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Author Archives: Ernesto Morales Licea

The End

I’ve never liked goodbyes. Like just about everyone I suppose. But only because we give a normal act, part of what it is to live, an especially gloomy connotation. And good goodbyes are also a sign of good events.

This blog was born on July 9 two years ago, and was born for an incontestable reason: it was my blog or my emotional equilibrium. I had to write it. It was the act of rebellion and self-realization most genuine that I’ve undertaken up to today.

However, I defend tooth and nail the concept of evolution. I defend the idea that everything, absolutely everything that makes up our existence, has a beginning and an end. Even the things that are most valued, most needed, most beautiful.

We have friends who appeared at some time in our lives and played a decisive role. They became indispensable. And then they disappeared again. When we come together at some point, or they join us by change, we revive the affection, but especially all the memories: what we were is in the past. It hurts to admit it, but in the present we are almost strangers.

Well, today I also conclude this blog. I think I no longer need it. And in almost nothing in my life do I act out of habit. I never write, discuss, love, read, see, and play sports from habit.

When I lose the vital motivation that fires my creativity, the imagination, the reason, I divest myself of the cadaver. Without much effort. Like the Greek Diogenes got rid of his barrel and his bowl, the only possessions that accompanied him in his frugal existence.

The origin of this blog was never to write “for the cause of Cuba.” Not only because I have written posts that have nothing to do with that, but also because above the fate of my country is my own fate. Writing, for me, has always been a hundred times more vital than writing about or for Cuba. To write, I suspect, without any certainty, is my reason for being.

Today that obsessive motivation that, in Cuba, led me publish as many as four posts a week is gone. Perhaps because I have other ways of asserting my political, religious, sexual, artistic opinions, without suffering serious consequences for it. Perhaps because something inside me knows that it’s time to evolve.

And it’s time to write something else.

Of course written journalism has been and will continue to be one of my passions. My articles continue to circulate on the web occasionally, when the motivation inherent in good tests moves me to type two or three pages and send them off to navigate.

But this Little Brother, the most crucial, risky and successful decision I made in my life up until now, this decision that started from a dream of mine, out of sheer panic, in a country where to dare to write independently is an act of crazy people, now closes its cycle of almost two years with 115 posts, several thousand weekly hits, and a legion of virtual friends who will never have any idea how much their support as readers and commentators meant to me.

My blog gained me the respect of hundreds of people in my hometown. I will never forget those strangers who suddenly approached me in the street, whispering, and extracted from their backpack some folded sheets printed with my articles. They were passing them on to someone else.

My blog brought me some of the best professionals and friends I’ve had the happiness to know in the United States. My blog made me forget my name in many circles. The Ernesto who I’d been for 27 years, became, simply, The Little Brother, or The Litt.

Also continuing to diligently call me, have been the petty little agents who are paid a salary in my city to follow me, and who regularly commented on my writing, “Have you seen what our Little Brother has posted now?”

To all, virtual friends and plainclothes cops, readers, collaborators with dates or topics, those who made it a habit to click on my link twice a week, to all my eternal gratitude and the certainty that without your attentions this blog would have died at birth.

To the others, there will always be Paris. For me, to tell my children, I will always have this free, irreverent and ambitious space as proof of the greatest exercise of a vocation for writing, and the freedom that I had in my young adulthood.

April 29 2012

 
 

Cubans and the Lessons from Myanmar

If a disturbing phrase from Milan Kundera affirms that man can never know how to deal the challenges of each day because life is a performance with no rehearsals, a painting without a sketch, a game played without training, then it is also true that there is a generally useful method for us to try to anticipate events, as fortune tellers sniff out the future in the palms of our hands.

It is this: to be attentive to history. Not the History in capital letters that we learn from our school books, but the history that is happening in this second all around us and of which we are an indivisible part.

We can say that for all Cubans, and in particular for the millions spread across the four corners of the earth, this is a method highly recommended for these times. Let’s look at it.

If the exiles from Myanmar — democratic citizens whom a fierce military junta forced to flee from their land over decades — had been told years ago that in 2012 there would be nothing stranger than the current situation of their country, they surely would not have believed it.

Burmese activists founded hundreds of organizations in exile, groups that served, especially starting in the ’90s, as the only sources of information about a country where it was impossible for observers and journalists to enter or leave.

In Thailand alone, Myanmar exiles created 200 associations to denounce and fight politically, receiving substantial funding and help from the international community. They were respected, and their demands for changes in a gagged and repressed country were heard.

But unexpected events rearranged the chessboard, changed the positions of the pieces. Some were even taken off the board. And those turned out to be none other than the ones who had historically played the harshest roles.

The military junta that ruled the destiny of the Buddhist nation since 1962 was dissolved in 2011. Free elections were called. Hundreds of prisoners of conscience were released, including those who had been rotting in the frozen dungeons  — such as the comedian U Maung Thura, sentenced in 2008 to 45 years for criticizing the government’s management during the terrible Nargis hurricane — and those who had suffered house arrest — such as the famous Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. And so with each passing day it became more difficult for the exiled Burmese to sustain their confrontational positions toward the diluted dictatorship of modern times.

Or at least to do it without seeming like rebels without a cause.

According to the New York Times, organizations such as the Vahu Development Institute, founded in 1980 by Burmese students exiled in Thailand, suddenly lost their sponsorships, their financial and political support, for one basic reason: the NGOs previously backing their work now believed that if the activists wanted to continue printing banners with Aung San Suu Kyi, now freed and nominated for the Burmese Parliament, and to demand free elections which had already been called, they should do it with their own resources.

Some have returned to the changing Myanmar. The vast majority have not. Rooted in their lives in exile, they have built their families, their businesses, their political doctrines, on a base that has suddenly started to crumble: the enemy has not totally evaporated, but almost. Myanmar has changed before their eyes, and they are no longer in the game.

With their poorly healed loves, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, they don’t see they have ceased to be anachronistic fighters facing the reality they sought, dreamed of, fought for. The tragedy now is that  they can’t stop seeing it, and they cannot adapt themselves to the new circumstances.

I don’t believe there is a more suggestive and instructive example for us, Cubans of the diaspora, than this logical course taken by a country where, since 2007, the monks — is there an image more peaceful than that of a Buddhist monk? — were met with bullets in their marches in opposition.

