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Report to Member Organizations Print E-mail


Isaac Saney, National Spokesperson, October 10, 2010

Since the Convention all kinds of great developments have taken place and more are planned for the months to come.  The 29th International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association was held in Toronto from October 6-9, with the participation of a large Cuban delegation (the second largest) of 74 scholars. On October 8, the Canadian Cuban Friendship Association-Toronto hosted a reception for the Cuban delegation. The highlight of the reception was the Canadian launch of Fidel Castro's book La victoria estrategica (The Strategic Victory).
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Reply to Globe and Mail Editorial Print E-mail

"A New, Risky Cuban Revolution"
Isaac Saney

To: Editors, The Globe and Mail

Re: Your editorial "A new, risky Cuban revolution" (September 20).

The announcement of the new Cuban economic measures did not come as a surprise to any serious journalist or observer. In July 2007 a nation-wide consultation and debate (a frequent practice in Cuba) was initiated on the Cuban economy. The planned restructuring of the state sector has been discussed by all the trade unions and mass organizations, in the newspapers, on radio and television. Workers have themselves decided that the measures are necessary to strengthen Cuba's economy upon which they depend for their living, and how they will be implemented. A substantial number of the 500,000 affected workers are to be absorbed into the non-state sector while a considerable number are being offered alternative state employment opportunities. Many will continue in their current jobs either working for themselves or in cooperatives.

This is not the shock therapy used in eastern Europe or demanded by the World Bank and IMF in developing countries. The new arrangements are being phased in and no one is being abandoned or left to fend for themselves. All the social guarantees remain in force. The aim of the restructuring is to strengthen social programs, not privatize nor dismantle, them. This includes universal free health care and education, subsidized utilities, a subsidized food ration and controlled prices; mortgage payments pegged at 10 percent of the highest income earned in the household (more than 80% of Cubans own their own homes).

For any country to try to overcome the worldwide economic crisis in a manner that favours its people, not the global monopolies, would be no small feat. This is all the more true for a country like Cuba which is subjected to a brutal all-sided commercial, trade and financial embargo from the United States, with extra territorial consequences which even affect Canadian businesses which trade or would like to trade with Cuba.

Many Canadians admire the Cuban people's unrelenting defence of their sovereignty in the face of tremendous odds. The changes your editorial misrepresents may be new, but they are not risky in the sense that the Cubans are not gamblers. They closed down all the mafia-run casinos more than 50 years ago and ended that regime, which permitted the impoverishment of the majority of the people and the corruption of all of Cuban life.

If measures which defend this are a risk, we can confidently say that for fifty years the Cubans have shown themselves capable of meeting the challenges they take up.

Isaac Saney
Spokesperson, Canadian Network On Cuba
Faculty member, College of Continuing Education, Dalhousie University & Department of History, Saint Mary's University
Tel.: 902-494-1531 (office)
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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A new, risky Cuban revolution - Globe and Mail Editorial, September 20, 2010

The Cuban government’s surprise announcement this week that it is laying off 500,000 state employees – about 10 per cent of the state sector – shows the desperate state of the economy. Free-market reforms are long overdue in the Caribbean island, one of the last bastions of Soviet-style Communism. But to expect state employees, especially the least enterprising, to succeed in the private sector is politically risky.

By 2011, the government will lay off workers from every government sector, selecting those who are least productive. These workers will then be expected to form private co-operatives, find jobs at foreign-run companies or set up their own small businesses. The government helpfully suggests a list of possibilities, including raising rabbits, making bricks, driving a taxi and organizing parties. Cubans who are not made redundant will face a new salary structure that rewards productivity.

This is the most significant economic shift since the 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union forced Cuba to legalize use of the U.S. dollar, and allow people to operate restaurants in their homes, initiatives that were scaled back once the economy improved.

This development, however, appears to be longer-term. It will allow the government to rid itself of unproductive workers, and indicates that Cuba is ready to move in the direction of a more “marketized economy,” says Arch Ritter, an expert on the Cuban economy at Carleton University. “Once people aren’t reliant on the goodwill of the state, they are much less manageable. So there is a political risk,” he adds.

