Vijay Prashad

Why one state in India shows the promise of democracy as the world becomes more authoritarian

Just before the state elections in Kerala, in southern India, a television channel ran a program called "The Great Political Kitchen." The anchor went to kitchens across the state to talk to homemakers about their views on politics. In one kitchen, the anchor asked a woman about a dispute surrounding a temple in southern Kerala where the courts had ordered that women must be allowed full access to the temple premises in 2018. For the past five years, Kerala had been governed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF), which had taken a democratic position over this issue and had supported the entry of women into this famous temple. The right wing claimed this was evidence that the LDF government was against religious freedom; such a claim would not be restricted to the majority-Hindu population but could also be extended to other minority communities in India such as Christians and Muslims. The woman told the TV anchor, "I am a devotee [of the temple], but hunger won't go away if I cook and eat devotion. That's all I have to say about it."

Her response—which went viral—conveyed the mood of the recent election in Kerala, which was won by the LDF. The LDF won 99 of the 140 seats in the Kerala assembly elections; 67 of these seats were won by candidates of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). It was the first time since 1980 that an incumbent party or coalition had been able to win a second consecutive term in Kerala.

Most people in Kerala were uninterested in the dangerous flippancy of the right-wing politics represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party—in power at the center in India—which is keener to talk about anything other than issues that concern people's material conditions of life such as the pandemic and its social impact on their lives. The LDF leadership, on the other hand, has been focused on the pandemic and on providing the materials necessary for relief to the people in the state during the second wave of the COVID-19 crisis that the country is witnessing presently. Mass organizations of the Left and community organizations joined the state government in efforts to take care of the people. As a result, Kerala has so far been able to tackle the pandemic crisis better than other parts of India.

Pandemic Relief

A comprehensive poll by the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and Lokniti shows that 73 percent of those polled said that they were satisfied by the performance of the state government. Led by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the LDF government's first term, from 2016 to 2021, was wracked by natural disasters (a cyclone in 2017 and floods in 2018 and 2019) and virus outbreaks (the Nipah virus in 2018 and the coronavirus pandemic), which have impacted lives globally. The government dealt with each of these crises in a similar fashion: through calm and scientific assessments of what had occurred, combined with announcing generous relief for the impacted people. This was true in all the calamities before the COVID-19 pandemic, especially during the 2018 floods, which were the heaviest in a century.

The CSDS-Lokniti poll shows that the electorate went to vote with the good governance of the LDF in mind. Asked about the LDF government's performance in dealing with the pandemic, 72 percent said that it was either "good" or "very good." A remarkable 88 percent said that they were satisfied with the food kits distributed by the government to ensure that no one went hungry during the crisis.

Contrary to the attitude of the right-wing government of India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the LDF government of Kerala adopted a science-based approach to tackle the pandemic. It expanded public health care facilities to meet likely increases in the number of cases. It carried out a vigorous "Break the Chain" campaign, urging people to adopt the basic practices (social distancing, washing hands and wearing masks) that are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus. Testing and treatment for COVID-19 in Kerala's government hospitals have been free and available to everyone who needs it.

To prevent mass suffering during the pandemic, the LDF government got the state's self-government institutions—which have been strengthened over the past few decades due to the efforts of Left governments—to cook and deliver food to those in need. The government provided food grain and grocery kits for free to every household to prevent hunger. The trade unions and mass organizations helped run these community kitchens as well as helped set up quarantine facilities and treatment centers.

Infrastructure

The right wing in Kerala has typically claimed that the Left is not equipped to build the state's infrastructure. But this time, the right wing had no grounds to make its typical complaints. Since 2016, the state government has not only improved the basic transportation infrastructure but has also built up other kinds of infrastructure needed by the working class and the peasantry.

There is a conventional attitude that suggests infrastructure is built to promote the interests of business alone. But this is not the case in the way Kerala's LDF government built its public infrastructure, including public housing—the government built 250,000 homes for the poor. There was a major focus on public education and public health care, both of which were enhanced, and a stronger public health care system in the state helped it to stave off the catastrophe that COVID-19 has wrought in the rest of India. For the first time in 25 years, students left private schools to return to the improved public education system. Improvements in facilities in public schools included providing sanitary pads for girls to encourage better attendance in school.

Roads, bridges, power lines, and a massive public sector internet project (Kerala Fiber Optic Network, or K-FON) to provide internet as a basic right to citizens have been a few of the key elements of the government's infrastructure work.

