TCS Daily


Despotic Populism Is On the March

By Alvaro Vargas Llosa - April 24, 2007 12:00 AM

I am fascinated by the similarities between Russia and Latin America. The latest wave of repression against critics of President Vladimir Putin in Russia and the victory obtained by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa in their recent referendum, which provides a green light toward setting up a constituent assembly that will give him authoritarian powers, remind us that despotic populism is alive and kicking.

Last month I co-chaired a seminar at Harvard University's Davis Center with Russian scholar Tatiana Vorozheykina, an expert on comparative Russian/Latin American studies. Her view of Latin America is more optimistic than mine. For her, Russia is less free because it lacks the kind of civil society that many Latin American nations enjoy, facilitating Putin's pervasive control.

Recent detentions in Moscow and St. Petersburg of members of the Other Russia, an opposition organization that includes former chess champion Garry Kasparov as one of its leaders, are a reminder that Russia is a ruthless autocracy. Under Putin's government, we have seen continued brutal assaults on Chechnya, the replacement of regional governments with centrally appointed cronies, the persecution of businessmen associated with opposition groups, the state takeover of privately owned giants in the energy sector, the muzzling of the broadcast media, the mysterious murders of journalists and spies, the suppression of street demonstrations and the initial moves toward the appointment of the president's preferred successor.

With the exception of Venezuela, the authoritarian institutions operating under democratically elected governments in Latin America are not as bad as Russia's. It is true that power is more decentralized in Latin America, where governments have not been able or willing to wrest back economic influence from the private interests that surfaced during the market reforms of the 1990s, and where the institutions of the state are too weak to suppress voluntary associations and civic activity.

If we compare Mexico and Russia, the evidence seems to confirm Vorozheykina's views. Mexico was also dominated by a party-state for much of the 20th century and underwent a process of reform in the 1990s aimed at fostering liberal democracy and privatizing a large part of the economy.

Despite its many flaws, reform improved the political and economic environment. In Russia, liberal democracy never quite surfaced, and, according to Vorozheykina, ``economic reform did not amount to transferring assets from the state to the private sector but from private hands to private hands using the state trademark.'' In other words, the collapse of the Soviet Union was followed by the capture of the state by certain factions. Putin then reacted against the oligarchy of the 1990s by establishing his own oligarchy. By contrast, although there was much crony capitalism and the reforms did not exactly produce Jeffersonian checks and balances, Mexico's system is freer.

I would point out, however, that with the return of populism to various parts of Latin America, a number of countries are headed in the direction of Russia, albeit with less geopolitical gravitas.

The formula usually combines a democratic origin, the dismantling of republican institutions from within and reliance on natural resources that are in high demand in the international markets. Ecuadorians recently voted in large numbers to essentially rewrite the constitution. In this, Correa, who wants to replace democracy with an authoritarian regime, is following the example of his friend Hugo Chavez and of Bolivia's Evo Morales. And if Mexico's and Peru's current governments do not deliver economic improvement, we could easily see populists taking over the reins of power there, too.

There are differences of degree and the contexts vary, but Russia and Latin America are the products of histories dominated by the absence of civil rights and property rights. In Russia, all land belonged to the czar or the nobility until the 19th century; peasants -- the majority of the population -- were beholden to the state or to private landlords. Then the communists replaced the czar. The absence of a liberal tradition doomed the transition to liberal democracy and the market economy in the 1990s -- thence Putin's Russia. In Latin America, the republics of the 19th century preserved the oligarchic structure of the colony. In the 20th century, they mostly experimented with populist democracy and military dictatorship, a less perfect type of tyranny than Russia's communist system - which explains the emergence of what Vorozheykina calls a "more vibrant civil society'' in Latin America.

Recent developments prove that the populist republic is not a thing of the past in Latin America. And the populist republic -- the combination of democratic appearances and autocratic controls, sustained by the sale of oil and minerals -- has much in common with Putin's Russia.


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27 Comments

filthy despots
Interesting article but I think the author makes too much out of the similarities. Sure, they're both authoritarian, but still russia is of a different order than crappy third world backwaters like Venezuela. He says, "the combination of democratic appearances and autocratic controls, sustained by the sale of oil and minerals -- has much in common with Putin's Russia". But only so much. Venez has a lot of money from petro, and has for many years, yet Ven. has never, and never will do things like be able to build, Mig 29s, nuclear submarines, satellites, and probably not even a car.




