The journey to Obama’s ascendancy

By Raffique Shah
January 25, 2009

Barack ObamaIT was an emotional moment, watching Barack Hussein Obama take the oath of office as the 44th President of the United States of America. While hundreds of millions around the world must have experienced joy on seeing the first non-white take that historic leap for “Black man”, for people of my generation and those older than us, the emotions were different. Joy, yes. But that was a miniscule part of the memories that filled our minds as we watched the swearing-in, barely able to hold back the tears welling up in our eyes.

I don’t know that Obama can deliver half of what he promised en route to the presidency. Would the real powers-that-be in America, the military-industrial-technological complex allow him to go down the new path he has outlined? If he fails to implement some of the far-reaching measures that would make America, and the world, a better place, he won’t be the first to have fallen short. But that’s hardly the point, at least not for those of us who lived through an America that measured man by the colour of his skin, that denied the descendants of slaves their rightful place in the country they were born in, a country their forebears gave their sweat, their toil, their lives to build.

It’s difficult to explain these things to those who came after us, who have no sense of history, no social conscience. Last Thursday evening, at the launch of a pictorial book on Black Stalin, a project piloted by calypso-lover-supreme, Diane Dupré, several such discussions took place among the guests. Duke had been laid to rest hours earlier, so it was natural the conversations took a certain tone. Do our young people recognise those who pioneered what they take for granted today?

Lord Superior, Martin Daly, Earl Crosby, Winston “Gypsy” Peters and several others who had rushed from Point Fortin to the Angostura complex for the launch, delved into this darker side of our present.

University graduates who know nothing about intellectuals like Dr Williams, Dr Capildeo, William Demas, Dr Lennox Pawan-to name just four of our scholars. Or young West Indies cricketers who have no idea who Gary Sobers or Rohan Kanhai are. Young calypsonians never having bothered to learn about the likes of Spoiler, Lion, Attila, Dougla, Melody-hell, even the giant that was Kitchener.

Similarly, large numbers among those who cheered as Obama became President knew nothing about the bitter struggles waged by those who went before him, who, with bloodied hands and unmatched courage, paved his path to the White House. Rosa Parks, who, in 1955 refused to give up her seat on a “segregated” bus to a white man when ordered to do so by the driver. Her arrest triggered a “bus boycott” that soon escalated into a massive civil rights movement that propelled Dr Martin Luther King to leadership of a nationwide fight for equality.

We were young but informed when King delivered his “I have a dream” speech in Washington. We were outraged when Malcolm X was gunned down in 1963, when King met a similar fate in 1968. We wept when we read of the Ku Klux Klan lynching poor blacks across America, and even killing whites who supported desegregation. In 1963, a KKK activist placed a bomb under a Baptist church in Alabama, killing four black girls and injuring scores of worshippers. A white man who was subsequently arrested and charged for murder and possession of a huge caché of dynamite was fined $100 for having dynamite! This latter outrage would have its sequel in 1977, when the racist murderer was re-arrested, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

We who lived through the 1960s and 1970s, the global awakening of the oppressed, had a different interpretation of Obama’s ascendancy to President. We were part of that great global movement that fought for peace, for equal treatment of all human beings. It manifested itself in song, in music, in protest demonstrations, and yes, in taking up arms against the oppressors.

Obama as President might not have happened if Trinidad-born Stokely Carmichael and the Black Power movement he led with unmatched oratory and fierce courage, had not changed the face of America.

Obama might have remained a back-room senator but for the massive outcry by people of all races against apartheid in South Africa, their call to free Nelson Mandela. The end of apartheid might not have come when it did had Fidel Castro not sent Cuban troops to Angola to help defeat South African forces.

Obama as President of the USA must be seen in this context. It’s not just a case of a black man entering the White House. He owes his success to all those who fought for equal rights, to those who died in the process, to the ailing Fidel whose Cuba has suffered so much at the hands of Barack’s predecessors.

Obama said this is a time for healing. Let it begin-in the Gaza, in Guantanamo, in Zimbabwe-wherever man’s inhumanity to man causes so much pain and suffering. Can he do it? Yes, he can.

