Colombia, a worldwide provider of cannabis, coca, and opium poppy, is currently a world leader in cocaine production and export, and is the source of almost all American cocaine (World Bank). However, in spite of this thriving drug economy, 34.1% of the population lives below the poverty line and 10.3% of the population is unemployed (World Bank). Along with poverty, unemployment, and instability, homicide is a leading cause of death in Colombia because of problems associated with cocaine trafficking and wars between cartels (Garcia 2003). Unfortunately, the problems this drug business creates do not stop at the Colombian border; the cocaine is then transported through Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Mexico, into the United States for distribution. With the entrance of cocaine into the United States the DEA faces many problems because of the drugs’ highly addictive qualities and dangerous situations presented with drug trade and trafficking. In addition to the short and long term effects of irritability, anxiety, paranoia, depression, insomnia, increased heart rate and blood pressure, cocaine poses a major danger to civilian lives because of its addictiveness (The Partnership). It is necessary that the United States cut down this dangerous business before it reaches American soil in order to protect its citizens from the potential tragedies. Colombian cocaine exportation harms Americans by providing them with a dangerous drug through an attachment to a homicidal drug empire.
With drug revenue as 3% of Columbia’s national GDP, and most of these profits being invested into legitimate companies, the drug business is truly a profitable industry (Garcia 2003). In order to cut off their supply of drugs to the Americas, it is necessary to cut off all ability to make a profit, through the repossession of such resources. By seizing land and assets from captured drug lords, it is possible to help the Colombia economy to rebound, help the Drug Enforcement Agency’s standing as a worthwhile agency, and cut down on organized crime in Colombia that threatens American interests.
The seizure of land and assets from drug lords helps reduce the “revolving door” effect of transfer of power within the drug hierarchy. Often, when one leader is incarcerated, another springs up from the ashes to take over their drug empire. However, if the land and resources of the cartel are seized in the capture, it is much more difficult for a successor to rebuild. Without the ability to buy guns and ammunition, bribe officials, and pay their employees, drug lords will have a much more difficult journey to a prosperous drug empire. The cash flow of drug empires needs to be cut off, which will add tension, creating divides within organizations (Osler 2012). These divides will help coerce underlings to help the DEA in informing on other members. For example, in the “War of the Snitches” various members of the previously united Norte del Valle Cartel separated into the Rastrojos and Urabeños, who then informed on each other, leading to a plethora of information for the DEA and various arrests, including that of major Rastrojo Diego Perez Henao and Urabeno Mario Urdinola (InSight Crime). Such information helps the DEA capture the leaders, and also weakens the organizations from the inside. The lack of easy cash flowing to the lower members of the organization makes for easier convincing of such members to inform on their leaders in order to receive reduced sentences.
Drug cartels have changed names and hands over the years; however, the same families that began their drug careers in the 1900s are still a major force now. Thus, while the names of the cartels have changed, the major players have not. In the past decades, Colombian drug cartels have vied for control of territory, beginning with the Medellin Cartel in the 1970s. The Ochoa Brothers, Pablo Escobar, and Carlos Lehder ran the Medellin Cartel during their twenty-year stint as a major crime organization. They were violent and dangerous, suspected to be responsible for hundreds of murders. All four ended up killed or imprisoned; however, their crime business began the major regime associated with drugs in Colombia (InSight Crime).
Pablo Escobar, the founder of the Medellin Cartel, suspected to be the source of 80% of the cocaine transported to the US during the 1970s, is one of the most famous drug lords due to his acquisition of power and wealth through illegal activities. He also reflects the intertwining of government and drug empires, depicting the main reason why the Colombian government should not receive autonomy in the efforts to end the drug trade. Escobar was born in 1949 to a lower middle class family, and ended up the head of one of the most powerful criminal organizations ever assembled, with a net worth of billions of dollars. He had mansions, airplanes, a private zoo, his own army of criminals, and ordered the murder of thousands. Escobar began his drug career as a street criminal in the 1970s when he bought Coca paste from Bolivia and Peru, refined it, and transported it for sale in the United States. In 1975 he took over for the murdered Fabio Restrepo, a smaller scale drug boss, and over time gained the power to control all crime in Medellin, Colombia.
