Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Peru

Hugh Thomson at the Galle Literary Festival 2016

The Thwaites Wainwright Award May 8th 2014 at The Royal College of Surgeon's England. Won by author Hugh Thomson for his book 'The Green Road into the Trees'.

It’s not about the quality of the journey; it’s the quality of the writing.

The Galle Literary Festival is back in business. The festival was founded in 2005 by Anglo-Australian hotelier Geoffrey Dobbs and last took place in 2012. Those attending GLF in 2012 included Tom Stoppard, Aminatta Forna, Richard Dawkins, Simon Sebag Montefiore and David Thompson. Tickets for the 2016 event, which takes place from January 13th to 17th, are due to go on sale from the first two weeks in December. The first list of participants was released on November 11 and the full programme will be announced at the end of November.

Among those participating in January 2016 is the multi-talented Hugh Thomson. I would like to introduce him to Sri Lankan readers who are not familiar with his work. Hugh is a veteran of the literary festival circuit and has previously been invited to Hay-on-Wye, Edinburgh, Oxford and Cheltenham. His most recent book, The Green Road into the Trees: A Walk through England, won the inaugural Thwaites Wainwright Prize for Nature and Travel Writing. Dame Fiona Reynolds, the chair of the panel of judges, described the book as “a narrative journey spiced with humour and anecdote, gritty reality and evocation of place and history.” I have just read the book and agree with Dame Fiona. Hugh himself says: “The thing about The Green Road is the idea of treating your own country as a foreign country. A travel journal can be written about anywhere. It’s not about the quality of the journey; it’s the quality of the writing.”

green road

Hugh has certainly led an exciting life. He’s ridden, driven and hiked across Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, the Himalayas and Afghanistan and cruised down the Amazon. I have been to some of the places described in Hugh’s books and, although his explorations have been more adventurous than mine, the books bring back memories for me. When he was just 22, Hugh led his first expedition to the Peruvian Andes looking for a site that had become lost following its initial discovery.  In 2002 he co-led the expedition which discovered the Inca site of Cota Coca and returned to Peru in 2003, making extensive finds at Llactapata, near Machu Picchu. I can vouch that Hugh’s first book, The White Rock: An Exploration of the Inca Heartland, is an enthralling read. It was the result of a twenty-year long quest to explore and understand the Peruvian Andes in the area beyond Machu Picchu.

White-Rock-cover-195x300

If you want a quick taste of Hugh’s writing on Peru I can recommend a Kindle Single which was released on October 11 2015 and costs only $4.99. Two Men and a Mule: The Last City of the Incas, is a brief account of an expedition to Peru undertaken by Hugh with fellow explorer Benedict Allen and a sympathetic mule called Washington. The short work gives a brief reprise of some of Hugh’s previous visits to Peru and provides an introduction to a BBC Radio 4 series, for which they travel down from the high Andes towards the Amazon basin and Espíritu Pampa, the pampa of ghosts, the very last city of the Incas, built at the lowest level of the cloud forest, almost in the jungle. It was here that Tupac Amaru and his pregnant wife were captured by the conquistadores and later brutally executed.

IMG_8640-2-Men-and-a-Mule-lo-res-300x200

History comes alive in the current day experiences of the three intrepid explorers. They meet many interesting characters on the way. At one point, they stayed at the home of Don Juvenal Cobos, who helped American explorer Gene Savoy uncover Espiritu Pampa in 1964.
I have memories of consuming in the Andes what seemed to be dog and dishwater soup out of cracked blue plastic bowls. Benedict has learnt to be tolerant in his eating habits, so the local delicacy of guinea pig is no problem: “I did try camel once. It was tough, Very tough”. Thomson fears for Washington’s state of mind and has a private chat with him: “He was in a little bog that he clearly liked and was looking particularly sweet, ears twitching, happy after a good night of grazing and munching on the lush pasture”. Thomson told the mule that he knew of Allen’s reputation for eating his travelling companions (camel, mule) but he would not let that happen to Washington. “I felt he was telling me that, whatever happened, he wouldn’t let Benedict eat me either”.