To compare the lethargic moves of the military junta leading Cuba with the process implemented in Myanmar would be hasty and inexact. But to ignore the fact that a journey of a thousand miles always begins with a single step, is to make the mistake that this example of the Buddhist nation alerts us to: to close our eyes and remain in our entrenched positions. To fail to pay attention.

The government of Raul Castro has generated no political change of real weight. But to refuse to admit that in the last four years Cuban society has experienced more alterations than in the last two decades of Fidel’s mandate, would be naive, as well as damaging to winning strategies.

The more superficial and insufficient, the more elementary we assume these changes to be, and above all — after a wait of five plus decades — to deny their existence, does no harm to the government in Havana, nor does it do any favors to the democratic exiles. Rather, it is the first step along this treacherous road of disconnect that many Burmese exiles are now experiencing.

Success against an entrenched enemy, one that has been barely damaged by the techniques of the siege, lies in taking advantage of its timid, trembling, cautious, cowardly, and at times imperceptible maneuvers of surrender.

I could not say that the release of the 75 prisoners of the Black Spring, the respect for religious freedom (which even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged in 2010), the sale and purchase of houses and cars, or the implementation of lines of credit to support the businesses of entrepreneurs, are the trumpets that announce the cataclysm. But taken all together, looked at under an objective prism, they can only point toward changes in survival that, if the millions of Cuban exiles know how to take advantage of them, could imply much more than that.

The half century of antagonistic positions do not leave us at the margin of a Cuban reality that is inevitably dialectical, and that at this very minute could be living its death rattle in an atmosphere of misleading passivity. As it has always been. So be it. Minutes before their collapse, all the buildings stood proudly.

Those who have committed their lives in body and soul to reclaiming a nation, “For all and for the good of all,” from an exile never desired, have a challenge of precise intelligence this time, of precious calculation: to not allow the democratization of Cuba to begin with them out of the game. Myanmar leaves her lesson in our hands.

(Published originally in Spanish in Martí Noticias)

February 27 2012

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

Harlequin Memoirs

If a some genuine idolatry remains for the old, the idolater must be suffering a severe existential crisis. The lackeys with pedigree, the real ones, suffer the unspeakable when their idols are revealed as mere humans, and, in cases like this — Fidel Castro publicly exposed for 6 hours — a human grotesque.

To associate the iconographic Fidel Castro, the one that obliged Virgilio Piñera to clench his sphincter so as not to urinate in fear of at behemoth with a gun in his belt he met in 1961 with other intellectuals gone astray; to associate with this old man of bony cheekbones, emancipated jaw and eyes moving against the grain of the story, could be understood in the field of biology, but idolaters assume biology as a matter of mortals. And how to get an idea that the Supreme Leader also will become sometime a graceful old man like this, an old man who only serves to be made fun of?

The ominous symbolism this man carries does not impede us from enjoying the hilarious comedy that featured in his most recent speech at the launch of his memoirs in the Palace of Conventions in Havana.

Guerrilla of Time, is the title of this book from Katiuska Blanco, the diligent scribe destined to type these nearly thousand pages of fiction separated into two volumes. Guerrilla of Time. The satraps and their unique manias: some raised pyramids, others constructed memoirs with pharaonic titles.

Maybe the two volumes of this quasi-posthumous delirium of Fidel Castro will no longer serve to decorate the official salons and as gifts for the party vanguard, but the colorful launch of this caprice of power, what was said and not said in this little room of the Palace of Conventions, is not wasted. As they are quick to say: there History was made.

The old man spoke of the human and divine. His audience, composed of an exotic mortar of frauds, idolaters, and useful idiots, laughed heartily when the commander asked them to, and stifled their genuine laughter when prudence suggested it.

The old man dropped priceless pearls. Example: he called the Republican candidate Mitt Romney “the least unbearable of the unbearables,” revealed a top secret by claiming that the British intended to drill for oil in the Falklands, and muttered his personal definition of what the Internet is: “a revolutionary instrument that allows the receiving and transmitting of ideas in both directions, something we must learn to use.”

Among lightheadedness and hiccups, including delusions and voice problems, now whispering, now pronouncing indecipherable gibberish like one who speaks an extinct language, Castro more of an exhibition than ever, mentioned, for example, a hybrid between his deceased sister-in-law and the president of Brazil (“Vilma” Rousseff); confessed the error of setting an entire people to study Russian when the whole world was learning English; and when they gave him the phone to talk to the released spy Rene Gonzalez, he mistook him for another member of the Wasp network behind bars, Antonio Guerrero.

He was commanded to run.

So as not to clash with the atmosphere of comic theater, the two cultural acolytes who escorted the lean leader this time, gathered in their harvest. Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture, said of this memoir that “many people in the world today, facing the barbarism, will run to look for it” as a manual of solutions. Miguel Barnet, president of UNEAC, went further: “This book recreates the life of the Commander like a film in the third dimension.”

In all probability this could be the last major public appearance of yesterday’s strongman of the island, today a framework of bones, badly combed hair and babbling colors. I do not think his body can take another six hours of cantata, although with this archaeological specimen one never knows, really.

But like a bittersweet ending, as this turn of tragicomedy that cuts the smile until it becomes a painful grimace, the presentation of the first two volumes of the memoirs of Fidel Castro will leave an image as an historical shame: intellectuals, artists, scientists, teachers, converted into puppets on their strings who applaud, laugh or get excited at the moment a brain scorched by the time requests it, and even, if necessary, an auditorium that would become the army of nurses willing to change the soiled diaper of the incontinent leader.

February 9 2012

 
 

Reina Luisa’s Other Versailles

If, at the moment she stepped foot on U.S. soil that June 9, 2011, someone had whispered in Reina Luisa Tamayo’s ear that barely seven months later, this January 31, 2011, she would be at the Versailles Restaurant not as a heroic mother, but as a woman in need of support and understanding; no longer a protagonist of a campaign to defend universal human rights for which her son died, but rather in a campaign for her own economic aid, she wold have thought it was one more of Castro’s manipulations.

Too many lies had been targeted at this humble woman who, in the midst of her pain, had to see herself on Cuban television, spied on by a hidden camera in the office of her son’s doctor, maligned, even about her integrity as a mother.