Election manifestos are often not taken seriously; this is, however, not the case with the LDF government. "We have fulfilled 580 out of the 600 items in the 2016 manifesto. Now we are placing before the people a manifesto with 900 promises," Chief Minister Vijayan said in March.

900 Promises

The pressing task for the LDF government is the same as before the election: to bring the second wave of COVID-19 infections under control. The Indian government of Prime Minister Modi has been hopeless, allowing the infection to run rampant while doing little to either build up the public health care system or to provide a proper vaccination program. In the first week of May, the seven-day average of doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in India was 1.9 million. At this pace, it will take until February 2024 to administer two doses of the vaccine to the entire adult population of the country.

Kerala's government is forced to buy vaccines on the open market. An important takeaway from this pandemic has been the need for the state to redouble its efforts to strengthen its public sector enterprises, such as the Kerala State Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited, which has been producing essential drugs at low prices for the government hospitals in the state. Kerala currently has a lockdown in place to bring down the rate of infection, which has been high due to the more contagious variants of coronavirus, including the triple-mutant Indian variant, that have been infecting people.

The CSDS-Lokniti poll showed that the working class and the poor as well as oppressed castes, including Dalits, voted overwhelmingly for the LDF; there is no doubt that their interests will play a leading role in shaping the government policy. That is why the LDF returns to power with a mandate to end absolute poverty by the formulation of micro-plans that target families who live with extreme poverty, including homelessness.

Hunger can't be eradicated by devotion. Only social action can eradicate hunger and hopelessness.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

Subin Dennis is an economist and a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research's New Delhi, India, office.

Chomsky and Prashad: The reality behind the US 'withdrawal' from Afghanistan

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was criminal. It was criminal because of the immense force used to demolish Afghanistan's physical infrastructure and to break open its social bonds.

On October 11, 2001, journalist Anatol Lieven interviewed the Afghan leader Abdul Haq in Peshawar, Pakistan. Haq, who led part of the resistance against the Taliban, was getting ready to return to Afghanistan under the cover of the U.S. aerial bombardments. He was, however, not pleased with the way the United States had decided to prosecute the war. "Military action by itself in the present circumstances is only making things more difficult—especially if this war goes on a long time and many civilians are killed," Abdul Haq told Lieven. The war would go on for 20 years, and at least 71,344 civilians would lose their lives during this period.

Abdul Haq told Lieven that "the best thing would be for the U.S. to work for a united political solution involving all the Afghan groups. Otherwise, there will be an encouragement of deep divisions between different groups, backed by different countries and badly affecting the whole region." These are prescient words, but Haq knew no one was listening to him. "Probably," he told Lieven, "the U.S. has already made up its mind what to do, and any recommendations by me will be too late."

After 20 years of the incredible destruction caused by this war, and after inflaming animosity between "all the Afghan groups," the United States has returned to the exact policy prescription of Abdul Haq: political dialogue.

Abdul Haq returned to Afghanistan and was killed by the Taliban on October 26, 2001. His advice is now out-of-date. In September 2001, the various protagonists in Afghanistan—including the Taliban—were ready to talk. They did so partly because they feared that the looming U.S. warplanes would open the doors to hell for Afghanistan. Now, 20 years later, the gulf between the Taliban and the others has widened. Appetite for negotiations simply does not exist any longer.

Civil War

On April 14, 2021, the speaker of Afghanistan's parliament—Mir Rahman Rahmani—warned that his country is on the brink of a "civil war." Kabul's political circles have been bristling with conversations about a civil war when the United States withdraws by September 11. This is why on April 15, during a press conference held in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Sharif Amiry of TOLOnews asked U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the possibility of a civil war. Blinken answered, "I don't think that it is in anyone's interest, to say the least, for Afghanistan to descend into a civil war, into a long war. And even the Taliban, as we hear it, has said it has no interest in that."

In fact, Afghanistan has been in a civil war for half a century, at least since the creation of the mujahideen—including Abdul Haq—to battle the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan government (1978-1992). This civil war was intensified by the U.S. support of Afghanistan's most conservative and extreme right-wing elements, groups that would become part of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Islamist factions. Never once has the United States offered a path to peace during this period; instead, it has always shown an eagerness at each turn to use the immensity of the U.S. force to control the outcome in Kabul.

Withdrawal?