However, Escobar’s power did not just stop as a drug lord. In 1982 he was elected to Colombian Congress, and used his political power in order to manipulate officials, policemen to escape prosecution. Through his strategy of “Plata o plomo” (silver or lead) he would either bribe or kill the opposition, eliminating threats. In the mid-1980s, he was one of the most powerful men in the world, with a net worth of $24 billion, but was also loved by the common people for building parks, schools, churches, and housing for the poor. In 1991, Escobar turned himself in to Colombian authorities under the condition that he would build his own prison. He built “La Catedral”, which was complete with a Jacuzzi, full bar, and soccer field. From “La Catedral” Escobar continued to run his drug regime for a year, even going as far as to have disloyal employees tortured in his prison. After the Colombian government realized this they ordered him moved to a state sponsored prison, where he was able to escape. He was killed December 2, 1993, by a Colombian task force using United States technology, ending the Medellin Cartel (Latin American History). This depicts the importance of United States involvement in the Colombian drug trade, as the Colombian authorities were able to safely and efficiently end the reign of a prominent drug lord with the assistance of the US, even though they were unsuccessful on their own.
The Medellin Cartel’s main rival, the Cali Cartel, united in hatred of Pablo Escobar, was a more subtle business. They were less flashy and obvious with their wealth and illegal actions. They started the organization People Against Pablo Escobar, and secretly supplied the police and even the DEA with information about his whereabouts and actions. The Cali Cartel reinvested profits in legitimate businesses, and used terrorist cell techniques in order to stay alive as a crime organization. They split their workers into “cells” and used technology as a tool in order to maintain discretion but continued to yield high profits. The leaders, the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers and Santacruz Londono, were arrested in the mid 1990s, and served or are serving ten to fifteen year prison terms (Drug Wars). These terrorist cell techniques make it more difficult for the government to be able to arrest the leaders, which is why it is so important to foster divisions within cartels. With financial issues from the seizure of assets, it is less likely that those holding lower positions within the cartel will maintain their loyalty. Thus, their testimony can help arrest more drug leaders, and cut down the drug business as an empire in Colombia.
As the drug reign continued, the Norte del Valle Cartel was born from the ashes of the Cali Cartel, however, it was a cartel wracked with internal problems, as there was paranoia, divisions, treachery, and a network of competing factions. The same members of the Cali Cartel continued as members of the Norte del Valle Cartel, with more internal divisions. Former policeman Orlendo Henao Montoyo turned to a life as a drug lord in 1990, as the founder of the Norte del Valle Cartel but surrendered to the authorities in 1997, and continued to operate from prison. On the outside, ex-policeman Wilber Varela and Diego Montoya Sanchez, headed competing factions of the cartel; however they consistently informed on each other to the authorities, leading to a permanent rupture and the deaths of Montoya Sanchez in 2007, and Varela in 2008 (InSight Crime). These divisions helped end the cartel once and for all, and are very helpful to authorities in the breakdown of crime allegiances, especially when the cartel leaders used to be members of law enforcement and know how to avoid arrest.
Two new cartels sprung from the remnants of the Norte del Valle Cartel, the Rastrojos and the Urabeños. The Rastrojos was organized in 2006, and became one of the most powerful Colombian drug groups by 2008. The cartel moved drugs primarily up the Pacific Coast to Central America and Mexico, where the drugs would then be transported to the United States. They strategically allied with the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionaria de Colombia) and the ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional). Both are guerrilla organizations, while the ELN advocates Communism through Marxism and Liberation Theology and the FARC supports anti-imperialism and agrarianism. The ELN and the FARC are seen as terrorist organizations by the Colombian government; however, alliances with these two groups brought the support of the local people, which helped the Rastrojos grow their organization. Their major leaders were Javier Calle Sema and Diego Perez Henao, but, Sema surrendered in 2012 and Henao was captured in 2012. They were major players in the War of the Snitches, which took over a thousand lives, mostly of friends, families, and business partners of the people who informed on drug cartel actions (InSight Crime). While the War of the Snitches was incredibly violent and dangerous, it did help diminish the power of drug cartels, as they focused on fighting each other and not selling narcotics.