tuking in
Thomson tries to explain his own fascination with Peruvian history. Something about the Inca sites made him, even on his first visit at the age of 21, aware of his own mortality. Benedict, who has crossed the Gobi desert and travelled the Arctic with a dog team, finds Peru a new experience. In other places he got the feeling that exploration was coming to an end. “Here you’re in the amazing position where you can still find cities, or at least ruins.”
There are vivid descriptions of the high mountains and of the steaming jungles, “Where fruit such as mango, granadilla or papaya grew, bright yellow mountain tanagers, one of the most frugiverous of Andean birds, gathered in gregarious groups”. One can sense the serpents lurking in the undergrowth and the appalling insects fastening on to one’s blood vessels. There are compensations for the discomforts. “The call of the oropendola bird… a long looping noise best described as being like water being flushed down a pipe”. Hugh is not being ungallant when he says this reminds him of his wife. The sound had enchanted her too.

tequila
Tequila Oil: Getting Lost in Mexico, was an account of an early journey through Mexico in a classic Oldsmobile 98.  It was serialised by BBC Radio 4. Another of Thomson’s books, 50 Wonders of the World: The Greatest Man-made Constructions from the Pyramids of Giza to the Golden Gate Bridge, is only 200 pages long but the format is coffee table, bigger than The Times Atlas. Hugh says it “would actually make quite a nice coffee table in itself if you put legs on it.”

Nanda Devi: A Journey to the Last Sanctuary is about the sanctuary on the border between Tibet and India, long closed to all visitors by the Indian government. For his BBC TV series, Indian Journeys, Hugh collaborated with former GLF attendee William Dalrymple to make three ambitious films about India, winning the Grierson Prize for Best Documentary Series.  More recently he collaborated with Jonathan Dimbleby to make another major series for the BBC, this time on Russia.

He was BAFTA-nominated for his ten-hour series Dancing in the Street: A Rock and Roll History, which set out to tell the epic story of the “devil’s own music” from its beginnings in the 1950s to the present day. It took four years to make and went on to win numerous awards for the BBC around the world. His passion for documentaries led him to be a founding member of Doc/Fest; an international documentary festival in Sheffield described as the Cannes of the documentary world. It’s still expanding after 21 years.

I have long been planning to write about cruise ships, so I found Hugh’s Kindle Single, At The Captain’s Table: Life on a Luxury Liner, full of useful information. Hugh provides some great tips on getting the most out of a city in one day. The Captain’s Table shows what it’s like to travel “…round the world the soft way.”

cruise

Thomson’s vast array of experience makes him a resource for aspiring writers. He has tutored on a variety of courses for organisations including Arvon and Bristol University. “I enjoy teaching,” he says. “It’s a chance to re-engage.” Hugh is now working on his first novel, which is set in Peru. I asked him what else he had been up to of late and it seems he is pursuing that RL Stevenson Travels with a Donkey theme.  He told me that he had “been in the middle of doing this quixotic trip with a mule across the North of England for my next book”.
With his experience of broadcasting and his knowledge of travel writing as well as his fund of anecdotes about his own travel, Hugh is likely to be a star attraction at GLF 2016. Book early to avoid disappointment.

 

This article appeared in the Sunday Island on 21 November 2015.

http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=135739

 

Reconciliation in Peru

This article was published in the Nation on Sunday, 13 May 2012

 

In October 1983, I attended a ceremony at Huancavelica Cathedral in the Peruvian Andes, my heart fluttering at an altitude of 12,000 feet. Huancavelica was founded in 1572 for the purpose of mining mercury, which was essential to extract silver from the ore from the fabulous mine at Potosi. In 1648 the Viceroy of Peru declared that Potosí and Huancavelica were “the two pillars that support this kingdom and that of Spain.”

 

 

Outside the cathedral, a local Quechua man questioned me about Mrs. Thatcher and the Malvinas. He seemed to approve of Thatcher. Argentineans are generally unpopular in Peru.

 

 

The Huancavelica police station at which we had registered was blown up by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) the day after we had been there.