Even this withdrawal, which was announced in late April 2021 and began on May 1, is not as clear-cut as it seems. "It's time for American troops to come home," announced U.S. President Joe Biden on April 14, 2021. On the same day, the U.S. Department of Defense clarified that 2,500 troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11. In a March 14 article, meanwhile, the New York Times had noted that the U.S. has 3,500 troops in Afghanistan even though "[p]ublicly, 2,500 U.S. troops are said to be in the country." The undercount by the Pentagon is obscurantism. A report by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, furthermore, noted that the United States has about 16,000 contractors on the ground in Afghanistan. They provide a variety of services, which most likely include military support. None of these contractors—or the additional undisclosed 1,000 U.S. troops—are slated for withdrawal, nor will aerial bombardment—including drone strikes—end, and there will be no end to special forces missions either.

On April 21, Blinken said that the United States would provide nearly $300 million to the Afghanistan government of Ashraf Ghani. Ghani, who—like his predecessor Hamid Karzai—often appears to be more of a mayor of Kabul than the president of Afghanistan, is being outflanked by his rivals. Kabul is buzzing with talk of post-withdrawal governments, including a proposal by Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to form a government that he would lead and that would not include the Taliban. The U.S., meanwhile, has consented to the idea that the Taliban should have a role in the government; it is now being said openly that the Biden administration believes the Taliban would "govern less harshly" than it did from 1996 to 2001.

The United States, it appears, is willing to allow the Taliban to return to power with two caveats: first, that the U.S. presence remains, and second, that the main rivals of the United States—namely China and Russia—have no role in Kabul. In 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in Chennai, India, where she proposed the creation of a New Silk Road Initiative that linked Central Asia through Afghanistan and via the ports of India; the purpose of this initiative was to cut off Russia from its links in Central Asia and to prevent the establishment of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, which now runs all the way to Turkey.

Stability is not in the cards for Afghanistan. In January, Vladimir Norov, former foreign minister of Uzbekistan and the current secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), addressed a webinar organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. Norov said that Daesh or ISIS has been shifting its fighters from Syria to northern Afghanistan. This movement of extremist fighters is of concern not only to Afghanistan but also to Central Asia and to China. In 2020, the Washington Post revealed that the U.S. military had been providing aerial support for the Taliban as it made gains against ISIS fighters. Even if there is a peace deal with the Taliban, ISIS will destabilize it.

Forgotten Possibilities

Forgotten are the words of concern for Afghan women, words that provided legitimacy for the U.S. invasion in October 2001. Rasil Basu, a United Nations official, served as a senior adviser on women's development to the Afghan government from 1986 to 1988. The Afghan Constitution of 1987 provided women with equal rights, which allowed women's groups to struggle against patriarchal norms and fight for equality at work and at home. Because large numbers of men had died in the war, Basu told us, women went into several occupations. There were substantial gains for women's rights, including a rise in literacy rates. All this has been largely erased during the U.S. war over these past two decades.

Even before the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988-89, men who are now jockeying for power—such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar—said that they would undo these gains. Basu remembered the shabanamas, notices that circulated to women and warned them to obey patriarchal norms (she submitted an opinion piece warning of this catastrophe to the New York Times, to the Washington Post, and to Ms. Magazine, all of whom rejected it).

Afghanistan's last communist head of government—Mohammed Najibullah (1987-1992)—submitted a National Reconciliation Policy, in which he put women's rights at the top of the agenda. It was rejected by the U.S.-backed Islamists, many of whom remain in positions of authority today.

No lessons have been learned from this history. The U.S. will "withdraw," but will also leave behind its assets to checkmate China and Russia. These geopolitical considerations eclipse any concern for the Afghan people.

Noam Chomsky is a legendary linguist, philosopher, and political activist. He is the laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona. His most recent book is Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

Modi's failure: The COVID-19 catastrophe in India is completely out of control

For Ashish Yechury (1986-2021), journalist.

It is difficult to overstate the grip of COVID-19 on India. WhatsApp bristles with messages about this or that friend and family member with the virus, while there are angry posts about how the central government has utterly failed its citizenry. This hospital is running out of beds and that hospital has no more oxygen, while there is evasion from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet.

Thirteen months after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the world was in the midst of a pandemic, the Indian government looks into the headlights like a transfixed animal, unable to move. While other countries are well advanced on their vaccination programs, the Indian government sits back and watches a second wave or a third wave land heavily on the Indian people.