Seven months ago Reina Luise appeared before other cameras, at the Miami International Airport, with the ashes of her poor son in her arms, surrounded by a delegation of activists and leaders of the exile — including a federal congresswoman — receiving the treatment of a heroine: admiration, promises of aid, family invitations, a site for the eternal rest of her son. The media fought over her. Everyone wanted to talk to her, congratulate her, honor her. Reina Louisa was news.

Behind the scenes, the only ones ignorant of what would soon happen in their lives, were the twelve family members who sought political asylum at her side, and Reina Luisa herself.

Recent statements by the Lady in White, offered to the journalist Pedro Sevcec on his program “Sevcec a Fondo” of América TeVé, where she stated explicitly that on her arrival in the United States she was manipulated, and that she and her twelve family members felt cheated, and where she tried to keep her voice from cracking when she responded the question of the host about whether she regretted coming to this country, were the sad time bomb that we all knew would eventually have to explode.

The first signs appeared months earlier. A man who carries the same surnames — Zapata Tamayo — Rogelio, Orlando’s older brothers, told a reporter of the Gen TV chain words that shocked the ears of the Cuban “historic exile”:

“This has all been a deception, since we arrived, first they told us one thing, then they told us another, and at the end of the day, the truth is we don’t know what’s what. Everything becomes political. I’m not political, I don’t engage in politics… what I lived in Cuba, I did in Cuba. My principal objective here is to work and I can’t figure out how to do that.”

Lately, Reina Luisa prefers not to give interviews. It’s easy to see why.

But now she has broken her silence and returned to the news, this time to look at the promises that lured her to American soil which turned out to be unreal, to present how she and her family have been simply used by a political and ideological machinery opposed to what harassed her in Cuba, the real story has surfaced. And in a very painful way.

First the family was lacerated by the Cuban government’s repression. Then, the sordid reality of a distant exile, where many end up dying of a badly healed nostalgia, and where those who don’t know how to care for themselves only have one option in the range of possibilities: to never come.

Would it be wroth it to investigate the history of the broken promises made to this family by the exile organizations and leaders? Of course. Not to corroborate what we already know, but to demonstrate how much these humble Cubans were lied to in order to bring more victims to Miami, at any cost.

It would be worthwhile to ask who told thirteen people, with poor educations, and a woman of 65 with health problems, that they would be supported indefinitely in a city where everyone has to strive not to increase the existing 11.5% unemployment figure, and where thousands of those born here, bi-lingual, and with full knowledge of the society, cannot get jobs to support themselves, or must work as cleaners — as Reina Luise states she has had to do — in order to pay their bills.

When Reian Luisa, implored from Banes, Holguin, to change the family’s original destination from Arizona to warm and “known” Miami, she thought she knew what she was doing. That is: to arrive at the place where her comrades in the cause and pain could better help her and hers. The efforts of the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, turned her request into an immediate order.

Today, Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s mother is learning her lesson in the most difficult was possible: in free societies, not only do we enjoy inalienable rights, we also contract enormous obligations. The first and foremost: the obligation to take care of our own lives. So we live in the best part of the civilized world. So we live in the society of the United States where, hopefully I’m wrong, Reina Luisa will probably never adapt.

To all this, the crossfire. From Cuba the propaganda apparatus laughs and shows a captive people the benefits of an exile, where icons, like Reina Luisa, say they feel betrayed seven months after arriving in freedom. In Miami, too many voices begin to use words like “ungrateful” and “unfair” to name the thirteen relatives of the martyr.

How do you explain to a woman who did not choose her own destiny, who has been a victim of it; a woman lacking education, without her Santiago birthplace and her adopted Banes, without an existence beyond the excruciating pain of losing a child; how to you explain to her that now she and hers must fend for themselves, away from the television cameras, away from the headlines, without organizations or politicians now too absorbed in election year politics?

How do you make her understand that the concept of the paternalistic State, where houses “are given,” where you don’t have to pay for health care, where if you lack sugar or rice the solution is to ask to borrow from the misery of your neighbor, that all that is in the past, that in this land not only is freedom won, but, above all, responsibility for one’s own destiny.

How do you make her understand that she would be invited to speak to the Congress of the United States, that she would be invited to tell her story in Boston and Puerto Rico, but that once the narration was finished she would have to pay her own bills for electricity, cable, telephone and transportation?

No, it’s not possible. As it is not possible to return her son to her, and to return her happy and humble life in Banes from years earlier to her. Like it will not be possible to go from door to door of all those in Miami who promised her guaranteed support, and demand that they fulfill their promises.

The image of Reina Luisa Tamayo this January 31 in the Versailles restaurant, appealing to her symbolism to move the sentiments of anyone who could offer a job in consolation for her and some of her family members, seems to me a huge sadness. And I suspect that those directly responsible for this reality don’t even know what has happened today to the mother of Orlando Zapata, nor do they care.

February 1 2012

 
 

Benedict in His Labyrinth

To the already boiling cauldron that awaits Benedict XVI on the tropical island he will visit this coming March, another definitive ingredient has just been added: A too possible death. Unfortunately probable.

If it was complex to step on Mexican soil where, according to official figures, 47,515 people have lost their lives since Felipe Calderon declared the war on drug trafficking in 2006, at least the Pope had a countervailing reality: It’s a democracy. And in democracies, one can pray for the victims, call for peace, criticize the incumbent president. Without major complications.

It’s another kettle of fish when the papal visit makes landfall in the world of dictators. There, the world is turned on its ear, eyes are ready, as if at a fair, sniffing, questioning and observing how the saint conducts himself. And His Holiness knows that whatever he says or does not say will be urgently used by the dictators, or their detractors.

In the troubled reality of a country where hundreds of political prisoners cry out for justice from their cells; where women are beaten by unscrupulous police in uniform or in plain clothes; where too many controversial deaths have occurred in a couple of years (Zapata, Juan Wilfredo , Laura); is now added what could be a black harbinger of his visit, too shocking to be ignored by the Vatican: Wilmar Villar Santiago Mendoza, ready to die at any second.