The Urabeños serve as the main competition of the Rastrojos, and the two are in a bloody turf dispute currently. Both claim autonomy in southwest Colombia and the northern part of the province of the Valle del Cauca, which has lead to inter-cartel violence in the region. The Urabeños have the physical strength to counter the Rastrojos, with many ex-paramilitaries working as enforcers. They absorbed the “Machos” as part of their organization, which was the private army of Diego Montoya, the ex-head of the Norte del Valle Cartel. However, despite this physical power and potential for brutality, the Urabeños lost many of their key leaders in 2012 and 2013. With the arrest of Jacinto Nicolas Fuentes and the death of Juan de Dios Usaga who was shot by the police, both of the main bosses of the Urabeños were removed from their positions. Also, Hector Mario Urdinola, leader of the Machos, was arrested in January 2013 and he was the foundation of the Urabeños brute force. Currently the Urabeños are in a regrouping period, with potential new leaders vying for power and prestige, attempting to garner the support of the Machos and other members of the gang. This is the most important stage in the life of a cartel for the DEA, because it is when the members are most susceptible to assisting in law enforcement investigations, if they believe that they have no ability to gain financially from the cartel anymore.
The cartels of the past are no longer operating, as there are no Medellin, Cali, and Norte del Valle cartels today. However, the same people who worked for the Cali Cartel then worked for the Norte del Valle Cartel, and their offspring worked for the Urabeños or the Rastrojos. The continuation of past cartel drug trade and violence continued even after the leaders were imprisoned, because of the availability of resources. Even if the leader was arrested, the drug trade still continued because the cartel still had the ability to make the drugs and the customers to buy them. The alliances, refineries, finances, and status of the cartels were maintained even after law enforcement got involved, which allowed another member of the cartel to take over and run the drug empire. Due to this, there is still a major cartel presence in Colombia, despite the fact that they are not the cartels of the past.
Currently in Colombia, there are the Urabeños and Rastrojos cartels, but they are much more compartmentalized than the cartels of the past. They control smaller regions, have fewer workers, and have less of a drug empire regime. This makes it much easier to survive for longer periods of time; however that does not mean that there is less crime in Colombia. The Urabeños and Rastrojos continue their turf war, and also fight the smaller petty criminals that attempt to infringe on their drug smuggling operations. This compartmentalization and the tendency to copy tactics of terrorist cell organizations just means that it is harder to catch the leaders of organized crime, especially when they have strong ties to the government.
Some would argue that this is a problem that solely the Colombian police force should handle. However, the drug trade has also been a major part of the corrupt Colombian government. In 1989, homicide was the leading cause of death in Colombia, and it was the most violent year in Colombia’s history. In 1990, drug traffickers in a backlash against tougher drug-trade policies assassinated three presidential candidates. Even though the then elected president was anti-drug, he had to strike plea-bargain agreements with drug cartels. Ernesto Samper Pizano was elected in 1994, and was accused of bargaining with the Cali Cartel for campaign contributions. He was considered guilty but never officially impeached. Andres Pastrana began controversial attempts to negotiate with the FARC in 1998 and gave them de facto control over a part of Caquetá. In 2010, Juan Manuel Santos severed relations with Venezuela after an allegation that Venezuela harbored FARC rebels. However, there was a unilateral FARC cease-fire in place, which ended in 2013 with the kidnapping of two policemen. Thus, the drug trade has consistently been intertwined with the government and paramilitary groups that have ties to the cartels. It is necessary to separate the cartels and drug trade from their supporters in the government. This is how they survive so long in power, and are able to commit so many heinous crimes, because their government and law enforcement allies turn a blind eye. Therefore, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency must get involved in the situation, so that there is no bias or attachments to the drug traffickers themselves (The World Factbook).
The Colombian drug trade is not a contained problem as it impacts the global economy, lifestyle, drug consumption, health, and crime. Colombian drugs literally touch several different regions on their route to their destined American users, as they are sent through Mexico and Central America. High-speed ships, airplanes, submarines, and people are used in the movement of drugs from Colombia to the United States. This illegal trade uses both national and international waters. It also employs people of different nationalities in order to bypass international security regulations. This is also a very dangerous business, as there are common boat crashes, plane crashes, anti-Cartel violence, inter-Cartel violence, and accidents associated with the transportation of unlawful narcotics.