On April 21, 2021, the country registered 315,000 cases in a 24-hour period. This is an extraordinarily high number. Bear in mind that in China, where the virus was first detected in late 2019, the total number of detected cases stands at less than 100,000. This spike has raised eyebrows: is this a new variant, or is this a result of failure to manage social interactions (including the 3 million pilgrims who gathered at this year's Kumbh Mela) and to vaccinate enough people.

At the core is the total failure of the Indian government, led by PM Modi, to take this pandemic seriously.

Disregard

A glance around the world shows those governments that disregarded the WHO warnings suffered the worst ravages of COVID-19. From January 2020, the WHO had asked governments to insist on basic hygiene rules—washing hands, physical distance, mask wearing—and then later had suggested testing for COVID-19, contact tracing and social isolation. The first set of recommendations do not require immense resources. Vietnam's government, for instance, took those recommendations very seriously and slowed the spread of the disease immediately.

India's government moved slowly despite evidence of the dangerousness of the disease. By March 10, 2020, before the WHO declared a pandemic, the Indian government reported about 50 COVID-19 cases in India, with infections doubled in 14 days. The first major act from India's prime minister was a 14-hour Janata Curfew, which was dramatic but not in line with the WHO recommendations. This ruthless lockdown, with four hours' notice, sent hundreds of thousands of workers on the road to their homes, penniless, some dying by the wayside, many carrying the virus to their towns and villages. Prime Minister Modi executed this lockdown without checking with his own departments, whose advice might have warned him against such a precipitous and unnecessary act.

Prime Minister Modi took the entire pandemic lightly. He urged people to light candles and bang pots, to make noise to scare away the virus. The lockdown kept being extended, but there was nothing systematic, no national policy that one can find anywhere on the government's websites. In May and June of 2020, the lockdown kept getting extended, although this was meaningless to the millions of working-class Indians who had to go to work to survive on their daily wages. A year into the pandemic, there are now 16 million people in India with detected infections, with 185,000 people confirmed dead from the pandemic. One has to write words like "detected" and "confirmed" because mortality data from India during this pandemic has been totally unreliable.

Consequences of Privatization

The consequences of turning over health care to the private sector and underfunding public health have been diabolical. For years now, advocates of public health care, such as the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, have called for more government spending on public health and less reliance upon profit-driven health care. These calls fell on deaf ears.

India's governments have spent very low amounts on health—3.5 percent of GDP in 2018, a figure that has remained the same for decades. India's current health expenditure per capita, by purchasing power parity, was 275.13 in 2018, around the figures of Kiribati, Myanmar and Sierra Leone. This is a very low number for a country with the kind of industrial capacity and wealth of India.

In late 2020, the Indian government admitted that it has 0.8 medical doctors for every 1,000 Indians, and it has 1.7 nurses for every 1,000 Indians. No country of India's size and wealth has such a low medical staff. It gets worse. India has only 5.3 beds for every 10,000 people, while China—for example—has 43.1 beds for the same number. India has only 2.3 critical care beds for 100,000 people (compared to 3.6 in China) and it has only 48,000 ventilators (China had 70,000 ventilators in Wuhan alone).

The weakness of medical infrastructure is wholly due to privatization, where private sector hospitals run their system on the principle of maximum capacity and have no ability to handle peak loads. The theory of optimization does not permit the system to tackle surges, since in normal times it would mean that the hospitals would have surplus capacity. No private sector is going to voluntarily develop any surplus beds or surplus ventilators. It is this that inevitably causes the crisis in a pandemic.

Low health spending means low expenditure on medical infrastructure and low wages for medical workers. This is a poor way to run a modern society.

Vaccines and Oxygen

Shortages are a normal problem in any society. But the shortages of basic medical goods in India during the pandemic have been scandalous.

India has long been known as the "pharmacy of the world," since India's pharmaceutical industry sector has been skillful at reverse-engineering a range of generic drugs. It is the third-largest pharmaceutical industry manufacturer. India accounts for 60 percent of global vaccine production, including 90 percent of the WHO use of measles vaccine, and India has become the largest producer of pills for the U.S. market. But none of this helped during the crisis.

Vaccines for COVID-19 are not available for Indians at the pace necessary. Vaccinations for Indians will not be complete before November 2022. The government's new policy will allow vaccine makers to hike up prices, but not produce fast enough to cover needs (India's public sector vaccine factories are sitting idle). No large-scale rapid procurement is on the cards. Nor is there enough medical oxygen, and promises to build capacity have been unfulfilled by the ruling party. India's government has been exporting oxygen, even when it became clear that domestic reserves were depleted (it has also exported precious Remdesivir injections).