The political opponent, sentenced to four years in jail for contempt, resistance and attack (yes, those euphemisms by which the Cuban Penal Code defines the act of public protest), is reported to be in very serious condition after more than 50 days on hunger strike, and according to testimony from relatives, “only a miracle could save him” from the terrible complications of pneumonia.

Miracles do happen, we know. But too sporadically. And if you’re not in the hands of the Pope — relying on his exalted credentials — to ask for a miracle for this poor Cuban on the verge of death, makes the labyrinth of Pope Benedict XVI, I believe, even more intractable.

Why? First, because if he finally meets the archaeological Fidel Castro, a symbolic leader with no official power today, there would be no justification not to meet with the Ladies in White or some of the dissidents who have asked for attention from the Papal Nuncio. I do not think that in just three days of hectic travel the 84-year-old man has time for both.

Second, because if it was already scandalous for a representative of universal peace and harmony to visit a country with one of the largest prison populations in the world, where political opponents have died in hunger strikes or in circumstances never clarified, and not to ask publicly and forcefully about them, it would be unforgivable to arrive in a country where only weeks before another dissident has died from a horrible hunger strike, and to remain silent.

The critical condition of Wilmar Villar Mendoza has given a brutal slap to the table where both sides receive his letters: on one hand the Catholic Church, with its absolute guide stepping on Cuban soil, and on the other the Cuban government represented by the evil alter-ego of Fidel Castro that is his younger brother.

Because the Vatican could announce without shame that its relations with the Cuban government have improved markedly in recent years, when even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged in her 2010 annual report on religious freedom in the world that Cuba had shown remarkable progress in this regard, and when 75 political prisoners were released thanks to the efforts of the church. But (unless the miracle asked for by Wilmar Villar Mendoza’s doctors takes place, I repeat) I do not think the Pope wants to carry the same eternal stigma that Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will carry, having visited the island when Orlando Zapata had just been buried, and having kept an embarrassing silence in this regard.

The families of the brave Santiaguan will be the only ones to weep with real pain if the end that they themselves, devastated, have predicted comes to pass. But for elementary practical opportunism, I don’t know who desires more that this young man — crushed by a hunger strike — recovers his health at the last minute: the satraps of my country, or Benedict XVI.

January 18 2012

 
 

Super Patriots


One.

In the distance, a horizon of clouds promised to relieve the temperature. From my bicycle I felt the comfort ahead of time, even though my sweat was forcing me to squint to see the semi-deserted road. On my back a backpack, inside it a bouquet of flowers.

The pedaling became much easier. Before arriving at the cemetery, a short slope slipped the tires almost to the corroded and faded double iron doors that lead into the sacred ground.

Sacred ground: crass euphemism. The depression of the cemetery of my city killed the dead.

So I arrived there. It was a Thursday in 2010, almost three in the afternoon. I was not going to visit my dead. I went for those of someone else. Those of a stranger who, from Miami, sent me on plea with his lovely mission which I had to read only once before taking it on as mine:

“I have read your blog with great pleasure, I ass that you live in Bayamo, the same town where I was born and from where I left when I was six years of age. I have never returned. I would like to ask you an enormous favor, I don’t know if you will forgive my daring to do so. Somewhere in the provincial cemetery rest the remains of my aunt Amanda. She died in a tragic accident when she was less than twenty, before I was born. According to my elderly mother, her sister was the most beautiful girl in the Bayamo of her time. Her eyes adorn the homepage of my personal blog. Would it be too much to ask you to look for her grave and put flowers on it in my name, and send me a photo so I can see the site where someone so important to us rests?”

Two.

I had only a name beginning with “A,” the year of death and the approximate month of the funeral. “Mama doesn’t remember well, Ernesto, forgive me for burdening you even more with this task.” So my search relied on two and a half pieces of data and a mountain of good will.

I was lucky: I happened on the most solicitous employee of that sad place. Cemeteries usually infect the living with their effluvia. The employee, with a translucent shirt he had to constantly pull away from his torso, bathed in sweat, and with thick glasses, put a book in front of me that seemed to hold all the truths of this world, and of another, never better said.

“Turn the pages gently,” he warned me. “Remember it’s nearly 50 years ago. Get ready for the dust.”

And there I passed my next two hours. In a volume of almost five thousand pages, written in pencil, deciphering the hieroglyphics of hurried and disinterested letters, trying to find the exact date of the burial of a lady I had never known but who was very important to someone else, a stranger. Once we knew the date she entered the necropolis, we would know the street, row and pantheon where her remains reposed.

When, a couple of hours later, the employee returned from a room behind me with the stub of a cigar in his mouth, I got up with a piece of paper in hand and some satisfaction in my voice:

“Street 12, Row 308, Grave 44 L.”

Three.

The pictures took longer than expected. Standing before the rectangle of cement that covered — like a headstone — the grave of Amanda who never made it twenty, I found myself not knowing what to do.

How to send images of such a scary place, with stinking weeds surrounding the edges of the sepulcher, a bent and rusty tin cross adorning the head, a powdery dust announcing the state of abandonment of Amanda’s grave.

I cleaned it. I straightened the cross as best I could. Without any tools, aided only by my hands and will, I cleared the site of weeds run wild. I pulled the flowers from my backpack, put them in a reliquary filled with water. My sweat pasted my T-shirt to my body. Overhead the clouds darkened the sky announcing their danger: a downpour and me on a bicycle.

Nothing mattered.

The image of a distant family, an elderly woman eyes moist, honoring with her tears the site of her beautiful sister; the image of a stranger hugging his mother, thinking about his aunt and putting into context the abstraction of his mythical Amanda; the beautiful charge of my enterprise absorbed every second of the afternoon.

When I was sure that some thirty digital photos would allow me to choose which ones to send off electronically, which would offer the best panorama, the most comprehensive, the least depressing possible, I thanked the employee with a handshake that represented myself and those exiled from Bayamo, and began to pedal once again.

Four.

No, the infamous downpour didn’t damage the digital camera. I did damage the gears of the bike which, without grease, made a noise like grasshoppers for several weeks. But the photos were safe. If I could manage to connect myself to the Internet (with my clandestine connection), in a few minutes a stranger’s afternoon would change completely.

Five.