In order to combat this transport and sale of drugs, criminal forfeiture of assets has been used in the United States for many years, and is legal as proclaimed by the Institute of Justice. The government can seize civil assets, which means that a person’s property is the reasoning behind the judicial proceeding, and it is taken but the person who owns it is not necessarily incarcerated. Criminal forfeiture is when a person’s assets are seized after they are arrested or convicted of a crime. In order to seize another’s possession, a law office must take possession of an individual’s property as the first step. In order to do this, they must have probable cause that the property can be forfeited. After this step, it is up to the jurisdiction how to proceed with the seizure. In some cases there are no legal proceedings and in other cases a judge rules on whether the confiscation is legal. After the land is seized, according to federal law and most states’ laws, fifty percent or more of the property and proceeds can go to the agencies that seized the assets. Some states declare that some of the proceeds must go to drug rehabilitation programs or the general fund for the area (Williams, Holcomb, and Kovandzic).
The seizure of drug lords’ assets after their arrests is a common occurrence on a smaller scale. Huge drug empires are rarely shut down when the leader goes to prison; however, it has worked for less powerful drug lords. For example, a marijuana dealer in California, James Monts, was arrested and the police seized $200,000, a motorcycle, a 2006 Mercedes Benz, and a 2006 Lamborghini. They then sold the Lamborghini in a public auction. The proceeds of the sale were then used for specified law enforcement purposes (KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe News).
In one of the largest drug raids in history, $20 million in meth was seized in L.A. County. It resulted in the arrest of eight accused gang members, and ended an alliance of Mexican outlaws. The raid was carried out in Montebello, and was the result of a multi-agency task force working to combat a Mexican Mafia prison gang. The DEA and ATF (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) partnered to end the alliance between the Mexican Mafia, La Eme, and La Familia, a Mexican drug cartel that supplies drugs to the United States. In the raid itself, they seized handguns, firearms, and six hundred pounds of meth. In addition to the eight people accused of making and transporting the meth, thirty-one other street gang members were charged with related lesser crimes. This severely crippled the Mexican Mafia in Southern California (NBC Southern California).
Oftentimes, one arrest leads to many others in the drug world. For example, the arrests of the eight drug dealers lead to the arrest of thirty-one street criminals. This ripple effect can be heightened by the seizure of land and wealth. The criminals are much less likely to remain loyal to their boss if they have no potential reward or ability to gain a promotion. Thus, this will loosen the bonds of hardened criminals, and make them much more likely to give information about other illegal actions in order to receive a plea agreement or lesser sentence for themselves.
In order to physically seize assets abroad, the United States needs to seek the advice and guidance of an attorney in the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section’s International Programs Unit. Then the attorney will consult foreign domestic law and internationally treaties, while working with prosecutors in the Office of International Affairs. The OIA then makes contact with foreign officials and must receive a warrant with probable cause. The United States is legally allowed to “Restrain, seize, and forfeit property held in bank accounts located outside of the United States” (Justice.gov, 2010). The most effective way to go about seizing such assets is with a coalition between the United States, Colombia and Mexico. The three countries have been collaborating for years in order to remove drug lords from power, for example with the 2011 arrest of Mexican drug dealer “El Chapo.” In this case, the United States, Mexico, and Colombia worked together in order to garner the evidence needed to file criminal charges, while Colombia itself seized his assets, an enormous 301 properties. The seized property was then used to “Help victims of Colombia’s internal conflicts and people affected by last year’s intense rains” (Horowitz, 2011). This means that it is possible to work together with Colombian authorities to bring drug lords to justice, and that the assets can then be used to help foster economic growth in non-drug related careers.
It is imperative that the United States Drug Enforcement Agency gets involved in the shutdown of the Colombian drug trade. About 10,000 die from cocaine use each year in the United States, and 90% of the cocaine in the United States comes from Colombia (The Partnership). Thus, the Colombian cocaine industry kills 9,000 Americans each year. This is a local issue that has become a global problem, and is killing American citizens each day. It is imperative that the DEA helps the Colombian government find drug dealers, arrest and jail them, and then confiscate their assets. This will eliminate individuals from the drug trade, and make it much more difficult for their followers to rebuild the empire. In order to protect the American public, it is necessary to cut off their profits, seize their assets, and put a stop to the Colombian drug trade.