On March 25, 2020, Modi said that he would win this Mahabharat—this epic battle—against COVID-19 in 18 days. Now, more than 56 weeks after that promise, India looks more like the blood-soaked fields of Kurukshetra, where thousands lay dead, with the war not even at halftime.

This article was produced by Globetrotter. Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

Chomsky and Prashad: Why we need a tribunal on governments' crimes against humanity during COVID

Warnings that the oxygen supply was running out in the city of Manaus, Brazil, came to local and federal government officials a week before the calamity led to the deaths by asphyxiation of patients afflicted with COVID-19. No modern state—such as Brazil—should have to admit that it did nothing when these warnings came in and simply allowed its own citizens to die for no reason.

A Supreme Court judge and the solicitor general have demanded that the Brazilian government act, but this has not moved Jair Bolsonaro's administration. Everything about this story—detailed in Solicitor General José Levi do Amaral's report—reveals the rot of privatization and incompetence. The local health officials knew in early January that there was going to be an oxygen shortage imminently, but their warning did not carry any weight. A private contractor who had the job of providing the oxygen informed the government six days before the city ran out of this crucial supply in the fight against COVID-19. Even with the contractor's information, the government did nothing; it would later say—against all scientific advice—that early treatment for coronavirus did not work. The insensitivity and incompetence of the government of Bolsonaro have led General Prosecutor Augusto Aras to call for a special probe. As Bolsonaro dithered, the government of Venezuela, in an act of solidarity, sent a shipment of oxygen to Manaus.

The latest development caused by the government's toxic mix of privatization, ineptitude, and callousness should strengthen the case brought by Brazil's health care unions against Jair Bolsonaro at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in July. But the problem is not the fault of Bolsonaro alone or even of Brazil. The problem lies in the neoliberal governments, governments in the United States, the United Kingdom, India, and others, governments whose commitments to profit-making firms and billionaires far outstrip their commitment to their own citizens or to their own constitutions. What we are seeing in countries such as Brazil is a crime against humanity.

It is time to impanel a citizens' tribunal to investigate the utter failure of the governments of Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi, and others to break the chain of the infection of COVID-19. Such a tribunal would collect the factual information that would ensure that we do not allow these states to tamper with the crime scene; the tribunal would provide the ICC with a firm foundation to do a forensic investigation of this crime against humanity when its own political suffocation is eased.

We should all be outraged. But, outrage is not a strong enough word.

Noam Chomsky is a legendary linguist, philosopher, and political activist. He is the laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona. His most recent book is Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

A world without coral reefs may be on the horizon

With a recent report titled "Projections of Future Coral Bleaching Conditions," published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in November, Leticia Carvalho—head of the Marine and Freshwater Branch of UNEP—said on December 21 that coral reefs are the "canary in the coalmine for climate's impact on oceans." The image of the canary in the coal mine is used over and over again to refer to many aspects of the climate catastrophe: reflecting on his studies of glacier decline in Greenland, glaciologist Ian Howat said that "Greenland is going to be the canary in the coal mine," while an evolutionary biologist in Australia, Dr. Janet Gardner, said that "Birds really are the 'canaries in the coal mine'" because their changes in body weight reflect sensitive assessments of changing weather patterns. Each of these scientists, looking at the specific thing they study—glaciers, bird weight, coral reefs—is right about their particular insight as well as about the fact that what they are seeing is deeply worrying.

What is also concerning is a consensus among these scientists that rising temperatures are creating rapid and negative changes in the ecosystems. The evidence in the report on coral reefs is shocking. "Coral reefs will soon disappear," said Carvalho, if the current levels of inaction persist. The UNEP report is written by highly qualified scientists who make closely argued points and do not offer loose statements. So, it is pretty chilling to confront—early in the report—the suggestion that corals will be wiped out by the 2040s.

The report notes that there has been a long coral bleaching event that started in 2014 and ended in 2017; this was the longest coral bleaching event on record that "spread across the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans." To put it simply, coral bleaching is when rising sea temperatures lead to an overheating of the coral reefs; when the reefs overheat, they expel the zooxanthellae (algal symbionts), which results in the coral bleaching. Bleaching can be reversed when sea temperatures cool. What happened between 2014 and 2017 was that the sea temperatures did not drop enough for the corals to recover at the end of the summer of 2014, and in the years that followed.