18 thoughts on “The journey to Obama’s ascendancy”

  1. Raffique, oh Raffique. I just simply love reading your articles. They make me want to come home and do something special to help uplift my fellow Trinis. But like everything else, there is a cost to pay. To do that one must overcome the current blood letting, the expensive cost of living i.e., real estate specifically, but I’ll eventually find a way. Stay well.

  2. Cut the nonesense Ronald as we both know that you had absolutly no intentions of leaving your new found cherished and more desirable home even if the immigration authorities threatened you with life imprisonment in one of their ‘transparent’ maximum security prisons .
    Your fellow Trinis -including the provocative Raffique- won’t mind of couse a bit of humoring ever so often by one of its ever growing multitude of country hating expats .
    Now if you are serious you’ll put forth a suggestion for dealing with one of your not so subtle concerns – expensive cost of living as it relates to real estate. What do you believe should be done , or better yet ,what would you do if you had the power to rectify that particular problem?
    OK fellow bloggers , a word of caution. Don’t expect to hear from cousin Ronald any time soon, as the cynic in me indicate that his prime goal was to let us know that his newly adopted country experiences four as opposed to two seasons per year.
    Is it not time we start traversing the foreign shores and start seizing some of these comedians passports just before Carnival ,seize their vast/ extravagant local wealth , and quickly extend immidiate citizenships to starving Africans ,enterprising Europeans, and numerous desperate Caribbean folks that would die to be refered to as a Trini?

  3. Neal, like something is wrong with you. Why would you be attacking a poster on the forum for what appears to be no justifiable reason? Your post is malicious.

  4. And I used to boast that we Caribbean people, Trinis especially, were the most broadminded people in the world, capable of treating all people as equals because of our multicultural heritage.

    Neal,for all his love of “dialogue” shows himself to be malignant, like a cancer. People from all over the world live in TnT, The USA, CAnada and Britain, and hold on to their values where possible, and to the real estate that grounds them in spcific place. No one should begrudge them that. America,in acceptng people as citizens, Canada in accepting people as landed immigrants, do not expect divestment of assets. Why be mean spirited?Raffique’s piece was so positive. How did it generate bile as a comment? Two men look out through prison bars, one sees mud,the other sees stars.
    If we start our days with thnksgiing for all that we have, we see the world as better. The people of Trinidad and tobago, and of the USA, would not tow a boatload of refugees back out to sea and leave them to drown, as Thailand’s government reportedly did. The US amy imprison you as an illeal, until your situation is cleared up,but you would be fed and clothed, and given medical treatment if needed. they did this for the containerfulof Chinese immigrants that turned up in New York’s harbour a couple of years back. This defines what is human.
    Desmond Tutu said, in Trinidad, in 1987 that “whenever a man stands tall in the esteem of his peers, he must know that he is standing on the backs of those who went before him”. he was at the time accepting the honorary doctorate conferred by UWI. Raffique tried to put things in the context of history, only to get some ignorant responses. He was talking to you, Neal.Please read again, and pay attention

  5. Heru and Ms. L I ‘ll accept your sharp jabs to my solar plexus as to what ‘on the surface’ appears as my severe tone in response to Ronald’s commentary, and any others before.
    It should be apparent that I’ve developed a healty respect for you both ,as I like your passion, commitment, and balance and objectiveness on the current issues . As such, I pledge from henceforth to be a good soldier and toe the line with respect to proper decorum and necessary blogging protocols.
    Ok Neal, from today onward , stop behaving like some disgruntled , envious ,Upper Gonzales Belmont national, stuck in a boring 9-5 Public Service job ,without the slightest hope of leaving our dear country for one of the great metropolis enclaves on even a two weeks vacation .
    Once more guys , apologies are in order for my paltry attempts at humor while using a contentious style of writing.
    Warm Regards.

  6. What is the U.S. policy toward Haitians fleeing their circumstances? I know that Obama can change that policy, but will he?

    The problem with people fleeing their homelands to reside in Europe or the U.S. and Canada is that they are not helping the situation at home, but rather hurting it by subtracting the awareness of something not being right.

    What should happen instead is a change in local government that would want to keep Trini’s home. There needs to be a new direction for the country. There are more Trini’s living outside of Trinidad then within Trinidad. You cannot say that about the U.S. or Canada or even China.

    TNT needs an Obama type who can change the direction of Trinibagonians and raise their status in global society. All of the pieces are there besides the action.