Cubans will still be entitled to a few months of unemployment benefits, as well as subsidized housing expenses and free education and health care.

While the government of President Raul Castro made the announcements, his older brother Fidel appeared to agree, recently telling an American journalist that the “Cuban economy doesn’t work.” Mr. Castro later said he had been misinterpreted, but the comment could also be read as tacit support for Raul’s reforms.

An internal government document acknowledges the difficulty of this strategic transition, noting many businesses won’t last because Cubans lack experience, drive and initiative to succeed in the private sector.

While the Cuban government doesn’t appear to have a strategy to help them make the transition, some Cubans may adapt more quickly than predicted. For years, Cubans have been forced to supplement their meagre state earnings and insufficient food rations by reselling stolen products on the black market – everything from cigars and cement to second-hand clothing. They already make exceptionally good capitalists.

Cuba is still far from fully embracing the free market to the extent that China and Vietnam have. But these reforms are a welcome first step.

 

 
Canadian Network on Cuba Holds Successful Convention Print E-mail

Communique, September 20, 2010


5th Biennial CNC Convention affirms determination to strengthen
Canada-Cuba relations and step up the work to free the Cuban Five,
political prisoners in U.S. jails

The Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC) held a very successful 5th Biennial Convention in Toronto from September 4-6, 2010. Delegates and observers from 18 member organizations were joined by observers and invited guests including Her Excellency, the Cuban Ambassador to Canada Teresita Vicente, the Consul General of Cuba to Canada Jorge Soberón and other Cuban guests.

 

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Reforms in Cuba and Disinformation Concerning Layoffs Print E-mail

- Enver Villamizar -


The Canadian monopoly-owned media have been reporting that the Cuban government is set to lay off 500,000 public employees. The way this is reported suggests that this is a step towards capitalist restoration in Cuba. In a September 19 editorial, the Globe and Mail wrote: "The Cuban government's surprise announcement this week that it is laying off 500,000 state employees could trigger unrest, but the reforms are a welcome first step."

The working class and oppressed peoples of the world would indeed be concerned should capitalism be restored in Cuba but this is the morbid preoccupation of the rich with defeat and has no resemblance to what the Cubans are doing. Of course, a return to capitalism is what the imperialists have been trying to put in place in Cuba since the revolution right up until the present, using economic, political and military aggression. However wishing for this and having it happen are two different things.

Writing about the public sector layoffs in Cuba, the monopoly-owned media see what they want to see. It is not concerned for the well-being of the Cuban people, especially its workers, just as it is not concerned for the well-being of the Canadian working class. Instead it reports from an anti-worker perspective in which the interests of the global monopolies are synonymous with the interests of the nation, while the workers are merely a cost of production.

The measures announced at the 5th Session of the 7th Legislature of the National Assembly of the Peoples Power on August 1 by Raúl Castro, President of the Councils of State and Ministers are definitely significant changes in Cuba. But what is their aim? According to the Globe and Mail it is to restore capitalism and impose a capitalist labour market model onto the Cuban working class. According to Castro, the measures are aimed at "preserving and developing our social system and making it sustainable in the future."

The essence of the reforms is presented by Castro in this way: "During the initial phase, which we plan to conclude in the first three months of next year, we will modify the work and salary regulations of surplus workers from a group of central state administration agencies, suppressing the paternalistic approaches that discourage the need to work to live and thus reducing the unproductive costs entailed in equal pay regardless of the number of years worked, and a guaranteed salary for long periods to individuals who are not working."

Along with these changes Castro re-affirmed that no one will be left to fend for themselves: "In adopting these agreements, we do so on the basis that nobody will be left to their own fate and that, via the social security system, the socialist state will give the support needed to live a life of dignity to those people who are genuinely not in a position to work and who are the sole means of support for their families. We have to erase forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world in which people can live without working."

In addition, Castro states: "The Council of Ministers also agreed to extend the exercise of self-employment and its utilization as another job alternative for surplus workers, by eliminating various existing prohibitions on the granting of new licenses and the marketing of certain products, thus making labour contracts more flexible."