The average temperature in oceans has increased by 0.1 degrees Celsius (32.18 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade in the past century as a result of—among other factors—increased use of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels has led to an increase in atmospheric warming, which, combined with phenomena such as the 1997-98 and 2010 El Niño events, has resulted in catastrophic coral reef degradation. But these earlier episodes do not compare to the impact of the long period of coral reef bleaching from 2014 to 2017; for example, the 1997-98 period saw the death of 16 percent of the world's coral reefs, while the 2014-2017 warming saw 80 percent of the Great Barrier Reef suffer from severe bleaching.

A decade ago, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore wrote the foreword to a report entitled "Reefs at Risk Revisited." Here, Gore noted that reefs are the "canary in the coal mine" and their long-term degradation reveals that "our dangerous overreliance on fossil fuels is already changing Earth's climate." We will return to Gore's use of "our" soon. But for now, it is important to point out that the problem for the reefs is not only fossil fuel use, but it is also the other aspects of capitalism, such as the disposal of plastic goods into the oceans.

Two Scenarios, Both Bad

Scientists call the coral reefs the "rainforests of the sea," because coral reefs—like rainforests—are highly diverse ecosystems; their destruction would lead to the extinction of a large number of species (as has already been documented in 2019 in a report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services).

The current UNEP report suggests that there are only two possible scenarios for the planet: a "worst-case scenario" and a "middle-of-the-road" scenario. There is no good scenario. The damage that has already been inflicted on the reefs and the possibility that sea temperatures will decrease is so minimal that there is every reason to expect that severe bleaching could lead to coral reefs disappearing by 2045.

If fossil fuel use is not decreased and global warming continues, then "every one of the world's reefs will bleach by the end of the century, with annual severe bleaching [ASB] occurring on average by 2034," according to a press release about the new UNEP report. This new date is nine years ahead of schedule from what UNEP projected in 2017 (one reason for the closer date is that the measurements have improved over this period).

If countries exceed their current pledges to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent, then ASB will not take place before 2045. Either way, this is just a matter of an 11-year gap.

Blame Humanity?

One convenient explanation is that shifts in the climate have to do with "human activity" or "humanity." There is even a name used to describe this period of history—the Anthropocene, a proposed name for a new geological epoch.

Carvalho of UNEP recently said, "Humanity must act with evidence-based urgency, ambition and innovation to change the trajectory for this ecosystem." Blaming "humanity" in general is far too vague. It fails to accurately point the finger where it must be pointed.

Firstly, the term Anthropocene obscures the fact that it is the massive productive powers of capitalism that generated carbon emissions based on the use of fossil fuels. It is not some vague term such as Anthropocene that explains the explosion of carbon emissions, but it is the social formation called capitalism that is central to global warming.

Secondly, since capitalism developed in an uneven way, with certain countries (the North) benefitting by use of force—what is called imperialism—these countries disproportionately benefited from the productive powers of capitalism. They have historically spewed the most carbon into the atmosphere and continue to do so on a per capita basis. Any policy that does not acknowledge the formula, established at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, of "common but differentiated responsibilities" will fail to see that while countries in Europe and North America benefitted and continue to benefit from fossil fuels, other places did not and do not benefit and yet are the most likely to be adversely impacted by rising temperatures.

Thirdly, the most important impediments to change have not been "humanity" but the corporate power and the United States government that not only diluted the 2015 Paris Agreement but then refused to be bound by the tepid agreements. It is telling that countries such as Jamaica and Mongolia updated their climate plans to the United Nations before the end of 2020—as mandated by the Paris Agreement—although these countries produce a tiny fraction of global carbon emissions. The funds that were committed to developing countries for their participation in the process have virtually dried up while external debt has ballooned. This shows a lack of basic seriousness from the "international community."

The reefs will die. That seems certain. The UNEP report will not circulate. That seems equally certain. The Marshall Islands and Rwanda will file their updates. That has already happened. Meanwhile, the United States and its allies will sit on the sidelines, expanding fracking with a "who cares" attitude.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

Chomsky and Prashad: There are 3 major threats to life on Earth that we must address in 2021

Large parts of the world—outside of China and a few other countries—face a runaway virus, which has not been stopped because of criminal incompetence by governments. That these governments in wealthy countries cynically set aside the basic scientific protocols released by the World Health Organization and by scientific organizations reveals their malicious practice. Anything less than focused attention to managing the virus by testing, contact tracing, and isolation—and if this does not suffice, then imposing a temporary lockdown—is foolhardy. It is equally distressing that these richer countries have pursued a policy of "vaccine nationalism" by stockpiling vaccine candidates rather than a policy for the creation of a "people's vaccine." For the sake of humanity, it would be prudent to suspend intellectual property rules and develop a procedure to create universal vaccines for all people.