    Then again, that Trinibagonian who would be the great leader probably lives abroad because of some migration to North America or Europe. I understand where Neal is coming from. I also understand Mr. Frederick. Why give up mediocrity for hardship and struggle without a guarantee and possibly a chance for tragedy?

    If you love TNT then it is worth it.

  7. Only Cuban illegal immigrants get different treatment in the US. Its referred to as wet foot, dry foot. If you are found already on the beach(dry foot) you can stay;if you are in the water, (wet foot) you go back immediately. Many keep trying. Towards all other non-documented immigrants, if caught, detention in a federal facility is the norm, until your case is heard, and 99% of the time you are deported. It applies to Europeans, Indians, Chinese, everybody. Cubans are treated differently because of previous American government’s policies of trying to stick it to Castro.Anybody who “escaped from Castro’s Cuba” was hailed as a hero of Democracy.

    One thing about people migrating(legally) to the US, is home ownership. If you have a good job, you could buy a house within a year.The system bends over backwards to help. Some people own houses in the US, whose name never came up on the Housing Authority’s list, and who would neve have owned a house under the UNC because they built none at all.A legal resident, first time home buyer in some cities can get a grant of $5000.00 to help pay for it.This before the recession hit.

    A friend of mine, now dead, pointed out in a conversation we had in 2005, that every one from TnT seems to be able to find their niche in the US, while our young men who stay could grow to their nineties without ever finding a permanent job, or gettng to improve their skills. I could not have put it better myself. He too was an educator, and saw many of his students from a Government Secondary School, go on to their PhD’s in the US-still the land of opportunity for those wanting to work. We seem to still have the attitude in TnT that work is a priviledge.It should be the righ of a citizen to find work based on his/her ability, and work at it, to provide for self and family. Attitudes to sick people is also a factor. There is an old, disabled woman from Asia living down my street. The city sends a bus capable of rising a wheelchair to her home once a week to take her to therapy.The driver parks the minibus, goes to her door, pushes her to the bus and lets the lift take her up. He comes into a subdivision, like Lange Park for example, to get this one lady. She came here old, and never worked here, but her children do. She is entitled to the best care we can give.
    If you could see the difference in those views,you would begin to understnd the attraction America has for our young people.Its not just to acquire a yankee aacent.

  8. Mr. Shah ,congratulations on your body of work. Maybe it would help if your work could be incorporated into the education system for the future of the children of such a beatiful nation.It is sad when people who are in dire need of Help with a capital ‘H’ refuse to let go of their ego-tripping and listen to the voices of reason,Ms. Edwards does have a point when she refers to the difference in the views of those who have been priveleged to legally live and work in America.People need to expand their minds to the world-stage and grasp the greatness which every created-being has the capacity to achieve… like the new President of the United States.His-‘tory was not an easy one ,yet he overcame all the odds to rise to the highest office in the world.Let us all hope again , let us all believe , those who had no faith.The world is no longer the product of one but a multiplicity of the many, to create, produce and sustain the required quantum leap for success, as we move into the twenty-first century. Good luck and G-d’s speed.

  9. An excellent article, well written, I’m so proud of you, Mr. Shah, you’ve come a long way since 1970 and that “little’ march with Mike Bazie, which you did not even mention, but we remember.
    President Obama is an amazing man and yes, we can and we will, just you wait and see!

    Cheers to All

  10. Why look to Obama for help in Trinidad and all these expectations from him. Don’t you realize that he has his hands full and his first priority is stabilizing the economy in which those before him destroyed from their greed and power. Obama started working even before he took office and one man cannot do it alone. We as a people have to help. Just because he is President does not mean he has the final say, but at least he is trying. Congress also plays a part. Everyone wants this one man’s help, he is not superman people or immortal – he is human. Let him do what he is doing on his own without so many demands, he already has a lot to do with only four years to do it. At least he is doing more good than Bush ever did. Isn’t enough that he is already under a magnifying glass being a black man. So many people want to see him fail. It’s amazing that he reached this far already and yes Martin helped open the doors among other leaders but give him credit, Obama got their on his own for just like them he is paving his on part.
    Problems in Trinidad should start with the citizens and the Government of Trinidad. So, why Trinidadian’s migrate to other countries, is it not because of other Trinidadians who make things hard for others. Look at all the crime taking place in our once beautiful country. One cannot walk the streets and not give a person a wrong look or say something and it be looked at the wrong way without someone wanting to pull out a gun and taking one’s life. That my fellow people is not Obama’s problem but ours. WE need to weed out the problems and get rid of them to make our country once more “Sweet T&T”.