 

 

Sendero Luminoso was a Maoist group of quite outstanding brutality. Defenders of these “freedom fighters” would no doubt cite “state terrorism”, but the national government was somewhat slow to react to provocation. A state of emergency was declared in 1981 and the army was given the job of fighting the guerrillas. The Armed Forces created the Ayacucho Emergency Zone, in which military power was superior to civilian power, and many constitutional rights were suspended. The military committed many human rights violations in the area where it had political control. A specimen was the Accomarca massacre on August 14, 1985 in Ayacucho where 69 unarmed men, women and children were killed. Twenty-seven years later, Telmo Hurtado, who led the massacre, is finally in custody in Peru after being extradited from the US. Hundreds more former military and police officers have yet to be put on trial.

 

 

Scores of peasants were massacred by the armed forces. A specialist counter-terror police battalion known as the “Sinchis” were particularly notorious. They were US-trained. The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)- formerly named School of the Americas -, is a US Department of Defense Institute located at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia. WHINSEC trained many military personnel before and during the years ‘dirty wars’ in Latin America. WHINSEC graduates continue to surface in news reports regarding human rights cases.

 

 

Shining Path opted to fight their war in the style taught by Mao. A major Sendero tactic was the mass slaughter of the indigenous people it claimed to be fighting for, to goad the authorities into matching savagery. Its original goal was to overthrow the government and social structure of Peru and neighboring countries and replace them with a socialist system controlled by the indigenous peoples of the region. Shining Path also adhered to Mao’s teaching that guerrilla war should be fought primarily in the countryside and gradually choke off the cities.

 

The peasants resist their liberators

 

 

The peasants did not always appreciate what the brave revolutionaries were doing for them. The Shining Path filled its ranks by forced conscription and forced kidnapped children to fight as child soldiers. In some areas, peasants formed anti-Shining Path patrols, called rondas. I was in Peru in October 1983. In January 1983, near Huata, rondas killed 13 senderistas; in February in Sacsamarca, rondas stabbed and killed the Shining Path commanders of that area. In March 1983, rondas captured Olegario Curitomay, one of the commanders of the town of Lucanamarca, took him to the town square, stoned him, stabbed him, set him on fire, and finally shot him. The Shining Path retaliated by killing 69 people including a six-month-old child and several pregnant women. Most were hacked to death with machetes and some were shot at close range in the head.

 

 

Alberto Fujimori

 

President Alberto Fujimori adopted an ‘iron fist’ approach to the rebels. He dissolved Congress and abolished the Constitution. Military courts were set up to try captured rebels. Fujimori also announced that Peru would no longer accept the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Between 1990 and 1994, Grupo Colina , a paramilitary anti-communist death squad carried out several massacres. The Grupo Colina, believed to be mandated by Fujimori, victimized trade unions and activists that spoke out against the Peruvian government, by intimidation or sometimes murder.

 

 

Fujimori signed a law that granted amnesty to anyone accused of, tried for, convicted of, or sentenced for human rights violations that were committed by the armed forces or police. Since the collapse of the Fujimori government, several people have been tried for Grupo Colina’s crimes, including Fujimori. Trials have established that Grupo Colina was not an informal group of renegade officers but an organic part of the Peruvian state. Julio Salazar, former chief of the National Intelligence Service (SIN), was sentenced to thirty-five years for his role in the La Cantuta massacre. During Salazar’s tenure at the SIN, Vladimiro Montesinos was the de facto chief and national security advisor. Montesinos is currently imprisoned and faces over seventy trials for various human rights abuses, as well as charges of drug trafficking and political corruption.

 

 

On September 12, 1992, Peruvian police captured Guzmán and several Shining Path leaders. Shortly after, most of the remaining leadership fell and Shining Path suffered embarrassing military defeats to rondas, supposedly its social base — and the organization fractured into splinter groups. The then leader of the Shining Path, Artemio, was shot and captured in the jungle in February 2012.

 

 

In September 2010, President Alan Garcia succumbed to pressure to pass a thinly veiled amnesty law to benefit indicted army officers. He quickly retracted it as Peru’s Nobel laureate author Mario Vargas Llosa (and one-time presidential candidate) attacked the measure in a stinging open letter.