“Dear Ernesto:

“You made me cry. I have cried for happiness and little for the melancholy of several members of my family. I will never know how to thank you for your gesture. Right now I’m a little embarrassed, when I can tell you more you will receive the mail you deserve. I just want you to know that in Miami you have one more family.”

Epilogue.

On February 20, 2011, two months and twenty days after stepping on American soil, an article entitled “Uncomfortable Freedoms” appeared on this blog. It was my position on the American restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba — which months later I addressed in other texts — where I responsibly criticized the positions of Senators Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio.

The day after this publication, my wife received a brief message on her cell phone. I will try to reproduce it verbatim:

“I can not describe how disappointed I am Ernesto. Your article seemed to me the most hypocritical and lamentable that I have read in a long time. What a shame, having once been a true patriot.”

I smiled halfheartedly. I had just win something like an enemy, who would not hesitate in the future to employ offensive epithets against me from his patriotic and well-known blog, and between us was raised an impenetrable wall of political posturing.

I never got to know him. The lunch date set for some weekend never came to pass. I was sorry I wouldn’t get to kiss an old woman who kept intact her love for her dead sister, that I could not tell her in my own voice the details of the day when I humbly honored the memory of her Amanda.

I carefully conserve the memory of a sweaty Ernesto, determined to clean an unknown grave, excited at the thought of causing happiness in a distant home. And since then I have also conserved an almost absolute certainty: I am not disposed to believe in libertarian yearnings, in the search for the well-being of a trampled Country, from someone who is not capable of refining his own human condition.

10 January 2012

 
 

The Winners’ Trophy

She said it with a tone somewhere between surprise and disappointment:

“They don’t give a damn, Ernesto. How mistaken we exiles are.”

And I nodded because I knew too well what she was talking about. For her, a woman from Santiago who hadn’t stepped foot on her native land since 1999, living in Miami and linked to the Hispanic media, it was a startling discovery.

For me, with my memory too fresh, it was just a description of a cadaver that I knew every inch of: the cadaver of Cuban freedom, seen through the lens of national apathy.

My interlocutor had returned the day before from her simmering and fun-loving Santiago. She went there more for a family emergency than for an excess of nostalgia or tourist reasons: her mother has lung cancer.

Her narratives of a country defeated by an army of the hungry, the ineptitude, the lack of productivity, the shortages and unsanitary conditions, fell into the background. She summarized it in two quick sentences.

Her real discovery, that which — I am sure — she would tell a hundred more people after me, was another:

“They are accustomed to living without freedom. Meanwhile, over here, we overestimate the “popular support” for the dissidents; over here we have the idea of a people in rebellion against their tyrants, people aware of the protests in the streets, the Ladies in White, the opponents of Palma Soriano, I didn’t find any of that over there…”

What did she find? A panorama that she seemed to be seeing again in front of me, image after image: a sweaty crowd, their carefree faces, moving their hips to the beat of reggaeton playing on the speakers. Hundreds of young people pressed tightly together, not to defend women from police beatings, but to buy the bad-smelling beer sold by the State. Arguments, at full throttle, hundreds of screams, not asking to be able to travel freely, not demanding freedom of expression and association, but rather discussing the latest baseball game between the Industriales and Santiago.

“When I asked them about the opponents of Palma Soriana who we’d seen dozens of times in the media in Miami, I almost always found the same reactions: indifference. This, in the best of cases. In the in-between cases: ‘These are shi..ters… they live to get beaten, total, they’re not going to change anything.’ In the worst cases, ‘The only thing they’re looking for is a visa to leave the country.’”

Inevitably, I recall the opposition I knew in my country: honest, consistent, serious. People who had paid a huge price for daring not to be two-faced. But I couldn’t help but think, also, of a certain little up-and-comer in a youth opposition party in my city who, after my expulsion from the mass media, wanted to “hire” me to teach journalism to the ten members of his group. What was the attraction that “freedom fighter” found to tempt me with his offer?

“You give us some little classes, which you can, and I will immediately sign a certificate saying you are politically persecuted and have collaborated with the dissidence. With this and your own history, you’ll be in la Yuma — the U.S.A. — before you know it….”

I still check my conscience regarding whether I was too hurtful in my response.

But what I don’t doubt is the God’s truth: The romantic enthusiasm that permeates certain circles outside Cuba, that constant feeling of the epic of a people in struggle against their oppressors, this perspective of society that has closed ranks in search of its rights; it is a beautiful view, but false.

Cuba has eleven million souls. Ivonne Malleza is one. José Daniel Ferrer is one. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation is Elizardo Sanchez. Bloggers truly active in the struggle don’t exceed ten. Yoani is one. Dagoberto is one. Biscet is one. The courageous protagonists who protest by banging on pots and pans in the Cuatro Caminos markets and who protests in Fraternity Park never exceed five, always surrounded by fifty, a hundred, impassive observers who do not move a finger to fend off the thugs.

I want them to be more. There were not ninety Ladies in White scattered throughout the country, but there were at least ninety thousand that should have been. I wish that the nine million Cubans who affixed their signatures  (signatures infected with fear and apathy) in 2002 to guarantee Socialism in the Constitution of the Republic, would have added more of their names to the Varela Project, which that same year collected eleven thousand real names. I wish that one day the crowd would be reversed, and that the handful of those cornered, encircled by the crowd, were not Laura Pollan and her women, but rather the tools of the system surrounded by brave Cubans. But my desire is not enough.

We Cubans crush the larvae under military boots, and as Kant warned, “Whomever voluntarily turns worm should not protest if they decide to trample him.” Two million of us have escaped. Eleven million remain inside. Half of those eleven million also want to escape. Of the other half, the majority watch the bulls from the sidelines and wait for better times. They subsist. A much too small minority don’t want to escape, nor are they resigned to living without freedom, They are almost as few as the family that has taken over the whole Island, and that will drift away only when all its members are already dead.

So brief is the recent history of my country. In a cruel paragraph one can put tons of words, books, frustrations, desires, longings.

I think it’s time to take off our masks and look at our wrinkles in the mirror: The Castros won. They will die in power. They will yield when it pleases them, or when it pleases biology. And the millions of Cubans (unmotivated at present) in the public plazas every May Day, the hundreds of Central Havanans congregating in front of the homes of the disaffected to launch repudiations, insults, blows, and those who looked with amazement at my friend, a woman from Santiago who thought she would find her countrymen at war and found them at a party, they are the undeniable trophy of the winners.