  11. Comment #2 on “Attitude To Haitian immigrants”

    It must have been quite an experience for President Obama to go to visit Canada and be greeted by Her Excellency Michaele Jean, Governor General and Commander in Chief of Canada’s Armed Forces, Representative of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11, and a Haitian Immigrant. I used to listen to him say, with my own private amusement “only in America is my story possible.” Canada’s Governor General was appointed more than two years ago. Before that, the GG was a Honk Kong iimmigrant whose parents were denied assylum in the US, so they went to Canada.

    Perhaps after The Summit of The Americas, President Obama would review America’s attuitude to Haitian immigrants(And immigrants from all the Americas). Mexico remains the only big country in the Americas that has never had a minority-people leader, or a woman. They however, are so mired in drug problems that the US Congress has discussed sending troops to our southern border. The guns flow suthward and bring death, the drugs flow northwards. There are cities in Mexico where the annual death rate exceeds that ofTrinidad and Tobago. This is more a threat to Hemispheric Security than boatloads of poor Haitians, but Mr. Obama must ome to that conclusion on his own.

  12. Hi,
    I’m a first time blogger. Just stumbled on this site while trying to find out when President Obama was heading to Trinidad. I was also looking for an excuse to come home! I claim to be a Trini to the bone but when I hear from Trinbagonians still living home I realize a big difference. I feel like I am missing out on a lot. When visiting family and friends in Trinidad I see what I am missing. They seem so much more tootsie. I have been in the US since age 15 and was fortunate to achieve an MD degree. I am a very hsrdeorkibg OB-GYN and have been practicing for 23 years. As a woman of color, I still have a struggle in South Florida, where I have been pacticing for 17 years. I hope to return home one day soon help make a difference I. My community. I was able to witness history on Jan 20, 2009 when President Obama. I stood outside the Capitol for 8 hours in 20 degree F but didn’t care about my painful and swollen knees from my torn ligaments. I struggled to the train station and my 12 year old daughter stated, “mom, I hope he does good”. Her feet was also aching and she as a 12 year old was hoping her pain would not be on vain.
    I underwent emergency knee surgery on return to Florida and when asked by my Repulucan physician if I had done anything unusual I replied, ” I can’t imagine what I could have done.:)”. Look forward to blogging soon. PAT H.

  13. I am in agreement with Linda about the attitude towards Haitian immigrants. I do hope and pray that this Summit would shed some light on Haitian immigrants. By the way I just checked my schedule and have free time to run off to Trini around time of summit. What an opportunity!!!

  14. Patricia, I hope you get close. I got close during his stop at the Toyota Center in February of 08.My nephew was visiting from Trinidad, and I said, “lets go see history in the making.” He was as excited as I was, and we waited for nearly three hours until Obama came. I had no doubt he would be president. You can save the newspapers printed during that time, for your grandkids, but I doubt you would get within waving distance. The world being what it is, security would be like a vise.I am glad he would be walkin the soil of my homeland, and the western media, the mauvis langue specialists,would be covering it.They would of course, look for the stray dog in the street,or the vagrant, or politician disguised as vagrant, determined to show our worse side.

  15. “They would of course, look for the stray dog in the street, or the vagrant, or politician disguised as vagrant, determined to show our worse side.” Still possess a sense of humor Ms. L , I like that. You never cease to amaze / surprise me sometimes- never can pigeon hole you eh? – as our imitative Canadian Trini fellow nationals might well say. I do not really have a problem with balanced journalism as such. It is important that our political , business, and civic leaders be all aware as to how our country can be projected and perceived abroad as it might inveigle a few to finally do something beyond stopgap cosmetic gestures .
    The Beetham housing dump, Lavantille/ John John Brazilian faveles, Charlotte, George and Frederick Streets so called thrifty economic enclaves ,are without question eyesores that should be immediately eliminated , and effort made to seriously assess our most precious neglected resource, ‘land,’ with a view to developing our country for the benefit of all citizens that contributed to its creation, and are willing and capable of still doing – irrespective of which ship or plane they initially embarked from some 300, 46, or 3 years ago.