Although the pandemic is the principal issue on all of our minds, other major issues threaten the longevity of our species and of our planet. These include:

Nuclear Annihilation

In January 2020, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, too close for comfort. The clock, created two years after the first atomic weapons were developed in 1945, is evaluated annually by the Bulletin's Science and Security Board, who decide whether to move the minute hand or keep it in place. By the time they set the clock again, it may well be closer to annihilation. Already limited arms control treaties are being shredded as the major powers sit on close to 13,500 nuclear weapons (more than 90 percent of which are held by Russia and the United States alone). The yield of these weapons could easily make this planet even more uninhabitable. The United States Navy has already deployed low-yield tactical W76-2 nuclear warheads. Immediate moves toward nuclear disarmament must be forced onto the world's agenda. Hiroshima Day, commemorated each year on August 6, must become a more robust day of contemplation and protest.

Climate Catastrophe

A scientific paper published in 2018 came with a startling headline: "Most atolls will be uninhabitable by the mid-21st century because of sea-level rise exacerbating wave-driven flooding." The authors found that atolls from the Seychelles to the Marshall Islands are liable to vanish. A 2019 United Nations (UN) report estimated that 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. Add to this the catastrophic wildfires and the severe bleaching of the coral reefs and it is clear that we no longer need to linger over clichés about one thing or another being a canary in the coal mine of climate catastrophe; the danger is not in the future, but in the present. It is essential for major powers—who utterly fail to shift from fossil fuels—to commit to the "common but differentiated responsibilities" approach established at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. It is telling that countries such as Jamaica and Mongolia updated their climate plans to the UN before the end of 2020—as mandated by the Paris Agreement—even though these countries produce a tiny fraction of global carbon emissions. The funds that were committed to developing countries for their participation in the process have virtually dried up while external debt has ballooned. This shows a lack of basic seriousness from the "international community."

Neoliberal Destruction of the Social Contract

Countries in North America and Europe have eviscerated their public function as the state has been turned over to the profiteers and civil society has been commodified by private foundations. This means that the avenues for social transformation in these parts of the world have been grotesquely hampered. Terrible social inequality is the result of the relative political weakness of the working class. It is this weakness that enables the billionaires to set policies that cause hunger rates to rise. Countries should not be judged by the words written in their constitutions but by their annual budgets; the U.S., for example, spends almost $1 trillion (if you add the estimated intelligence budget) on its war machine, while it spends a fraction of this on the public good (such as on health care, something evident during the pandemic). The foreign policies of Western countries seem to be well lubricated by arms deals: the United Arab Emirates and Morocco agreed to recognize Israel on the condition that they could purchase $23 billion and $1 billion worth of U.S.-made weapons, respectively. The rights of the Palestinians, the Sahrawi, and the Yemeni people did not factor into these deals. The use of illegal sanctions by the United States against 30 countries including Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela has become a normal part of life, even during the COVID-19 public health crisis. It is a failure of the political system when the populations in the capitalist bloc are unable to force their governments—which are in many ways democratic in name only—to take a global perspective regarding this emergency. Rising rates of hunger reveal that the struggle for survival is the horizon for billions of people on the planet (all this while China is able to eradicate absolute poverty and largely eliminate hunger).

Nuclear annihilation and extinction by climate catastrophe are twin threats to the planet. Meanwhile, for victims of the neoliberal assault that has plagued the past generation, the short-term problems of sustaining their mere existence displace fundamental questions about the fate of our children and grandchildren.

Global problems of this scale require global cooperation. Pressured by the Third World states in the 1960s, the major powers agreed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1968, although they rejected the deeply important Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order of 1974. The balance of forces available to drive such a class agenda on the international stage is no longer there; political dynamics in the countries of the West, in particular, but also in the larger states of the developing world (such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa) are necessary to change the character of the governments. A robust internationalism is necessary to pay adequate and immediate attention to the perils of extinction: extinction by nuclear war, by climate catastrophe, and by social collapse. The tasks ahead are daunting, and they cannot be deferred.

Noam Chomsky is a legendary linguist, philosopher, and political activist. He is the laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona. His most recent book is Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

The world's biggest trading bloc does not include the United States

This story was produced by Globetrotter.