January 4 2012

 
 

Interview: The Spanish Son of the Dear Leader

Creating a novel character based on his profile would be relatively simple. His birth name is Alejandro Cao de Benós, his adopted name is Cho Son-il (Korean for “Korea is one”), and he boasts the disconcerting title of Honorary Special Delegate of North Korea, which means that this Catalan with aristocratic roots is the official spokesman of North Korea abroad.

But his duties extend a little further.

His defense at all costs of the Kim dynasty since the beginning of the nineties and his solid and imperturbable activism outside the peninsula have earned Alejandro Cao de Benós the absolute confidence of the recently deceased dictator Kim Jong-il, such that he has ended up setting himself up as a kind of supreme national censor, to the point of deciding what information is transmitted from North Korea out to the world, and vice versa.

We are talking — as he himself has said in his own words — about the only Westerner to belong to the all-powerful inner circle of the most isolated and ferocious country in the world today.

This telephone interview, agreed to after the death of the “Dear Leader” (as all North Korea is obliged to call the late Kim Jong-il), hardly lasted twenty minutes. Mr Alejandro Cao de Benós answered my questions with a great deal of aptitude, although sometimes I wondered if he was responding to mine or someone else’s. At times his words did not even touch on the caustic issues which I was trying to investigate.

In any event it was, without a doubt, one of the most delightful interviews I have done to date. The martial tone of the dedicated Communist enamored of an ideology, his astonishing arguments explaining concisely why North Korea needs the atomic bomb more than food, provided me with twenty minutes of true journalistic surrealism with the man who, when he learned of the death of Kim Jong-il, confessed that it was like losing a father.

Hours after North Korean television announced the “terrible and irreparable” loss of the Dear Leader, a new leader appeared on the horizon. A 28-year-old leader baptized shortly earlier as “Brilliant Comrade”, unfamiliar even to many members of the innermost elite. I am speaking of Kim Jong-un, youngest child of Kim Jong-il. 

Ernesto Morales: Mr Cao de Benós, how is it possible that Kim Jong-un, a young man of 28 years of age whom not even you know, as you have hinted in other interviews, is henceforth the leader of 24 million people who did not elect him?

Alejandro Cao de Benós: It’s not quite like that. Comrade Kim Jong-un has a military position, is currently vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, and has not been named leader. What’s happening is that he has received military instruction and is well loved by the Army, and there are many among the Korean people who are lending him their support and gathering around him.

That doesn’t mean that he will have absolute power over the Army or the country. That has never happened in North Korea. At present the leader depends on Mr Kim Yong-nam*, who is the President of the Supreme People’s Assembly. So we say: it is the hope of the Korean people that General Kim Jong-un continues the legacy of his father, General Kim Jong-il, but this doesn’t mean that he will make all the decisions or that he is in charge of the country right now.

In May 2001 the Dear Leader’s first-born son, and until then the clear heir of the dynasty, Kim Jong-nam, was arrested at Narita International Airport, in Tokyo. He was traveling on a false passport from the Dominican Republic, using a Chinese alias, and planning to visit Tokyo Disneyland. After spending a few days under arrest he was deported to China. The incident caused a diplomatic earthquake among North Korea, China, and Japan, and forced a shamed Kim Jong-il to cancel a trip to Beijing.

EM: Mr Cao de Benós, we understood that the first-born son, Kim Jong-nam, who you tell me will get the title of president, had lost the favor of Kim Jong-il, due to an attempt to illegally enter Japan in order to visit Disneyland…

ACB: Well, I am telling you that that information is totally false. What’s more, the Western press is creating a so-called Kim Jong-nam who doesn’t exist, who is this fat gentleman who appears on television, and who is in fact an actor paid by Japan. This man has nothing to do with North Korea.

Domestic and international tourism do not exist in North Korea. Nobody enters the country freely, and nobody freely leaves it. Not for any reason. In South Africa in 2010, North Korea took part in the FIFA World Cup for the first time. During the game against Brazil, attention was drawn to a large group of fans euphorically cheering on the North Korean team. Later it was discovered that they were Chinese volunteers hired by China Sports Management on the request of the North Korean Sports Committee. 

EM: So as it seems, Mr Cao de Benós, there is a very important factor in all of this, and it is the disinformation factor. I have read interviews in which you expressly state that one of the critiques the North Korean government could make of itself is that it doesn’t pay due attention to international relations, and especially with regard to the media. Now, you decide to a large extent what information comes out of and into North Korea.

Why can’t North Koreans leave freely to do what you do, to defend their great country from Western slander, and why can’t the rest of the world freely enter North Korea, and in that way get rid of the disinformation?

ACB: That’s the part of the self-critique which I try to resolve from my point of view. Bear in mind that I am a sort of bridge between the Western mentality and the North Korean mentality. I may be the only person who has the perspective of both worlds and what I try to do is bring them together.

But basically what goes on is that Korea has been continuously subjected to periodic slander and insults. For Koreans, respect, politeness, is something typical of their culture and is instrumental in society. While for example in America or Europe there are other types of characters, an individualistic society, where everyone says what he likes and on many occasions simply insults other people, this is unacceptable in Korea.

So since so much of the media has published so much false news, what North Korea has done is close itself off completely from the outside world. And that may be debatable but it’s understandable. When a person is unfairly injured, what he does is not allow anyone else to come into his house.

EM: It’s very important to be precise: a government is not the owner of a country. A government should simply administer a country according to the interests of its citizens, just to highlight the distinction with respect to your metaphor about access or lack of access to a house.

Now, there is an interesting point: International organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, defectors from the North Korean government itself, regular citizens who have escaped through China, they have all persistently denounced the concentration camps and human experimentation, the elimination of almost half a million political opponents in the last four decades, the torture, the disappearances.

The question most basic to common sense is: How is it possible that all these people are lying, how is it possible that hundreds of testimonies agree, while you do not allow the world to come into the country to check what are simple falsehoods?

ACB: Well, look, speaking specifically to allowing someone to enter your house or not, first I state explicitly to you that the government of North Korea is a government of the people, which is originates from the people and serves their interests, it is not a government of oligarchs or multimillionaires, OK?