    Like you Ms. L , I do not loose too much sleep over countries like Haiti and even Mexico that allows their own uncaring elites to stand in the way of their political / economic progress by also pushing successive governments inside 1 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington to adopt negative policies towards their countries . With Mexico in the lead, Hispanic Americans should be controlling the political agenda in terms of immigration and mutually beneficial economic policies bearing in mind that first half of the USA rightly belongs to them , and secondly the mainly catholic ethnic groups are one of the fastest growing demographic population in the country due to their ongoing fears of going to hell via defiance of the virgin Pope’s edicts of contraceptives abstinence.Tribal division are the Hispanic problems , hence the walls are constructed un abated in Arizona and Texas borders etc. As for Haiti , no one should take anyone seriously in that country that allowed the Yankees to kidnap the sole democratically elected President in the history of the country since independence. A millionaire bourgeois Mestizo Cubans lands in Miami and like former European Jews , gets immediate asylum along with immediate citizenship, thousand of starving desperate Haitians are turned back daily on rafts by insensitive politicians as economic aids -laden refugees .
    Keep elites at bay and all of the Caribbean including Mexico, Cuba, Haiti and sweet T&T can do well. Open the hearts and minds of foreign national elites like Patricia A. Harding, M.D to understand her role in developing her country even while slaving for a country and people that hates her guts as depicted by her Maimi tales or experiences, and we too can be fine. To her , and newly acquired admires I say the following:- Its your right to ‘get your rocks off’ where plausible ,as you keep up your perennial Obama ‘man crush’ all the way into 2012, but understand that we have bigger fishes to fry where our country and region is concerned.
    I tell you , the day when a Trini would not be so fixated with solving the global problems of others first , while theirs remains neglected, then I’ll be a happy man. Can someone dare tell me what the Jamaican Yardees put into the food of their kids to make them adore their country so much outside of frivolous festivities , and ceremonial colonial pageantries? What do we have to do to let a Trini be aware that lofty boasting about your foreign educational credentials , and pristine foreign mansions and accents means absolutely nothing if 98% of your fellow citizens at home are stuck in the pre-colonial developmental stages, and you cannot come home for a decent vacation without first packing your bullet proof vest.
    How about the local Trini that needs to hire domestic underclass henchmen to stay alive in his security fortress called home ? Can they be encourage to empathize with the plight of the desperate so as to legally employ a few ,or begin a wholesome charitable foundation, or invest some of the acquired wealth towards a few? To the two political tribal leaders more concerned about tenuous legacies , are we planning to stop the media posturing and penchants for gridlock anytime soon and push or support holistic broad based policies ? If not, Surprise! Surprise ! Runaway crimes will remain the norm in Rainbow country 50 years after our Black Political savior cousin Barrack Obama renovates his Chicago Presidential library with his great grandchildren at his side.
    Remember fellow nationals , to “Beware of a man with nothing to loose.” Forget tribes now , let empathy be your watchword! I however stand corrected.
    Regards from yours truly, The light in the dark – aka voice of reason.

  16. Neal, don’t try to flatter me,or mamaguy me for that matter.If we have too narrow a world view, we are stultified. Tangentially, and I am returning, I want to pay tribute to my former teacher Ahilya Mohan, who later became my colleague. She introduced me to the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, the great Bengali poet. If you read Gitanjali #35, you would wonder which country he is talking about, its India, of course, but it could be TnT, England, the USA or Argentina. He was a universalist, and most intelligent people, see the world as one. Diseases,poverty,violence against women, infant mortality and famine,world wide, are scourges that affect all people. International business and travel bring these issues to everyone’s shore. An absene of innocultaion for babies in Buganda can transfer diseases to a doctor or nurse, who affects entire other populations. When we get to that pointof being a universal citizen,, we would cease to fuss because we helped Grenada after a hurricane and so on.

    I would hate to think that all of my people would believe that we should fix our own situation to perfection, before helping anyone else. A better world view is needed, this Easter, and always.