In this way, the Cuban government is trying to deal with a problem of a need for increased productivity and efficiency from the Cuban working class to defend the self-reliance of the nation. Without these measures, Castro pointed out, the government will not be able to: "raise wages, increase exports and replace imports, to grow in terms of food production and, definitively, sustain the enormous social costs that are essentially part of our socialist system, a sphere in which we are also bound to be rational, saving much more without sacrificing quality."

What can be taken from these statements is that the Cuban government does not view the working class as a cost of production to be attacked in order to increase profits for a tiny elite. Instead the Cubans are arguing that the working class is a productive force which creates the added value the society relies upon for its current and future standard of living. This productive capacity needs to be constantly improved, if the society is to move forward and not stagnate.

The Globe and Mail and the interests it represents do not want to admit that the neo-liberal economic model is a disaster for the entire planet and that there are other ways to address problems of the economy in a manner which resolves them in favour of the people's interests. Cuba's entire experience defies empty chatter about economic models while the imperialists impose their dictate onto the world irrespective of the conditions and requirements of different countries and peoples. The Cubans have succeeded in maintaining socialism precisely because they defend the revolutionary interest under all conditions and circumstances. Far from accepting nonsense about foreign models they tackle the real problems which arise in life itself.

The Globe and Mail does not want to discuss the fact that the Cuban government is trying to deal with a real social problem which has emerged; the need to strengthen the ethic, through legal means, that it is through hard work and sacrifice that a socialist society is built, not through going into debt, squandering precious human and natural resources or harbouring elements who have become complacent about the need to work in order to live. In other words these measures are aimed at eliminating the negative aspects which have been given rise to in the Cuban economy in the course of ensuring that the people's rights were provided with a guarantee during the Special Period and since then. Based on the measures being implemented at this time, we can be confident that these rights will be provided with a guarantee in the future as well.

(TML Daily, September 24, 2010)

 

 
It is the people who will decide Print E-mail

The first national seminar to discuss the Economic and Social Policy Development Project took place November 11-14 at the ñico López Advanced Studies School of the Communist Party of Cuba

Yaima Puig Meneses and Leticia Martínez Hernández

CLARIFYING debates characterized the first national seminar on the Communist Party of Cuba's Economic and Social Policy Development Project which, according to President Raúl Castro, began the 6th Congress and gave an idea of just how fruitful the people's discussion of proposals will be.

Raúl said that, in this respect, diversity is fundamental, that life is enriched when there is disagreement and that this must be a maxim within the Party. Massive participation will be an essential element of the success of the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, which takes place in April of 2011.

Everything will be decided based on explanations given, he said on another occasion. It is not about convincing people of what is contained in the document, but of explaining the issues and meticulously gathering all opinions because, within this process, it is the people who will decide.

The Cuban president called on leaders and experts at the seminar to fully acquaint themselves with the distinctive characteristics of each area of the country in order to lead the discussions adequately. He emphasized, therefore, the importance of their questioning members of the working commissions who prepared the document about issues that could be difficult to explain to the population. Given that the seminar sessions proved very useful, Raúl proposed organizing a second seminar in the coming days to extend the experience to others and strengthen the participation of provincial delegates.

"It's not that we are going to become economists," he said, "but, in order for the Party to exercise its authority, it must be knowledgeable. In order to confirm how what has been established is being undertaken, we have to be well prepared. It is essential that the Party schools restructure their study plans."

The National Association of Economists and Accountants (ANEC) also need to play a more active role, as well as the country's lawyers, who need to offer better counsel. "Many errors are made because what is established is ignored; often legislative decisions are made and then they're shelved. We must get used to abiding by the lawful documents," Raúl commented.

As for the measures to be taken to solve problems within the Cuban economy, which will be at the center of the 6th Congress debate, the president said there is no other alternative beyond implementing them. He was clear that Fidel's ideas are present within each of the proposed directives.

A FRUITFUL DEBATE

In the seminar's first session, Marino Murillo Jorge, vice president of the Council of Ministers, analyzed the condition of the Cuban economy, identifying external and internal events which have played a role in the situation.

In terms of external factors, he described the systemic structural crisis in the international arena, which has fundamentally manifested itself in Cuba in the instability of prices of products that the country buys and sells. Between 1997 and 2008 alone, these variations accounted for a net loss of 7.9 billion pesos, as compared with 1997 levels.