Exactly...
The superficial similarity between a "democratic process resulting in an autocratic government" in both countries does not imply that the governments of Russia and Venezuela have anything fundamental in common.

Russia has a strong central government because Russia continues to be a fully mobilized martial state prepared to wage a modern war. Today. Russia has (relatively speaking) total control of its civilian population and is willing to roll world class combat troops into its own neighborhoods. Right now.

This is also the case with China, the United States, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Great Britain, Israel and most of the EU.

Iraq had that sort of capacity to control its civil population before we invaded. This is what we call a strong central government. It does not matter very much how the Constitution provides for the election or the appointment of political leaders. The outcome is a no-nonsense state that knows where we all live.

As for Iraq, that structure is now gone and with it their strength of government.

Latin America, Africa and many places in Asia have weak central governments that are unable to manage their own civilian populations. Venezuela and Ecuador included. Democracy makes no difference in this regard and the autocrats over there are kidding themselves that they are all powerful. They are only strong inside their own government buildings. Outside, anarchy might reign.

In the Philippines, for example, there are military coup attempts pretty much all the time. Some of these players are elected officials in the government and they continue to serve as Senators etc. It is unimaginable that senior officers in the United States military and groups of congressmen could plot to overthrow the President and not end up executed...the same guys more than once.

It is unthinkable that Communist Insurgents would be running around loose in any of our Northern States or that Islamic insurgents would control large areas of our Deep South.

Even under Ferdinand Marcos' nine years of martial law the government of the Philippines was too weak to make anything work over there. This is because his nation was not living in a fully mobilized posture like we are. President Marcos simply did not have the resources to make his civilians behave. Military operations, logistics and intelligence.

Our government entraps and aggressively prosecutes young men who are just kidding around (among themselves) about doing something stupid. We torture prisoners (or have Egypt do it for us). A hundred cops and SWAT troops show up when a guy gets drunk and yells at his girlfriend. (OK. He also threatened her. And he had a shotgun.)

We are now listening to tapes of a movie star yelling at his own spoiled kid on a phone message machine from 3000 miles away. We want to jail him for raising his voice.

Our spy satellites can read our license plates. Does Venezuela have any satellites at all yet? How about Russia?

socialist/environmentalists have no use for other people's freedom
Don Berry in the March issue of Prospect

“We need a planet-saving alternative to democracy. Mankind is set on exhausting the planet’s resources. Voters in rich nations will not want to give anything up; voters (or dictators) in developing nations will seek what the rich have. Since democracies must reflect what majorities want, they cannot stop this process. (Dictatorships won’t care.) Science will not rise to the challenge. Old ideas about philosopher-kings and benign dictatorships may be revived. Completely new ideas may emerge. Either way, democracy as we know it will not survive the century.”

License Plates
"Our spy satellites can read our license plates."
A 2 meter diameter lens in a very low orbit (60 miles) would be unable to distinguish two lines separated by less than about 1 inch. As a consequence of this, such a lens would only be able to read your license plate number (and not the state) if you parked your car vertically, which is tough on the paint and has other disadvantages. The lens would be unable to distinguish a "D" from an "O" or a "C" from a "G" or a "5" from an "S", etc..
It's unlikely the lens would be lower than 60 miles or significantly larger than 2 m.
Physical limits trump paranoia every time.

Trying to evict the kleptocrats
Vargas Llosa is sort of on the right track with statements like this:

"I would point out, however, that with the return of populism to various parts of Latin America, a number of countries are headed in the direction of Russia, albeit with less geopolitical gravitas.

"The formula usually combines a democratic origin, the dismantling of republican institutions from within and reliance on natural resources that are in high demand in the international markets. Ecuadorians recently voted in large numbers to essentially rewrite the constitution. In this, Correa, who wants to replace democracy with an authoritarian regime, is following the example of his friend Hugo Chavez and of Bolivia's Evo Morales. And if Mexico's and Peru's current governments do not deliver economic improvement, we could easily see populists taking over the reins of power there, too."

