to leave their homes, and provides material and human rights assistance to those who are displaced or seek refuge in neighboring countries.

At the same time, in the United States, the AFSC uses a variety of methods to inform the U. S. public about the peace communities, develops material assistance campaigns, invites members of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities to the United States to speak about their peacemaking efforts, and presses the U. S. gov - ernment to support a peaceful, negotiated solution to the conflict in Colombia.

What you can do to support peace in Colombia

Decisions and policies of the U. S. government toward Colombia are critical and can continue to fuel the fires of war"”or they can be a positive force for peace. Here are a few ideas of what you can do help restore peace in Colombia:

  • Continue to educate yourself about the peace efforts of Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples.
  • Write letters to newspaper, television, and radio program editors and ask them to cover the peace efforts of the Colombian people.
  • Write to your government representatives and request that they end U. S. military aid to Colombia and replace it with assistance for alternative development and support for a peaceful solution to the conflict.
  • Stay in touch with the American Friends Service Committee and receive more information on Colombia.
  • Consult our website at: http://www.afsc.org/latinamerica/peace/Default.htm


http://www.lawg.org/docs/afsc-colombia.pdf

"La vida te da sorpresas... Sorpresas te da la vida..., ¡Ay, Dios!"    Rubén Blades---Pedro Navaja   

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Afro-Colombians and the Conflict

Why You Should Care

Twenty-five percent of Colombia's population is officially recognized as African descendants, while unofficial statistics indicate that as many as 40% of the country trace their roots to Africa. Their ancestors lived as slaves in Colombia between the early 16th century and the abolition of slavery in 1851. The efforts of organized Afro-Colombians led to the recognition of certain cultural and land rights in the constitution of 1991, though they continue to face racial discrimination. Today 80% of Afro-Colombians live in poverty, and the majority reside in urban areas.

Afro-Colombians are disproportionately affected by the violence of the country's 40-year armed conflict. They have been targeted by the left-wing guerrillas, as well as the illegal right-wing paramilitaries that are rarely pursued by and sometimes supported by government forces.

The UN reports that approximately 40% of the two million Colombians forcefully displaced from their homes since 1985 are black. Many are displaced from the 90% Afro-Colombian province of Chocó on the Pacific coast. Displaced Afro-Colombians from both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts swell urban slums such as the Nelson Mandela Barrio on the edge of Cartagena, the popular tourist destination. These victims not only face violence and difficult living conditions, but they often lose their traditional lands to drug traffickers, ranchers, the logging industry and others.

All of the 119 victims of the Bojayá massacre were Afro-Colombians. On the banks of the Atrato River in Chocó, Bojayá was the scene of intense combat between FARC guerrillas and paramilitaries on May 2, 2002. The FARC were responsible for the death of 119 civilians when they misfired a makeshift bomb into a church where villagers sought refuge from the battle. The actions of the FARC and paramilitaries in Bojayá, are deplorable. In addition, the actions of the Colombian military are suspect. A UN investigation indicates that the Colombian military knowingly allowed the paramilitaries to travel to Bojayá.

Afro-Colombians continue to peacefully organize in the midst of conflict. Organizations such as AFRODES, the Atrato Peasant Association (ACIA) and Black Community Process (PCN) seek to defend Afro-

Colombians' rights, while Peace Communities such as Cacarica refuse the presence of any illegal armed actors in their territory. These Afro-Colombian leaders and communities regularly face violence and intimidation, often relying on the political support of the international community to protect them. Prominent Afro-Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba was kidnapped and held for 15 days by paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño in 1999 and on January 20, 2003 she narrowly escaped an apparent assassination attempt. Others also face persecution, such as the recent slander charge against Father Jesús Albeiro Parra who made statements about the army's failure to act at Bojayá.

Though members of the U.S. Congress, particularly the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), have taken steps to support Afro-Colombians, further efforts are necessary. In the report that accompanied the 2003 Foreign Operation Appropriations bill, the House Appropriations Committee expressed concern that U.S. assistance inadequately addresses the needs of Afro-Colombians and urged USAID to provide additional funding to programs that benefit Afro-Colombians.


Prepared by the US Office on Colombia.
For additional information on Afro-Colombians, the armed conflict or U.S. policy, please contact Peter Clark at peter_clark@usofficeoncolombia.org or 202-232-8090.


http://www.colombiamobilization.org/article.php?id=96


"La vida te da sorpresas...
Sorpresas te da la vida...,
¡Ay, Dios!"