The minister of economy and planning said that the country has also been impacted by the intensification of the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade, which has meant significant losses.

Nevertheless, since the end of 2004, new opportunities for international trade have opened up within the framework of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), and trade is also increasing with other countries, particularly China, Vietnam, Russia, Angola, Iran, Brazil and Algeria.

He reported that the losses suffered as a result of 16 hurricanes between 1998 and 2008 amounted to more than $20.564 billion and those caused by drought, between 2003 and 2005 alone, were in excess of $1.35 billion.

On the other hand, he emphasized that the Cuban economy has suffered from internal factors such as inefficiency, lack of investment in the productive base and infrastructure, the aging of the population and stagnation in its growth.

Marino Murillo said that the economic policy followed by the country has to offer solutions to these problems. He said the policy must follow the principle that only socialism is capable of overcoming these difficulties and preserving the accomplishments of the Revolution. He emphasized that the updating of the economic model will give primacy to planning, not to the market.

As a result, he emphasized that there will be no economic reform, as some foreign press media outlets would have it. "There is no reform; it is an updating of the economic model. Nobody should think that we are going to give away property; we are going to administer it in another way." He gave as one example the distribution of unused land in usufruct, within which the state, in the name of the people, remains the proprietor.

He described as imperative the development of greater efficiency in primary sectors such as agriculture and the investment process, so that the economy produces. He said that investments which promote saving through the replacement of imports and increasing exports, and which provide rapid returns, will be prioritized.

As the discussion began and participants raised questions about the creation of cooperatives in other sectors, Murillo responded that "few of us have seen them outside of agriculture and that, in fact, the law does not recognize them elsewhere." Updating the model will also mean modifying various legal regulations. Murillo offered the opinion that cooperatives have a place in small industry and in the service sector, "given that there are things that do not function well when they are governed by state formulas. This should be done, however, in an orderly fashion."

Seminar participants were interested, for example, in how links between research institutions and businesses can be made more effective. The minister said that science must rapidly become more involved with production; that whenever possible, research centers should be part of enterprises which hire them for their services, "since the state cannot assume financial responsibility for research which is then never applied."

Among other topics, he spoke of the increased authority of businesses, which, as was explained in the seminar, means greater responsibility. For this very purpose, it was clarified that provincial taxes paid by businesses will be collected by the Municipal Administrative Councils (CAM) in order to support local development.

Along these lines, on the first day of the seminar, Raúl reported the decision to grant more authority to municipal councils in order to strengthen local development, which implies higher expectations of everyone at every level. It cannot be that presidents of local governments have to wait for an allocation or help from the central level to resolve a local problem. Now they will have more resources available, but they will also have to manage them within the municipality.

One topic of discussion was the process of negotiation, drafting, agreement and fulfillment of contracts among entities, which is one of the most serious problems within the economy. Marino Murillo offered the observation that within the system, contracts are signed sporadically. "What contracts are signed to guarantee production?" he asked. Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, minister of foreign trade and foreign investment, commented, "Not only are contracts not signed, but when they are signed, sometimes they are not even fulfilled."

In another area, one of the directives which prompted many questions was Number 16, which states that if a state enterprise repeatedly reports a loss, it could be subject to a liquidation process. "It's not possible for an enterprise to show a loss for 10 years with the state having to assume the costs," Marino Murillo noted.

Faced with many questions about the consolidation of the country's two currencies, he explained that this fundamentally depends on an increase in labor productivity because, "eliminating the two-currency system, in and of itself, will not solve current problems; they can only be solved by getting the real economy to produce efficiently."

He said that what is being done in the restructuring of the economic model has to resemble a future without two currencies. Giving an example, he said, "Self-employed people are now paying their taxes in Cuban pesos."

Seminar participants welcomed the explanation offered as to the creation of Special Development Zones (ZED) which, according to Malmierca Díaz, are not duty-free zones. The ZED will allow for an increase in exports, the real substitution of imports, highly technological projects and local development, and will provide new sources of employment.