The only problem lies with some of his definitions. In Ecuador, for instance, what Correa is replacing is not a healthy democracy. For the past century, Ecuadorian government has been a series of kleptocracies. It appears that what Correa and the public both want is a top to bottom house cleaning, so that the pattern can be broken. Thus the broad push for a new constitution.

Also, we have no clear evidence that Correa intends to become an authoritarian. We are right to be skeptical, though. Nearly every government in Latin America comes in with its new broom, promising all sorts of wonders. Later, nearly all of them devolve into the same old cronyism and corruption.

The last time they drew up a new constitution, for instance, they were brimming with hope for a new day in Ecuador. Then they got "Crazy Abdala" Bucaram. And had no clear legal mechanism to get rid of him.

But the Ecuadorians are optimists by nature. Every time, they greet their new broom with joy and exultation. Several years down the road, they just as vigorously sweep out the trash, hoping that next time their elected leaders will lead them better.

They believe in democracy with all their heart. They just haven't ever seen it work for them yet.

Green clumps
Let's hope the spy satellites are in better focus than Google Earth.

I live in the Triangle area-- Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill. You'd think you would be able to see something besides just irregular green clumps there. I can't make out one single landmark, and eight lane interstates barely register as a line.

On the other hand, in much of Trinidad you can see individual houses clearly. I think Google Earth still has some work ahead of it.

Scary
This is scary stuff. I think these idiots relish being sheep. Or being the leaders of sheep?

Leftist Appeasers
I am sure it does not help that the US and EU left are nothing but appeasers encouraging such despots. What could they fear? A recent conversation with a relative, Capt US Army, from Iraq yielded that the most trouble is caused by foreign terrorists, that the Iraqi people, for the most part, like us and that the greatest hostility is the leftist US Media.

The party of Chamberlin now lives in the halls of congress.

The left is responsible for so much misery in this world and yet blindly they march onward toward...

klepocrats
It's not in the interests of those guys to give it up. They like it the way it is and don't want Eq, to be like Chile. And since that's Latin am. like in chile it will probably take a revolution like the way pinochet kicked out the kleptocrats there, and started chile on a modern road thru proper economic policies, and then voluntarily gave up power, to a modern style normal state. Let's hope the same can happen in Eq and every other place there. But of course in theory, I would like to maintain the utopian ideal that it will happen thru love and peace and all on it's own.

Preserving democratic institutions
Your defense of democracy is stirring. But I think if you look for actual examples, you won't find many examples of left wing dictatorships occurring since Castro took over Cuba, in 1960. Since that instance the left has established a much better track record of observing democracy and the rule of law than has the right in Latin America.

Hugo Chavez, for instance, has been popularly elected, re-elected and upheld in plebiscites something like six or seven times. And each time it has been by a wider margin. Daniel Ortega allowed elections to be held, lost fair and square, and stepped down without a fuss.

Pinochet is another story. Once he obtained power, through violence, he outlawed every party to the left of center, ruling without opposition for seventeen years. During that time the constitution was suspended. There was military rule, a suspension of political freedoms and an absence of any political dialog.

So your guys have a far worse track record than my guys. Please produce your evidence that Rafael Correa has plans to suspend the constitution and institute martial law the way Pinochet did. It appears that he plans to observe the existing constitution up to the very day the voters approve a new one.

BTW Salvador Allende did not represent the kleptocrats, he represented ordinary workers-- people who were in fact far more radical than he was. What little time he spent in office he spent largely trying to tone them down and keep civil order.

Military satellites...
They work. Count on it.

Pinochet was a mass murderer
Why not simply wish for a Hitler to revive thier economy?

http://www.desaparecidos.org/chile/eng.html

Oh...
...it's the latter, you can be sure. All the lefties think that THEY should be in charge. That's why they like the concept of the pholospher king, the benevolent dictator. They figure that somebody as smart as THEY are could fix all the problems.

Of course, fixing the usage of natural resources basically means killing millions (billions?) of people, because we cannot support the current population using subsistence farming (as Africa makes clear).

-Bob

Hmmm...
...Not surprising that Beanie doesn't recognize Chavez as a lefty dictatorship put in by democracy. Only time will tell if a similar problem will occur as a result of the Nicaraguan election. Of course, this problem goes beyond South America (Africa's Zimbabwe, where the lefty Mugabe has driven once was once Africa's breadbasket into famine).