   Rubén Blades---Pedro Navaja   


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I think I touched on this briefly before a while back Ricardomath. Thanks for posting these in-depth reports about the ongoing civil war in Columbia. I remember reading about the demilitarized zone being opened up for combat again about 2000/2001. That's when I started hearing about the Afro-Columbians in that country and their plight.
I think that they have a right to defend themselves just like anyone else. I'm wondering if this is a war for the country or just against the black Columbians? I'd like to hear more on this story.

Our people have made the mistake of confusing the methods with the objectives. As long as we agree on objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we believe in different methods, or tactics, or strategy. We have to keep in mind at all times that we are not fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as free humans in this society
Malcolm X, 1965
quote:
Originally posted by James Wesley Chester:
This jogs my memory to something I read about Columbians of African ancestry being "relegated" to the northwest of the country. And that most of that portion of the country somehow became Panama.

Is that true? Don't make me search the "net."




I wish that I had more time to read up on Colombian history. I do know that Panama was once a part of Colombia. And that US interest in building a canal was a factor in Panama's independence from Colombia. Here's a page from a history of Panama that describes the seperation:

quote:
Panama

The 1903 Treaty and Qualified Independence

Naval operations during the Spanish-American War (1898-1901) served to convince President Theodore Roosevelt that the United States needed to control a canal somewhere in the Western Hemisphere. This interest culminated in the Spooner Bill of June 29, 1902, providing for a canal through the isthmus of Panama, and the Hay-Herrán Treaty of January 22, 1903, under which Colombia gave consent to such a project in the form of a 100-year lease on an area 10 kilometers wide. This treaty, however, was not ratified in Bogotá, and the United States, determined to construct a canal across the isthmus, intensively encouraged the Panamanian separatist movement.

By July 1903, when the course of internal Colombian opposition to the Hay-Herrán Treaty became obvious, a revolutionary junta had been created in Panama. José Augustin Arango, an attorney for the Panama Railroad Company, headed the junta. Manuel Amador Guerrero and Carlos C. Arosemena served on the junta from the start, and five other members, all from prominent Panamanian families, were added. Arango was considered the brains of the revolution, and Amador was the junta's active leader.

With financial assistance arranged by Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a French national representing the interests of de Lesseps's company, the native Panamanian leaders conspired to take advantage of United States interest in a new regime on the isthmus. In October and November 1903, the revolutionary junta, with the protection of United States naval forces, carried out a successful uprising against the Colombian government. Acting, paradoxically, under the Bidlack-Mallarino Treaty of 1846 between the United States and Colombia--which provided that United States forces could intervene in the event of disorder on the isthmus to guarantee Colombian sovereignty and open transit across the isthmus --the United States prevented a Colombian force from moving across the isthmus to Panama City to suppress the insurrection.

President Roosevelt recognized the new Panamanian junta as the de facto government on November 6, 1903; de jure recognition came on November 13. Five days later Bunau-Varilla, as the diplomatic representative of Panama (a role he had purchased through financial assistance to the rebels) concluded the Isthmian Canal Convention with Secretary of State John Hay in Washington. Bunau-Varilla had not lived in Panama for seventeen years before the incident, and he never returned. Nevertheless, while residing in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, he wrote the Panamanian declaration of independence and constitution and designed the Panamanian flag. Isthmian patriots particularly resented the haste with which BunauVarilla concluded the treaty, an effort partially designed to preclude any objections an arriving Panamanian delegation might raise. Nonetheless, the Panamanians, having no apparent alternative, ratified the treaty on December 2, and approval by the United States Senate came on February 23, 1904.

The rights granted to the United States in the so-called HayBunau -Varilla Treaty were extensive. They included a grant "in perpetuity of the use, occupation, and control" of a sixteenkilometer -wide strip of territory and extensions of three nautical miles into the sea from each terminal "for the construction, maintenance, operation, sanitation, and protection" of an isthmian canal.

Furthermore, the United States was entitled to acquire additional areas of land or water necessary for canal operations and held the option of exercising eminent domain in Panama City. Within this territory Washington gained "all the rights, power, and authority . . . which the United States would possess and exercise if it were the sovereign . . . to the entire exclusion" of Panama.

The Republic of Panama became a de facto protectorate of the larger country through two provisions whereby the United States guaranteed the independence of Panama and received in return the right to intervene in Panama's domestic affairs. For the rights it obtained, the United States was to pay the sum of US$10 million and an annuity, beginning 9 years after ratification, of US$250,000 in gold coin. The United States also purchased the rights and properties of the French canal company for US$40 million.