  17. Ms L! Ms. L! Flatter / Mamaguy you? Never! I tend however to get a bit wary of a woman that finds it difficult to take a compliment ever so often . Yes I know these are rough times , some skepticisms are necessary , as many disingenuous folks are lurking , so one is well advised to ‘examine a few horns ,’ especially those that purport to be country loving nationals . It is just another long reason why I hate our British Colonial masters for giving us Geoffrey Chaucer of Chanticleer -The Cock and the Fox fame. What a tragedy that reverberate with you so many years after that Irish Nun’s Sister Mc Giver’s English Literature classes in the elite Pembroke Street St. Joseph Convent , or is it Queens Park East Holy Name School campus?
    Seriously, now Ms. L , I am inclined to agree with you on numerous areas for even if you would not accept it, I respect your opinions very much . However, here is where you and I have to part company when it comes to sustainable developmental policies that has eluded our beautiful country since Caribs were eating Arawaks for tea , breakfast , and dinner – according to Cristobal Colon’s recollections.
    Tell me something, what recommendations would you give to women who repeatedly subject themselves to abusive partners should they elicit your advice? I know it, get some dignity and self esteem ,pull yourself up, and run away from such dire situations as quickly as possible, correct? You might even be tempted to give the same advice to the beautiful 20 year old Bajan superstar Rhianna ,won’t you?
    If so then why would you want to encourage a country like ours to subject itself to the indignity of ungrateful , obscenely jealous and selfish regional nations, by giving and getting nothing in return. Trinidad and Tobago is presently the biggest laughing stock in the entire Caribbean based on the fact that we are laden with natural resources , but lack the will or wherewithal to take care of our domestic affairs.
    Nothing is wrong mind you , in trying to rectify Haiti’s borderline terrorist problems , eradicating Grenada‘s security woes, enhancing the development of the infrastructure of the entire Caribbean , and subsidizing and our giving away all your gas and oil to regional Caricom members , but at what price , or whose expense?
    There are PNM constituents that have slavishly supported this party and government since 1956 and up to present time have not seen clean drinking water flow in a tap . I know that your favorite time for visiting your country is in February and March come Carnival time , but some folks in Central and other low lying areas have to deal with the rainy seasons from June to December, where floods and carnage abound ,which are the result of poor drainage and improper garbage disposal services , and inadequate
    removal facilities.
    Are we not looking like imbeciles when we choose to pay British Scotland Yard blokes to help coordinate and fight your crime, or depend on Israelis forces and play book techniques – since often they have resorted to a practice of borderline racially skewed state terrorism to keep desperate and humiliated Arabs in check- with little to show in terms of security in return, or spend billions to rent / buy useless blimps to patrol the skies, while our security remains abysmal, and citizens are daily tempted to run for what many naively believe are safety abroad ?

    You are the history expert , but something tells me that you know that most great countries do not subscribe to this form of development – particularly the world sole superpower when it was at our stage of development. The national interest , my good lady must always be paramount. Care to doubt me by pointing at the now successful EU that got it‘s start as a result of the work of the Marshall Plan? If so , then you would just be proving my case , as the relationship between the two continent are obviously based solely on mutually beneficial arrangements .
    To prove my point more vividly, Latin America get economic crumbs, School of the Americas, and CIA orchestrated operations, while Europe got troops to protect them for 60 years and an indirectly subsidized health and education service, yes? As for the Yankees, total influence and leeway where the result of such investments .
    Asia’s token democracies, and mostly benevolent dictators such as India, Japan, Pakistan , Malaysia, South Korea , Taiwan ,got American military , economic support for life, as well as good American public media coverage when compared to Africa, and likewise the global hegemonic power run roughshod over the country.
    In the Middle East, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan ,and Egypt, are the convenient political pit bulls for America, and regional stability remains solid, irrespective to what the phony media led by CNN , BBC, and other national complicit media networks like to portray or claim. In essence Ms. L , a win/ win prevails even if on the surface to the uninitiated politically and naïve , the situation looks otherwise.
    Not you of cost, I might add. It is why I choose to remain outside the fringe as it were, to pull folks like yourself back into the fray – by keeping you honest. It’s all part of a days work as the unsung hero and glowing patriot, aka ‘the sole voice of reason.’
    Our country deserves no less . Keep Hope alive ,hmmmm? It is not just some catch phrase to be trotted out occasionally by yuppi, politically savvy elites where convenient, my good lady .It can apply to us as well.

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