I'm sure there are many other examples. But none that Beanie will admit to, I'm sure.

-Bob

mass murder
Usually even left sympathisers, say the pinochet killed a few thousand, maybe 3-5k, and they condem him forever after, even tho the legacy was set the foundations for the now best country in latin america. Sure, in revolutions people get killed. I lament it also, and i'm still crying for all the people the Castro killed, (also 3-5k? of course way more)but leftists give him a pass on that, and even wear t-shirts with the foto of the mass murderer Che Guevara on that. And in cuba people still suffer, but not in Chile. I realize though that leftist will never admit that Allende was stacking the whole government with his own cronies, and was supported by cuba.

All evil comes from the left
"Not surprising that Beanie doesn't recognize Chavez as a lefty dictatorship put in by democracy."

It remains to be seen whether Chavez ends up fitting the mold of the traditional dictatorship.

Like Putin's Russia, Chavez's Venezuela would appear to be something new in the world-- a dictatorship with the consent of the "dictated to". He has gone to the trouble of getting authorization from his general assembly to take the dictatorial actions he is currently engaging in.

Putin also is proceeding with his dismantling of democratic institutions with the undeniable mandate of his people behind him. I don't think the world has ever seen the emergence of this manner of governing before. We may need to coin a new word for it.

Especially when and whether Putin steps down.

"Only time will tell if a similar problem will occur as a result of the Nicaraguan election."

All commentators have noted Ortega's evolution from political firebrand to moderate. Let's wait a year or two first, and see what he brings to Nicaragua.

"Of course, this problem goes beyond South America (Africa's Zimbabwe, where the lefty Mugabe has driven once was once Africa's breadbasket into famine)."

The salient fact about Zimbabwe's slide into chaos is not the fact that once upon a time Mugabe was a leftist, but that he is now suffering from senile dementia and delusions of grandiosity.

He has put into place an ordinary thugocracy, which will succeed him upon his death or his being deposed. This kind of thing develops frequently from dictatorships of both right and left. What you're trying to do is lend the impression that ONLY leftist regimes commit this particular sin.

How about fitting Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines into your scheme for dividing the world into "free" and "unfree" states?

They all love us
"The left is responsible for so much misery in this world and yet blindly they march onward toward..."

Isn't it interesting, that virtually none of the current misery is coming from the left?

Islamist extremism... from the left? I don't think so.

An immoderate and highly destructive United States reaction to said extremism... from the left? I don't think so.

Okay, how about the world's other trouble spots-- Darfur, Chechnya, Nigeria, Thailand... from the left? I don't think so.

Or the places with really crappy governments. On the left you can list North Korea, and Cuba. Zimbabwe, to me, is anything but a socialist state, it's just an ordinary African dictatorship. Then there's Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc, none of them leftist.

I find one really odious communist dictatorship left on the entire globe-- North Korea. That's it. Cuba is at best semi-bad. And the entire remaining list of places with crappy governments has very little to do with old style dualism. We're in a whole new ball game now.

BTW your friend must be stationed in Kurdistan, where the locals actually do like us-- for freeing them from the Iraqis. Nearly 90% of Sunnis, on the other hand, approve of violent acts against the American occupation. And the Shiites have problems of their own.

Although when the overlords drive past, ready to kill anyone who looks funny at them, I'm sure they all say "Americans number one!" with great gusto.

Not really...
This process is old hat. Hitler took over Germany democratically, with nary a protest. My history on this point is weak, but I'm sure that there are many more examples. Human nature doesn't really change.

Furthermore, you are quite wrong that I say, or even imply, that this is a problem "only" with the left. It was YOU who said that this is more a problem with the right. I just pointed out some examples to meet your challenge.

-Bob

Dawn of the Dead
Mosul, hot spot. Sorry, they do like us. His comment: The media lies.

The left I refer to is in the US. I can rip the left here so completely it is unreal.

The left is filled with envy and hate. Racism? The left. Envy? The left?