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• Producer of cannabis, coca, and opium poppy
• world's leading coca cultivator with 116,000 hectares in coca cultivation in 2009
• supplies cocaine to nearly all of US markets
• large amount of narcotics proceeds are laundered or invested into government
• important heroin supplier to US markets
• decade of strong economic performance
• oil exporter
• high unemployment at 10.3%
• 34.1% below poverty line
• 40.6% of GDP is public debt
• $59.96 billion in exports, $53.77 billion in imports
• Exports: petroleum, coal, emeralds, coffee, nickel, cut flowers, bananas, apparel
• Imports: industrial equipment, transportation equipment, consumer goods, chemicals, paper products, fuels, electricity
• Total area: 1,138,910 sq km
• Population: 47,704,427 people
• President: Juan Manuel Santos
• Life expectancy at birth: 74 years
• Drug revenue: 3% of national GDP
• Drug revenue is mostly spent on luxury construction and speculation in rural property
• 5th largest economy in Latin America
• long lasting democracy
• principal supplier of illegal drugs in the Andean area
• became involved in drug trafficking in the mid 1970s
• large scale cultivation of marijuana in Colombia’s northeast
• excellent climatic and soil conditions
• world’s main exporter of cocaine – still its main illegal product
• heroin product increased, still hasn’t rivaled that of Asia
• in the US the past 20 years have seen a reduction in consumption and retail price of cocaine
• Colombian Daniel Barrera extradited to the US on charges of manufacturing and trafficking cocaine
• Drug cartels
- Medellin Cartel: Jose Ganzalo Rodriguez Gacha, Ochoa Brothers, Pablo Escobar- violent leader, Carlos Lehder- marijuana smuggler, huge profits, violent, dangerous, problems with government, thought to be responsible for hundreds of murders, all 4 end up killed or in prison
- Cali Cartel: main rival to Medellin Cartel, Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, Santacruz Londono, more subtle, less flashy, sophisticated business- reinvest profits in legitimate businesses, created an organization- People Against Pablo Escobar, in order to hurt Escobar, secretly supplied police and DEA with information about Escobar’s actions and whereabouts, techniques of terrorist groups- separate workers into cells, hired internationally renowned lawyers, technology as a tool, arrested in mid 1990s, serving 10-15 year prison terms
- Now: smaller, more controllable groups, compartmentalized responsibilities
- Believe there are 300 active drug smuggling organizations in Colombia today
• Mafia-style turf wars since 1948 to control coca growing and processing areas- 5 million people forced to relocate due to guerilla activity and the US aerial fumigation program
• 40,000-50,000 Colombian lives lost, loss of food sovereignty, $7 billion going to Colombian military
• Major Drug Lords
- Pablo Escobar: born Dec 1, 1949, lower middle class family, leader of one of the most powerful criminal organizations ever assembled, made billions of dollars, ordered the murder of hundreds if not thousands of people, ruled over a personal empire of mansions, airplanes, a private zoo, and his own army of soldiers and hardened criminals, got his start as a street criminal, 1970s got started in drugs- bought Coca paste in Bolivia and Peru, refined it, and transported it for sale in the US, local Medellin drug lord named Fabio Restrepo was murdered in 1975, Escobar took over his organization, controlled all crime in Medellin, responsible for as much as 80% of the cocaine transported into the United States, 1982 elected to Colombian Congress, ruthless, plata o plomo (silver or lead), anyone got in his way- tried to bribe them, and if that didn’t work, he would order them killed, accused of assassination of presidential candidates, rumored to be behind the 1985 attack on the Supreme Court, mid 1980s was one of the most powerful men in the world, 7th richest man in the world, wealth reported to be around $24 billion, beloved by the common people because he spent millions on parks, schools, stadiums, churches, and housing for the poor, was married to Maria Victoria Henae Vellejo but had many extramarital affairs, two children- Juan Pablo and Manuela, in 1991 he turned himself in, built his own prison and lived in “La Catedral” for a year with a waterfall, Jacuzzi, full bar, and soccer field- he ran his empire from the prison, he had disloyal employees tortured at La Catedral, they attempted to transfer him to a normal prison, he escaped and went into hiding, killed December 2, 1993 by a Colombian task force using US technology