Colombia was the harshest critic of United States policy at the time. A reconciliatory treaty with the United States providing an indemnity of US$25 million was finally concluded between these two countries in 1921. Ironically, however, friction resulting from the events of 1903 was greatest between the United States and Panama. Major disagreements arose concerning the rights granted to the United States by the treaty of 1903 and the Panamanian constitution of 1904. The United States government subsequently interpreted these rights to mean that the United States could exercise complete sovereignty over all matters in the Canal Zone. Panama, although admitting that the clauses were vague and obscure, later held that the original concession of authority related only to the construction, operation, and defense of the canal and that rights and privileges not necessary to these functions had never been relinquished.




"La vida te da sorpresas...
Sorpresas te da la vida...,
¡Ay, Dios!"

   Rubén Blades---Pedro Navaja   


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Cauca, Colombia



[This message was edited by ricardomath on September 05, 2003 at 04:32 PM.]
quote:
Originally posted by Yssys:
I think I touched on this briefly before a while back Ricardomath. Thanks for posting these in-depth reports about the ongoing civil war in Columbia. I remember reading about the demilitarized zone being opened up for combat again about 2000/2001. That's when I started hearing about the Afro-Columbians in that country and their plight.
I think that they have a right to defend themselves just like anyone else. I'm wondering if this is a war for the country or just against the black Columbians? I'd like to hear more on this story.



We were in Colombia when former President Pastrana announced that the government was going to cut off negotiations and take back the zona de distensión. I watched the rather dramatic speech that he gave when the 3 day countdown began. (According to the agreement, if either side wanted to void the agreement, they would have to give 3 days notice, during which time FARC would voluntarily leave the zone, in order to ensure an orderly withdrawal of FARC from the zone without fighting, and avoid civilian casualties.) It was 2 days before our return flight to the US. (We were visiting my wife's family for 3 weeks for Christmass Vacation.)

Over the next two days, FARC started making preperations to withdraw and in fact started the withdrawal. As our flight took off, I read accounts in the newspaper about government fources approaching the zone. By the time that we got home, the government and FARC had reached an 11th hour agreement to continue negotiations.

A few months later the government announced that they would cut off negotiations and immediately started bombing the area (about the size of switzerland), in violation of the agreement to give 3 days notice.

Most commentators agree that there will eventually will be negotiations again at some point, and the only question is how much killing and suffering will occure until that happens.

Cease fire aggreements have been reached between the government and Farc in the past, notably in the mid 1980s, when FARC was allowed to enter the political process under an affiliated legal political party called the Patriotic Union (UP). Unfortunately, the rightwing paramilitary death squads affiliated with the government took advantage of the situation to assassinate about 3000 Patriotic Union candidates for political office, and the accord collapsed.


"La vida te da sorpresas...
Sorpresas te da la vida...,
¡Ay, Dios!"

   Rubén Blades---Pedro Navaja   


Plowshares Actions
The Nuclear Resister
School of the Americas Watch


Cauca, Colombia


Uh, what exactly did you have a problem with Mr. Chester? Was it good battles for the mercs down there? You have a problem with me making a small military insight?

Was it that I found something amusingly ironic over the racialization of Colombia's Civil War? Because I do find it amusingly ironic that where once I would have blinded myself to any race issue, I am now fully accepting it.

So tell me exactly why your attacking me Mr. Chester?
Basically, poor people in general, and blacks and indigeonous people in particular, are caught in the crossfire between the warring factions.

Unfortunately, civilians are often considered military targets.

The massacres have caused massive internal displacements of people. (One statistic that I heard is that there are more internal refuges in Colombia that there have ever been in Kosovo and East Timor combined. Since many do not cross international boundries, they are not officially considered refuges.)

Just a couple of years ago, in my wife's city of Palmira, there were over several thousands of families fleeing the violence in the surrounding area, living for several months in sports stadiums, parks, etc of the city. People in Palmira try to help as best that they can, bringing food, supplies, letting families stay in their homes, etc, but it was a very difficult situation.


"La vida te da sorpresas...
Sorpresas te da la vida...,
¡Ay, Dios!"

   Rubén Blades---Pedro Navaja   


Plowshares Actions
The Nuclear Resister
School of the Americas Watch


Cauca, Colombia

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