Who calls for equality of outcome vs equality of opportunity? Who openly calls for defeat in Iraq and elsewhere? Who calls for higher taxes despite record revenues? Who implimented the failed social welfare state that destroyed innner cities and black families? Who attacks private property rights and private business? Who seeks to nationalize health care? Who seeks to control lives? Who is it who vilifies business? Who is it who seeks to control every aspect of our lives? Who is it that invented political correctness? Who is it that bans religion from every aspect of public life and then decries the lack of respect for life that follows (in fact, they act suprised)? Who is it that think birthing a baby and then sucking it's brains out is a right? Who is it that thinks the Consitution of the United States is a living document to be molded to the pop culture? Who is it that meets with terror state leaders but refuses to meet with the commanding general in Iraq? Who is it that must lie about who they are? Who is it that oppresses in the name of compassion? Which side demands persecution of political leaders based upon the nature of the evidence yet protects the guilt within (Jefferson, LA anyone).

It is amazing and the blind follow.

The left Roy. The seek to oppress and destroy. In the name of POWER and ENVY.

I believe in equality of opportunity, individual rights, individual opportunity, free enterprise, private property, religion and the sanctity of life. I believe in the human person and freedom. I beleive in the America the founders did not this crap nowdays.

I am talking about this country Roy and I hate what it is becoming.

The left is so pathetic and intellectually vacant it is profound. Challenged they hurl insults and profanity. I know, I have tried to have civil debates but I was called names that were shameless.

I have no respect what so ever for the left. The last time I tried civil debate was the end of any respect I had. The name calling, the profanity. To me it was a admission of inellectual defeat.

Am I wrong?



Those are Kurds
Ask your buddy if those people who like him so much are Arabs or Kurds. He's going to tell you they're Kurds.

Mosul is a battleground because the Kurdish militias are busy throwing everyone else out, so they can incorporate it into Kurdistan. It is not typical of the Arab portion of the country.

Poll after poll shows the Kurds overwhelmingly like the American presence. The reason is obvious-- they have been trying to break free of Arab domination now for fifty years or more. We are enabling them to do that.

Here's an article that gives some of the flavor of the current fighting:

http://www.aina.org/releases/karkukmosul.pdf

The rest of your rant addresses issues that have nothing to do with our popularity in Mosul. But you could tell me more about the last time you had the opportunity for civil debate. They ended up yelling at you? I am not surprised. :)

Yelling
Of course they yell. Once you challenge the feckless ideology of liberalsim they become angry.

Opposition must be silenced since in the marketplace of ideas they cannot compete. What do they have to offer?

Equality of outcome means equality of misery. In fact, liberals are boring. **** and moan and complain about how crappy the US is and how this group and that group.

WHo is it that divides us into group? WHo uses race for political gain, and sexuality, ad nasium.

Which party undermines the troops for political gain? YOu seem to have unique insight into Iraq. Must be those polls you read.

Funny, I wonder if FDR did a poll of Germans to see if they hated us? I wonder how they felt... Oh, I know, Iraq was a helpless little nation who only wanted to get alone...

Chavez
Well he has nationalized all the oil industries. It will be interesting how long it takes before it crumbles around him.

Since business requires investment and cost effectivness, something government has no concept of, he will run the oil facilities into the ground.

Sort of like British Steel before Thatcher (another eveil free market right winger).

Everybody's wrong but you
You go blithely through life, complaining about how stupid and ugly and obnoxious everyone is who disagrees with you. But you remain blissfully unaware of your own attitude, which provokes those behaviors in anyone you argue with. You and the people you spdespise are opposites of the same coin. Change your behavior and they will become nice people in response. They are rude to you because you have no respect for anyone who doesn't mirror your ideological biases.

I am at fault, for instance, because I actually read what opionions others have of us, in polls. Why would I need to know, or care, how people felt in a country we had invaded and occupied?

Didn't we invade them for political gain? Had we done so for the reasons we gave (bringing them democracy) they would in fact have loved us for it, because we were doing them a big favor.

When you do someone a favor and they hate you for it, I think you've screwed up big time. Maybe it's all those uncountable thousands of corpses of dead Iraqis they've had to endure since we've been in charge of their lives. Could that have anything to do with their dislike of the American presence?

In your world, I'm sure it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything. They should be grateful. Besides, every one we've killed has by definition been a baddie. Right?