 

 

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

 

 

Alberto Fujimori resigned the Presidency in 2000. Congress installed Valentin Paniagua in his place. He rescinded Fujimori’s announcement that Peru would leave the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which found in its 2003 Final Report that 69,280 people died or disappeared between 1980 and 2000 as a result of the armed conflict. A statistical analysis led the Commission to estimate that the Shining Path was responsible for the death or disappearance of 31,331 people, 46% of the total deaths and disappearances. According to its final report, 75% of the people of the victims spoke Quechua as their native language, despite the fact that the 1993 census found that only 20% of Peruvians speak Quechua or another indigenous language as their native language.

 

 

The final report was criticized by almost all political parties and former Presidents Fujimori, Garcia and Paniagua, the military and the Catholic Church, which claimed that many of the Commission members were former members of extreme leftist movements and that the final report wrongfully portrayed rebel groups as “political parties” rather than as terrorist organizations.

 

 

Only last August, remains of Grupo Colina victims were unearthed only 20 minutes away from their homes. Gloria Cano of the Peruvian human rights organisation APRODEH said that until the discovery of the remains, several mothers were convinced that their sons were still being held prisoner in the jungle or even in another continent. “Until the bodies are found, the parents keep on hoping they will find their children alive”.

 
Fujimori escaped to Japan but returned to South America in 2006. He spent almost two years under house arrest in Chile before being extradited to stand trial in Peru. In April 2009, he was jailed for 25 years for authorising 25 death squad killings.

 

 

Reconciliation Today?

 

 

Daniel Mora, Peru’s defence minister, told a Lima radio station last September: “There has to be a cut-off point for the reconciliation of the country,” adding that judicial proceedings against members of the military and police for human rights crimes could not go on forever. The Washington Office on Latin America said Mora’s remarks suggested a state policy of impunity.

 

Peru has not signed the 2006 international convention for the protection of all persons from disappearances. Peruvian society is still deeply divided about the Sendero years. It is difficult to believe that national reconciliation will be served by impunity talk of an amnesty.

 
On August 16, 2006 prosecutors in Peru filed charges against Ollanta Humala for alleged human rights abuses including forced disappearance, torture, and murder against guerrillas during his army service in San Martin. Humala is now president of Peru. Opponents suggest Humala bribed judges and bought witnesses to have his case dismissed.

Cuzco – the Navel of the World

This is an extended version of an article that appears in the March 2014 issue of Echelon magazine.

 

Sacred valley at the top of the world with great clubs and restaurants.

Cuscoatnight

Peru has had a violent history even until recently. There continues to be a divide between indigenous people and the descendants of the Spanish conquerors.

Getting There

There are flights to Cuzco from Lima but there are dangers to health because of altitude sickness; the ancient capital of the Incas is 3,400 metres above sea level. Paul Theroux told a story, probably apocryphal, of a tourist’s teeth exploding. I became distinctly dizzy in Huancavelica (3,660 metres).  It is advisable to make a gradual progress by road or rail to Cuzco, in order to acclimatise yourself gradually to the altitude.

Garcilaso

I bought a fascinating book in Cuzco written by one of the city’s native sons. Garcilaso de la Vega’s Comentarios Reales de los Incas, was published in 1609. Garcilaso’s dual heritage enabled him to provide a subtle critique of Spanish colonialism and the sufferings of native Andeans. Garcilaso’s mother was an Inca princess, and his father was a Spanish conquistador. Garcilaso unsuccessfully argued for a colonial regime led by men who could harmoniously reconcile Spanish and Incan traditions. That kind of harmony is still lacking today. He based his accounts of Inca life and the conquest on stories heard from his Inca relatives when he was a child in Cuzco.  He portrays the Inca as benevolent rulers who governed a country where everybody was well-fed and happy.

Inca_Garcilaso_de_la_Vega

The Incas carried out human sacrifices and used slave labour. The conquistadors employed great cruelty to extract precious resources to sustain Spain and its Empire. The Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path Maoist terrorists) were brutal, purportedly in pursuit of social justice, as were the peasant groups formed to oppose them in the face of government indifference. When the Peruvian army did take an interest, they slaughtered innocent villagers as well as revolutionaries. The army captured the last surviving Sendero leader as recently as 2011.