As in other nations, the people feel united, otherwise this system would not continue. Bear in mind that the other socialist countries have increased the level of capitalism, as in the case of China, but North Korea and its 24 million inhabitants follow the same destiny even now and will continue along the socialist path. If the North Koreans decided to do the same as other socialist countries and turn toward capitalism, it would be a decision of the people itself which could materialize through democracy.

And responding briefly to your question, it’s because of false and malicious propaganda such as what you mention that every day Korea hardens itself more in its position of distance from a slanderous and aggressive West.

On 30 November of this year, Amnesty International reported the existence of at least six concentration camps in North Korea which hold more than 200,000 political prisoners. The largest of them, Yodok, imprisons around 50,000 people, including women and children. A report from 2006, commissioned by among others recently deceased former Czech president Václav Havel and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, revealed chilling statistics: more than 400,000 people dead in North Korean prisons in the last 30 years. 

EM: So according to you there exists the concrete possibility of exercising a democratic opposition inside North Korea. Let’s suppose that I am a North Korean and I don’t approve of what’s happening in my country. Is there a viable possibility that I can express this publicly without anything bad happening to me?

ACB: Of course, just as in any other country in the world.

But really what I mean is that if anyone goes and sets foot in North Korea and meets North Koreans, he will realize that the government’s ideology springs from a popular basis. And what’s more, those organizations which have so much to say about North Korea, many of them have never set foot in the country, and if they continue to defame it, well, Korea will be much less inclined to invite them, because all they’re doing is attacking the country before getting to know it.

If I go into a country with prejudices, thinking I’m only going to encounter what I have read or the lies I have been told, then of course I won’t be able to understand that country.

EM: Mr Cao de Benós, we have seen reports, documentaries, even ones in which you appear, in which visitors and journalists are not allowed to freely ask questions of people in the street, to film North Koreans or talk with them, without your directing and dictating what segment of the population can be visited, which areas can be filmed and which ones not. And I have seen you specifically saying with all your authority: “You can’t film that.” How is this explained from a democratic perspective? Under what precept do you think that is appropriate for a country with freedoms?

ACB: Well, look, it’s very simple. That happened because the people whom I myself have brought (I deal with hundreds of journalists from every country in the world) sometimes come to inform but others come to make trouble. They come to defame.

So if a person who comes with a camera, and has entered the country thanks to my arrangements, and for whom I have arranged the visa, then arrives in the country and what he does is make trouble, break the law, logically I am not going to give him more leeway or more opportunities to keep causing damage, especially since I am responsible because that person has entered due to the confidence of our government in me.

There are other journalists who have had more access to the country, and it depends on the level of trust I have with them. Depending on how they behave, Korea responds to them accordingly.

EM: So filming an area which is not a military zone, filming a park or a town which you or the North Korean authorities don’t want filmed, is breaking the law…

ACB: It’s not quite like that. I’ll give you an example. I have lived and worked in the United States. In fact I was in the part of California, in one of the places with one of the highest costs of living. I was working there because in my original profession I was an I.T. consultant. When I was in Palo Alto, with, of course, the mansions and millionaires who live there, I realized that after 7 p.m., when the sun goes down, all the people who lived on the street came out, the homeless, the war veterans, the impoverished masses and the drug addicts. 

So, if I take a camera and film San Francisco during that time and only shoot those types of people, and I say that “this is San Francisco”, obviously that’s a distortion intended to give a poor image of that area…

EM: That’s true, but there’s a difference, Mr Cao de Benós: in San Francisco nobody is going to stop you from filming in complete freedom. And if anyone does, you can sue that person because he would be breaking the law. The law in this country is not “you can film here, but not there”. The law in a democracy is that there cannot exist someone with your authority, to determine what can be asked, photographed, or filmed, and what can’t.

ACB: That’s not the case. Every country has guidelines with respect to the media, and besides you can’t produce any show, either in the U.S. or in Spain, without a press authorization, and without press credentials.

First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

EM: No, that’s not true. Nobody in the United States needs press credentials for those purposes.

ACB: Look, it even happens here in Spain. I’m telling you because I know all the journalists here. You can’t be filming the Ramblas in Barcelona with a camera without the needed authorization.

But look, all the same I’m not going to go into, I don’t have to go into such concrete details and talk about my very long experience with the media or the press, but I’ll just tell you that although you’re completely free to go all over the U.S., most people don’t go out into the street after 7:30 at night for fear of being assaulted. And besides if you don’t have a car, poor you, because it happened to me, not having a car in the U.S., having to resort to public transportation, and truly feeling afraid due to the urban insecurity you live through where you are.

Natural disasters and insane economic management destroyed the North Korean economy in the middle of the 1990s. According to estimates, the famine which then ravaged the country caused around two million deaths. In 1998 Doctors Without Borders reported cases of cannibalism among North Korean peasants, as the only way to overcome their hunger. Nevertheless, North Korea is one of just nine countries in the world which possess atomic weapons and boasts the fourth largest army in the world with 1.2 million men under arms.

EM: One last question, Mr Cao de Benós. It is well known in the world — I don’t know if you’re going to deny this too — that North Korea has a sizeable food shortage. In the past you have explained that this is simply the result of natural disasters which have ruined the fields.

All right, how is it possible that this can happen in a country which has nuclear weapons, which directs uncommon amounts of money to sustain the fourth largest army in the world, while people don’t have anything to eat?

ACB: Well look, it is explained in the following way: the main problem in North Korea is that if we don’t defend it from an empire like the United States, which has already destroyed several countries, Iraq, Afghanistan, and recently Libya, if we don’t truly defend the country, it would lose all its museums, all its culture, and would end up basically being a wasteland.

In other words, if there’s no way to defend the country, its schools, its hospitals, its education, and any advances that have been made in the last fifty years would all be lost.

North Korea knew perfectly well that Bush reserved the right to launch a preemptive attack. We also knew that since 1994 Clinton had plans to attack North Korea, and if in fact that empire held back it was because we demonstrated that we had nuclear capacity.

So I tell you that since 1994 the United States has clearly wished to launch preemptive attacks, and if we didn’t have a large army it wouldn’t matter if we built hospitals, it wouldn’t matter if we had better tractors for farming, because they would all be annihilated by American bombers.