Building democracy
Here's a good capsule description of Mosul.

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iraq/mosul.htm

You'll note that it's majority Kurdish, with sizable minorities of Turkmen, Yazidis, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Jacobites and Catholics.

Our allies, the Kurds, are at this moment employing militias to massacre members of these minorities. I subscribe to a Yazidi web site, and the Kurdish militias killing them out in the villages certainly seem to be as ugly as any militias in Iraq.

But they are our allies and they want to build a Greater Kurdistan, with no troublesome minorities in it. So we don't complain to them about it.

Does this make us complicit in murder? I think it does. One could only say we are "spreading democracy" if you take the idea that Mosul is majority Kurdish and whatever they want is majority rule, thus okay.

But to me the essence of democracy in areas of mixed populations is the protection of minority rights... and especially the protection of human rights. Ask your friend if this is what he is doing there or if he is just working with Kurds.

If he isn't protecting the rights of Christians and other minorities, our policy is wrong and should be discontinued. Either we should be bringing a respect for the rights of minorities or we should admit failure and go home. As it stands we are standing around watching civilian populations get murdered in Mosul... and doing nothing about it.

You could get back to me once you've shown this comment to your friend. He's there and I'm not. All I know is what the reports out of Mosul are saying.

Left and right equally to blame
First you say "...Not surprising that Beanie doesn't recognize Chavez as a lefty dictatorship put in by democracy. Only time will tell if a similar problem will occur as a result of the Nicaraguan election. Of course, this problem goes beyond South America (Africa's Zimbabwe, where the lefty Mugabe has driven once was once Africa's breadbasket into famine)."

Then you say "Furthermore, you are quite wrong that I say, or even imply, that this is a problem "only" with the left."

I'm having trouble reconciling the two statements. It sure sounds like you are saying it's a problem with the left, and have given three examples, all on the left.

Finally, you say "It was YOU who said that this is more a problem with the right."

But actually what I said was this: "This kind of thing develops frequently from dictatorships of both right and left. What you're trying to do is lend the impression that ONLY leftist regimes commit this particular sin."

Let's get it together. Criticise me for those things I say, not the things I neither say nor intend to say.

Commentary
He does not like Iraq and his feeling is that we should back out to the Iran Border to keep Iran out and let the Iraqis duke it out.

However, he has also stated that most of the people like us there and are terrified what is going to happen when we leave.

Since were not going to do anything about Iran or any other terror state until they start WW3 I am inclined to think we are wasting our time anyway.

In 10 or 20 years when they nuke London or Paris then what? Curchill was the lone voice against Germany. In the 1930's he was called a alarmist and crackpot. I wonder must history be repeated always?

Also, I see ol Chavez has the bug. I wonder how far he will drive his country into the ground before he gets the boot.

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D8OT4B9O0&show_article=1

People never cease to amaze me. Despite a hundred years of proof nationalized industries are a utter failure once again here we go.

Differences of opinion
I can appreciate that your friend has formed a set of opinions on the subject. But Iraq can't be isolated at any border, any more than Texas and Mexico can.

Sixty percent of the population share religious beliefs with the Iranians. To say they will not share their economy is unrealistic. Iranian investment money will certainly promote development in Iraq.

Your friend's Kurdish friends have far more to fear from Turkey, who wants to intervene there once we leave. So they are very strongly motivated to want us to stay.

And the borders Iraq shares with Syria and Saudi Arabia are just sand. Sunni politicals, not to mention Al Qaeda, will be moving in both directions across both these borders. It's not a matter of political will. Such traffic can't be stopped.

You are under the impression that if we do not dominate and crush opposition to United States rule, someone will be setting off nukes in London or Paris. Or Washington. And I am of the impression that no one would have the slightest desire to destroy the Great Satan if we were not attempting to subdue the entire world of Islam. So I think we must agree to disagree on this.

You see a parallel between Hitler and Al Qaeda. Where is Osama's Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe? In fact, where are his troops? We're like the elephant panicking over a mosquito.

Re Venezuela, there has certainly been a market correction since the time of Chavez's January inaugural address. The stocks have dropped all the way back to where they were in late November, 2006. It remains to be seen whether Chavez will "destroy" the economy.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/quote?ticker=IBVC:IND

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