Shining Path

In January 2014, the shrunken figure of Abimael Guzmán, the  philosophy professor who founded  Sendero Luminoso, appeared in a Lima court to face charges of killing 25 people and injuring more than 150 in 1992 with two car bombs in Miraflores neighbourhood of the capital. I stayed in that neighbourhood. I also stayed in the Andean town of Huancavelica, where I registered at the local police station. Sendero Luminoso blew up that police station the day after I was in it. In August of 2003, Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee stated that upwards of 69,000 people died in the struggle between Sendero and government security forces. A major Sendero tactic was the mass slaughter of the indigenous people it claimed to be fighting for in order to goad the authorities into matching savagery.

guzman

Today, not everything is perfect but there is relative peace in Peru. Cuzco epitomises a Peru where foreigners can come to enjoy historical monuments and incredible scenery, eat and shop well and party. Travelling high up in the Andes, I witnessed grinding poverty among the indigenous people. A citizen of Lima earns 21 times what a resident of the interior earns. In one small town, drunken Indians were rolling in the gutter and rats disturbed my sleep in the “hotel”. Even in coastal areas, life seemed hard. In one seaside village, we were hungry and disgruntled at the lack of food in what passed for restaurants. I later realised, to my shame, that the large fish they managed to find for us was probably intended to feed the whole village.

peasant

Eating

Peruvians have been eating guinea pigs for millennia. I tried it twice myself while in Cuzco. The first time was in a rather swish restaurant called Cicciolina. I swear that I did not know what cuy was until after I had swallowed it. This was a minute cube of meat, rather like liver, which went down in one swallow. The second occasion was at lunch in a more downmarket restaurant where the creature was  splayed whole out on the plate allowing no room for doubt that it was a guinea pig. Although, I knew that it was rodent rather than porcine, it did taste like pork crackling. I am afraid the creature died in vain because I could not eat much of it. I did not like the way it was looking at me.

Cuy_Guinea_Pig_Dish_SG

Trip Advisor reviews 368 restaurants in Cuzco. After travelling in the altiplano and surviving on dishwater and dog soup served in cracked plastic bowls, it was very heaven to be in Cuzco.

Cicciolina-1

On the second floor of a lofty colonial courtyard mansion, Cicciolina is eclectic and international – as well as guinea pig or alpaca you can eat crisp polenta squares with cured rabbit, duck carpaccio and tender lamb. The service is impeccable as well as amiable. The restaurant provides haute versions of cuzqueño classics like anticuchos (beef skewers),

anticuchosrocoto relleno (stuffed red peppers), rocoto relleno

sopa de gallina (chicken soup) and chairo (beef and lamb soup) served in a clay pot.

chairo

The humble potato came from Peru before Sir Walter Raleigh took it to his stolen land in County Cork. Peruvian potatoes come in many varieties – and colours.

potatoes

Where to Stay

When I travelled around Peru, I experienced some very basic accommodation. However, Cuzco has a wide range of hotels to suit every budget. The Loki Hostel caters for backpackers and partygoers.

loki hostal

There are many two-star hotels. Hostal Qorikilla is possibly the cheapest. It is practically falling apart, but the kind, unassuming staff make it a favorite.

At the other end of the scale is the Palacio del Inka, an opulent colonial mansion built on Inca foundations, with parts of the building dating back to the 16th century, when Francisco Pizarro was an occupant.

libertador-palacio-del-inka-hotel-cusco-exterior.5

Multi-layered Navel

The name “Cuzco” means “the navel” – the centre of the Inca Empire and therefore the world.  It lays claim to being the oldest continually inhabited city in the western hemisphere. Cuzco is a many-layered city – beginning with a culture dating back a thousand years before Christ, through the Incas, via the Spanish conquistadors to, in 2014, nightclubs, designer boutiques and restaurants run by celebrity chefs.  After the conquest, the Spaniards used the stones of the Inca buildings to build a new town. Most of the buildings in post-conquest Cuzco were rebuilt after an earthquake in 1650. There was another earthquake in 1950, after which the buildings were faithfully restored using pink or grey stone often using material from Inca buildings.