Therefore, now that we have ensured the strength of the country, now that we know the United States won’t attack us because we have a nuclear guarantee, we can develop the economy and develop the standard of living of the people to the needed extent.

(Special thanks to Dr Vilma Petrash for arranging this interview.)

Translated by: Adam Cooper

[*Translator’s note: The blogger spelled the name of Kim Yong-nam, President of the Supreme People’s Assembly, as Kim Jong-nam, the name of the eldest son of Kim Jong-il; this has been corrected.]

December 27 2011

 

Welcome to the Past

If somehow I managed the unthinkable — five minutes with president Barack Obama — I think I would use the time to convey a clear message: “Do not veto the provision that restricts travel and remittances to Cuba, Mr. President.”

I don’t know if I would say to him what I have to my friends and family in Cuba, and which in my year in the United States I’ve never stopped repeating, with impertinent insistence, that to alienate Cubans on and off the island from each other is more than an injustice, it is a serious mistake.

But I would advise the President not to veto, in the case of Cuba, the budget bill that will be approved or rejected by Congress on the 16th, where the Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart cleverly slipped in a return to the Cuban travel and remittances policies from the time of George W. Bush.

Why? Because just as every people has the leader it deserves, each sector of a democracy has the measures it deserves, promulgated by the legislators it elects and deserves.

And while Obama’s veto would avoid the catastrophe of severing the ties between exiles and Cuba’s nascent civil society, and would prevent more than a little suffering among mothers who would not be able to see their children more than once every three years, I don’t believe it should be Obama, an American born in Hawaii, who should protect us from whomever we Cubans ourselves elect, or allow others to elect, and who eventually adopt laws against us.

Only those who cannot exercise their right to vote because they do not possess citizenship in this country are excluded (temporarily) from the blame. The rest of those in South Florida have signed on so that those with positions like those of Mario Diaz Balart seem representative of this community, and those who prefer to go shopping on election day will receive what they appear to have asked for, whether or not they exercised their rights.

The truly unfortunate are the almost two million Cubans living in the United States today, and the 1.2 million living in South Florida, an ever smaller percentage of whom sustain these alienating postures and restrictions that in more than half a century have not hurt so much as a hair on the head of the Castro brothers.

But it so happens that the true majority now has its hands tied because of one of two reasons: either legal impossibility or apathy toward the exercise of its rights, incorrigibly inherited from its days on an Island where the word “elections” has no mental resonance.

So who is left? Those who because of stubbornness, ignorance, lack of re-programming or opportunism insist on supporting a clearly failed policy, based more on the absence of ideas than on the dialectic of thought and societies.

That explains why it is not imperative to have an intelligent and bold platform in the south of Florida in order to have a rising political career; if you repeat the same chants, the same anti-Castro formulas, the same methods that have proved ineffective decade after decade, you’re more than halfway along the path to success.

It doesn’t matter that every day the facts prove that without the people who travel to the Island the cellphones don’t bring themselves and, in consequence, the images of repression cannot be shown to the world. It doesn’t matter that those like me who are newcomers shout ourselves hoarse saying that every Cuban who receives financial support outside the State is a much more independent and honest citizen than those who depend on the government to fill their stomachs. It’s not important to remember the basis on which this great country is founded: respect for diversity and individual decisions.

Therefore I, who advocate for all those who want to visit their family and friends being able to do so whenever they and their wallets decide (not the amendment of some congressman born in Fort Lauderdale, lucky for him), would applaud the president’s veto in the name of the consequences it would avoid, but if the man elected to decide the fate of this nation asked my humble opinion, I would repeat the same sentence: “Don’t veto the clause that restricts travel and remittances to Cuba.”

As long as there is no accountability and good sense on the part of Cubans in the exercise of their rights; as long as there is no awareness of what it means to elect those who promote policies respectable in their quest for freedom but that should be dismissed as outdated, there will be draconian laws governing the destiny of this community, and we say: welcome to the past.

I don’t believe it should be the president of the United States who, like a wise adult, makes the right decision in the name of the children.  Rights come with responsibility, they are not received as an indulgence.

(Originally in Martí Noticias)

December 14 2011

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 

Christmas 2.0

With just one click from his holy finger, he lit the most colossal Christmas tree in the holy world 220 kilometers from his holy dwelling. So says the Guinness Book of World Records: the tree rises 750 meters up the side of a mountain in Gubbio, Italty, and is a record And this tree was lit by Benedict XVI from Rome using a $500 Sony Tablet.

Thousand of my readers who are engineers could explain the mystery to me: how to implement a mechanism that, via satellite, lights far off bulbs with the single touch of a button on an electronic tablet. But one thing I do know from my own common sense: This mechanism is expensive. In spades.

His Holiness saw the result of his click on a modern LCD wide-screen TV. Perhaps he saw the image and thought to himself: “At this point, making miracles is a little bit easier.”

If he changed the channel and put some of the cameras in the Vatican, he could also see the Christmas tree that he ordered for the House of God, which will be lit this coming December 16th: it is a fir tree 5.6 meters high brought from the Ukrainian region of Zarkapattie and ornamented with 2,500 figurines in gold and silver.

This is not the most fascinating thing. That is what happened three days earlier, on December 4th, from his balcony facing the Plaza of St. Peter: the Holy Father exhorted his faithful to practice austerity this Christmas.

During the recitation of the Angelus, Joseph Ratzinger said that the Lord, “of riches he became poor for your sakes and he will make you rich through your poverty,” and he remembered the humble John the Baptist, whom Jesus himself admired above all those who “lived in the palaces of kings and wore luxurious clothes.”

When the absurd is too grotesque, there is only one reaction: silence. Perhaps a little introspection. For my part, I would dare to ask something of the advisors — or whatever one calls them — of Benedict XVI in these days of prayer and rejoicing: that they tell the Pope, if he ultimately goes to Cuba in March of this coming year, it would be a good idea to sell the Sony Tablet beforehand.

I know that the tithes only go from the faithful to the Church, never the reverse, but with $500 he could feed a lot of the mouths of my people, and by this date Christmas 2.0 will have already passed.

December 8 2011

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea

 
 
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