As one example, Raúl highlighted the investment being made in the port of Mariel. He pointed out that Havana's port will see limited commercial activity, since modern ships are very large and, given the depth of the bay, cannot enter port. As he explained, the one in Mariel, being built with financing provided by Brazil, will have cutting edge technology and will revolutionize the country's port facilities, currently in very poor condition.

Another topic which engendered much discussion was linking university studies to the developmental needs of the economy and society. Raúl reiterated the need to eliminate the mismatch between numbers and reality.

Miguel Díaz-Canel, minister of higher education, reminded participants that Article 51 of the Cuban constitution clearly states that study opportunities are to be in accordance with students' aptitude, social demands and the country's socioeconomic development needs. "Over the past 10 years we have not met the need for degrees in the exact, natural, technical, agricultural or educational sciences. Nevertheless, there has been a surplus within the humanities," he said, a reality which has now led to questions about quality and meeting the country's needs.

José Ramón Fernández, vice president of the Council of Ministers, referred to steps being taken in every province to train the technical work force needed for their development. He spoke of an increase in the number of mid-level technicians and skilled workers enrolled; of the revitalization of agricultural studies in technical colleges within highly agricultural municipalities; the re-emergence of staff meetings, workshops and laboratories, and the opening up of classrooms annexed to cooperatives and workplaces, where students can have more opportunities for practice.

The question as to when people who are genuinely working will receive higher wages was raised repeatedly by participants, since this topic is expected to be one prompting the most debate within the population. In response, Marino Murillo explained that the funds needed to restructure wages are to be found in the elimination of inflated rosters in workplaces, by withdrawing the state from activities beyond its purview, by eliminating excessive subsidies and unearned allowances, and by improving the productivity of labor.

"Within the success of the proposed economic reorganization which we have presented, lies the key to increasing wages," he concluded.

DAY THREE: AGRICULTURAL INDUSTRY, TRADE, HOUSING….

The third day of the National Seminar on the Economic and Social Policy Development Project of the Party and the Revolution focused on agro-industrial, industrial, energy, tourism, transport, construction, housing, water resources and trade policies.

Most of the morning session was devoted to the subject of the sugar industry. According to the minister of economy and planning, the challenge is to increase the efficiency of the sugar harvest, where the principal problem is the availability of cane which, moreover, has been planted at a distance from the mills in most provinces.

Corroborating that, Orlando García Ramírez, minister of the sugar industry, stated that sugarcane cultivation has not been given due attention, given that it is not planted with sufficient density. However, he emphasized that it does have the necessary technical package to increase yields, but due to a lack of exigency better results have not been achieved, while work is underway to recoup the situation in this sector. A new price for sugarcane is currently being considered, which will constitute an incentive for producers.

Asked about cattle farming, Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, minister of agriculture, explained that the country's cattle ranches are gradually recovering. To facilitate this, steps have been taken to secure sufficient feed by sowing 80,000 hectares of pasture and forage closer to the farms; increasing prices paid to producers of milk and beef; the implementation of the current bull fattening program, among others.

Rodríguez Rollero noted that currently, one of the major problems in cattle farming is the low birthrate, standing at 60%, although the country has the genetic base to remediate that situation.

Referring to milk prices, María del Carmen Concepción, minister of the food industry, gave the example of a study undertaken in various provinces, which confirmed repeated violations of quality standards, despite the fact that campesinos were being paid as if they were following those parameters.

As a result, Ulises Rosales, vice president of the Council of Ministers, warned of the need to check product quality when prices are increased. "We cannot have motivation based on higher payments without also controlling the quality of the final product."

Regarding the transportation sector and questions concerning its restructuring, Marino Murillo said, for example, that a lot of fuel is spent on administrative activities, for which reason the volume of fuel allotted to this kind of activity is to be reduced by 20%, which will lead to savings of more than $60 million.

"Updating the economic model will prompt business sector managers to make more efficient use of the resources that they have, of which transportation is one," according to César Arocha Masid, minister of the sector. He added that, as a result of the reorganization, a considerable number of inefficient vehicles have been grounded to date this year, which has saved more than 28,000 tons of fuel.