- Daniel Barrera: “El Loco” “The Madman”, ran a 400 ton per year empire with the help of violent leftist guerrillas, controlled the major cocaine smuggling routes from Colombia to the US, 51 years old, got plastic surgery and burned off his fingerprints with acid to conceal his identity from the police, drug trafficking and money laundering charges, drug smuggler since the 1980s, believed to have shipped thousands of tons of cocaine north, cooperation with guerrillas of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC, convicted on drug charges in Colombia in 1990 but escaped
- Norte del Valle Cartel: emerged out of the breakup of the Cali cartel, wealthiest and most powerful of its day, paranoia, divisions, treachery, network of competing factions, dissolution in 2007, began in the early 1990s, led by former policeman Orlendo Henao Montoyo (“El Hombre del Overol”), surrendered to authorities in 1997 but continued to operate from prison, Wilber Varela (“Jabon”), ex-policeman, challenged by factionled by Diego Montoya Sanchez, 2002- paranoia, permanent rupture, associates informing on each other to the DEA- Miguel Solano, Victor Patino Fomeque, Don Diego captured 2007, Jabon killed 2008
- Rastrojos: born out of the Norte del Valle cartel, after 2006, one of the most powerful groups by 2008, two rival factions, Javier Calle Sema (“Comba”) surrended to US in 2012, Diego Perez Henao (“Diego Rastrojo”) captured 2012, Luis Enrique (Comba’s brother) surrendered to US, no clear leader, control one of the primary drug smuggling routes into Venezuela, move drugs primarily up the Pacific Coast to Central America and Mexico- who then take it to the United States, strategic alliances – FARC and ELN, war of the snitches- 1000+ lives, killed friends, family, and business partners of leaders on both sides
- Urabenos: came out of Norte del Valle cartel, bloody turf dispute with Rastrojos- southwest Colombia and northern part of the province of the Valle del Cauca, Diego Montoya, absorbed the Machos, Mario Urdinola
- Machos: armed wing of the Norte del Valle Cartel, Diego Montoya’s private army
• Cocaine: drug extracted from the leaves of the coca plant, brain stimulant, one of the most powerfully addictive drugs, cocaine hydrochloride- white crystalline powder, crack-cocaine hydrochloride that has been processed with ammonia or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and water into chips, chunks, or rocks. Cocaine can be snorted or dissolved in water and injected, crack can be smoked, short-term effects: increased temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, insomnia, loss of appetite, restlessness, irritability, anxiety, coke crash- depression, irritability, fatigue, long-term effects: paranoia, depression
• 1989: homicide leading cause of death, most violent year in Colombia’s history
• 1990: 3 presidential candidates including Luis Carlos Galan assassinated by drug traffickers in a backlash against tougher drug-trade policies
• 1990 hard-line anti drug Cesar Gaviria Trujillo president- struck plea bargain agreements with drug cartels and paramilitary leaders
• 1994: Ernesto Samper Pizano, accused of bargaining with Cali drug mafia for campaign contributions, wasn’t impeached but was considered guilty
• 1998: Andres Pastrana- controversial attempts to negotiate with FARC, gave them de facto control over a large portion of Caqueta, worst recession since the Great Depression
• 2002: Alvaro Uribe Velez, peace agreement between AUC (United Self Defense Groups of Colombia) and government
• 2006: Uribe reelected, number of crimes, kidnappings, terrorist attacks significantly decreased since 2000,
• 2010: Juan Manuel Santos elected, severed relations with Venezuela- Colombia alleged that Venezuela harbored FARC rebels
• FARC unilateral cease-fire, January 2013 ended ceasefire, kidnapped 2 policemen
Ways to Combat Drug Smuggling
• Urging volunteers to report suspicious activity
• Patrol borders
• Restrict cash flow and credit
• Government seize cash flow of drug traffickers- seize property and assets, use this to reduce national debt
• Lose ability to buy guns, bribe officials, and pay high costs of doing business under cover if they don’t have the same amount of money
• Job destruction
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