Night Life

cuzco-street-night

Modern Cuzco is a lively place with attractions for young people as well as those interested in historic monuments and trekking. Cuzco is a party place with an unlimited range in bars and clubs spread out all over town. As Cuzco has become increasingly important for the backpack industry, many hotels and hostels have organised pub-crawls, theme nights and live performances around town. Paddy Flaherty’s must be the (in the altitude sense) highest Irish Pub in the world.  If you wish to travel to the capital of the Inca empire to drink proper Guinness on draught, mix with Europeans watching British sports on the big screen, this could be the place for you.

paddy's

The dance clubs don’t get going until around midnight or one in the morning and you can stay out  until dawn.

mama_africa_cusco

Armchair Travel

You can enjoy Cuzco vicariously from your armchair. Michael Palin visited Cuzco in 1997 for the BBC. You can watch this on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQLX3AjHF_s

Palin visited the most famous relic of the Inca Empire: the lost city of Machu Picchu. Palin wrote about Pongo de Mainique, the portal to the afterlife of the Machiguenga Indians and home to the Spectacled Bear among other animals.  “Nothing I have read or fantasized about has prepared me for this place. It’s an enchanted world.” If you get to Cuzco, you can take a trip to Pongo. http://www.tikatrek.com/en/program/116/pongo-de-mainique.

In December 1980, the BBC broadcast a programme called “Three Miles High” in the series Great Railway Journeys of the World in which the late lamented Miles Kington travelled from Lima through the Andes via Punto Ferroviario, Huancato by steam train to Huancavelica, by bus to Cuzco & Macchu Picchu to Ayaviri and Lake Titicaca to Bolivia.

Sites to See

The Inca fortress of Sacsaywamán is less than a 2km trek uphill from the Plaza de Armas. In 1536, the fort was the site of one of the bitterest battles of the Spanish conquest. More than two years after Pizarro’s entry into Cuzco, the Incas recaptured Sacsaywamán and used it as a base to lay siege to the conquistadors in Cuzco. Thousands of dead littered the site after the Incas’ defeat, attracting swarms of carrion-eating condors.

Sacsayhuaman_Inca

manco inca

Resource Curse

revolting peasants

Peru was blighted by the resource curse in the 16th Century and is blighted still in the 21st. Huancavelica, 200 miles from Cuzco,  was founded in 1572 for the purpose of mining mercury, which was essential to extract silver from ore.  Today Peru still has an impoverished indigenous population prey to the extractive industries, this time run by multi-nationals rather than the Spanish Empire. Today illegal gold mining in Peru is causing deforestation and serious mercury contamination of the food chain.

cerro-de-pasco

The Peruvian economy is heavily dependent on the export of copper, gold, oil and gas, often located on indigenous lands. A new law offers some hope to the indigenous communities. Extractive projects will require prior consultation. The government will have to listen to the concerns of indigenous communities and try to balance their needs with the desires of multi-national corporations given a free hand by previous administrations. The current government seems committed to the idea that all Peruvians should benefit from the nation’s natural resources. A new tax on the mining industry is expected to bring in additional government revenue of more than $1 bn, which will be used for social programmes.

hiram

Let us not forget that tourism is itself an extractive industry. In my dreams of visiting magical sites such as the Taj Mahal and Venice, I imagined myself all alone. Macchu Picchu, like those places, is always full of people. Machu Picchu was completed around  1450 at the height of the Incan empire.  The Incas abandoned it less than 100 years after its foundation, following the Spanish conquest of Peru.  Macchu Picchu was unknown to the outside world before the American historian Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911. The removal of cultural artefacts by the Bingham expeditions gave rise to a long-term dispute between the government of Peru and Yale University. As well as natural phenomena like earthquakes and weather systems, sheer volume of tourists threatens Macchu Picchu.

macchu

Tourism in Peru has expanded faster than all other sectors. In 2005, the World Tourism Organization stated that Peru had the second largest tourism growth, 28.6%,  in Latin America. There have been problems, such as seasonal unemployment, a rise in sexual abuse and sexually transmitted diseases, poor urban planning, a lack of residential regulations, and destruction of the environment. Before the tourism boom of the last decade, Cuzco supplied a vast majority of the agricultural products for Peru but now former farmers rely on tourism. During the off-season, many people struggle to live.

pizarro

Spanish conquistadors in America destroyed all the settlements in their path and returned from their wanderings to starve, because there was nothing left to loot. Now the emphasis on economic growth and tourism could have the same effect.

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