Antonio Enrique Lussón, vice president of the Council of Ministers, stated that the problems of heavy transportation are not confined to this sector, but also cover those demanding the service. Transportation could be doubled, but before that, it is necessary to recover discipline, organization and high expectations.

Leaders and specialists attending the seminar asked questions about the current structure of commerce. The minister of economy and planning reported on modifications taking place in the structure of the wholesale and retail trade, related to the changes in the economy.

Jacinto Angulo Pardo, minister of domestic trade, considered that work in the retail sector should be directed toward diversifying the quality and range of products on sale to meet the demands of different segments of the population.

Another issue discussed was that related to the use of water, as those attending the seminar were interested in the rehabilitation program for networks, aqueducts and sewers to promote the saving of this resource.

"Currently, 58% of water distributed to consumers is being lost, stated René Mesa Villafaña, president of the National Institute of Water Resources, adding that 600 Gigawatts per year are used for pumping water, which makes this activity the second highest consumer of electricity in the country.

He said that rescaling water tariffs with the aim of gradually reducing the subsidy as well as reducing waste is being studied; and in this way water reserves will constitute the instrument of planning via which state and private consumption will be measured.

Finally, referring to housing directives, Fidel Figueroa de la Paz, minister of construction, stated that the housing problem will not have an immediate solution. And he commented on the importance of maintenance and rehabilitation work on buildings, of which 38% are currently in substandard or poor condition. He noted the leading role that the population has to play in constructing their homes, for which the state has to provide the materials for sale.

In this context, Commander of the Revolution Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, vice president of the Council of Ministers, noted the urgent need to restore the regulatory role of the Physical Planning System so that new construction complies strictly with urban regulations.

The issue of the unordered growth of cities was taken up by the Cuban president on the last day of the seminar. Raúl said that the purpose is not to prohibit construction, but to decide on the basis of studies where housing should be built, and more so now when people are to be encouraged to build for themselves. But in order to achieve that, discipline at all levels is needed, even if that means asking for problems.

NECESSARY CHANGES TO THE TAX AND PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEMS

The final day of the National Seminar was devoted to updating participants on the upcoming changes in the taxation and public health systems, as part of the reorganization the country is embarking on. The 523 participants received a detailed explanation from Marino Murillo, vice president of the Council of Ministers and also from Health Minister Roberto Morales.

Marino Murillo explained that the current taxation law dates back 15 years, the reason why many of its regulations do not respond to the new economic situation. In addition, that law is essentially expository and has not been implemented with the gradual application of taxes as defined in it. Thus, a working group responsible for studying the taxation policy of Cuba and those of certain other countries is to be created in order to draw up new legislation which, according to the official, "will be very Cuban, designed by us."

For that, it must comply with principles such as guaranteeing sufficient levels of income to support social spending; foment a tax-paying culture and greater social responsibility; guarantee a redistribution of income within those sectors which have greater economic capacity, and protect people with lower incomes; encourage local government involvement in the search for income for development projects in the provinces; and implement a control system to ensure strict compliance with tax regulations.

During the debate, Raúl emphasized the necessity of ensuring that the population knows why it has to pay taxes. He called for high school and university students to be given a basic explanation of these reasons so that coming generations can think carefully about the importance of tax contributions, given that they are the state's principal source of income for financing its costly social spending, which includes healthcare, education, defense, sport, culture…

Raúl also noted that there has to be strict discipline in the payment of taxes and in the fight against corruption. "We have to avoid impunity, which is the very worst of crimes," he added.

For his part, Health Minister Roberto Morales explained that the measures adopted within this sector will not translate into a reduction of the services provided, but will function to improve the ones that exist. Economic rationality and quality must determine the work of public healthcare and all other sectors, he added.

He also underlined the importance of recovering the practice of clinical diagnostics and epidemiology as a principal guarantee of better medical attention, given their possibilities for a correct diagnosis, without resorting to other unnecessary and very costly tests which could even be damaging to patients' health.

The Economic and Social Policy Development Project of the Communist Party and the Revolution is directed at recovering those principles in the daily activities of Cuban society.

As President Raúl Castro stated, the national seminar is the first step toward the 6th Congress. All of the debates to take place from now on will contribute to the success of updating our economic model.

 
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