On November 15, 15 Asian and Pacific countries signed an agreement known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that unites 30 percent of the global population and 30 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP). The entire trade area, which runs from New Zealand to Japan and across the length of China, brings together a range of industries, from mining to high tech, and 2.2 billion consumers. Around 90 percent of tariffs will be cut, and customs procedures will be simplified.

It is significant that China is at the heart of this agreement. From 2005 to 2015, many of these countries had negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was a process driven by the United States to isolate China from the Pacific Rim countries. U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the TPP, which mothballed it; he favored a more direct "trade war" against China. Meanwhile, at a summit in 2011, finance ministers from across Asia welcomed a proposal from China and Japan to begin negotiating the RCEP, a far larger agreement that was opposed by the United States. Now, it is the RCEP that has been signed, while the TPP languishes without the participation of the United States. There is so far no evidence that the new U.S. government led by Joe Biden would try to revive the TPP.

India had joined the RCEP negotiation process in 2011 but withdrew in 2019. The public view is that India's government responded to domestic manufacturers, particularly the generic pharmaceutical industry, but it is more likely that India decided not to antagonize Washington. There are more reasonable concerns about the problems of unemployment generation in certain countries as a consequence of trade liberalization.

Major U.S. allies such as Australia, Japan, and New Zealand are party to the RCEP. Both Australia and Japan are members of the U.S.-led Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or Quad), which is a military alliance against China that includes India. For both Australia and Japan, the economic benefits of the RCEP led them to join regardless of its political implications; New Zealand, which, like Australia, is part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance with the United States, also joined purely for realistic economic reasons. This is—nonetheless—a major political blow for the United States and the cold war it has attempted to impose on China.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

John Ross is a senior fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. His writing on the Chinese and U.S. economies and geopolitics has been published widely online, and he is the author of two books published in China, Don't Misunderstand China's Economy and The Great Chess Game. He was previously director of economic policy for the mayor of London.

Argentina’s veteran ambassador makes a stand for the sovereignty of Latin America

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Alicia Castro does not shy away from her views. She came to diplomacy from the trade union movement, where she was a leader when she was a flight attendant with Aerolíneas Argentinas. Castro spent eight years as a member of parliament in the Argentine National Congress, where she fought for the rights of working people. Ambassadorships in the United Kingdom and Venezuela culminated in the offer earlier this year of the post of Argentina's ambassador to Russia.

While waiting to go to Russia to take up this position, Castro was angered when Argentina's government voted against Venezuela in the United Nations Council for Human Rights on October 6. She resigned from her post and made her resignation letter public. "Today," Castro wrote, "I want to present my resignation as ambassador because I do not agree with the current foreign relations policy."

I spoke to Castro a week after she resigned from her position. She indicated to me that this was not a difficult decision. Rather, she would not have been able to serve her country's government if she did not agree with its overall policy orientation toward its own sovereignty and the sovereignty of Latin America, the "Patria Grande" or the Great Homeland.

Corruption of 'Human Rights'

In July 2019, Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights and former president of Chile, published a report on alleged human rights violations in Venezuela. The report had major gaps. For instance, it downplays the U.S. sanctions, even ignoring that these unilateral sanctions were in place from 2008 and not from 2017; it fails to mention the many instances of violence instigated by the opposition such as in 2014, 2017, and 2019.

To move her agenda forward, Bachelet announced in December 2019 an agreement with the Venezuelan government to set up human rights offices inside Venezuela that would report on allegations of violations. It was clear that the issue of "human rights" was not being applied in a proper forensic and legal manner; it had become a political tool for the United States of America and its allies as part of a disinformation campaign against the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro.

In September 2020, Bachelet appeared at the UN Human Rights Council to offer her view of violations inside Venezuela. This comes as Venezuela prepares for National Assembly elections on December 6. The United States has made it clear that it would like to interfere in the electoral process and push for the destabilization of Venezuelan politics.

An instrument for this interference is the Lima Group, set up in 2017 by Canada and a handful of Latin American countries; the Lima Group provides cover for the U.S. strategy of regime change against Venezuela. In September 2019, the Lima Group and the United States pressured the United Nations Human Rights Council to set up an Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela; this mission was never "independent," since it received its $5 million largely from the Lima Group countries. The report contained unverified information, mostly from social media accounts based outside Venezuela.

Argentina, under the previous right-wing government of Mauricio Macri, had been an integral part of the Lima Group. During the left-leaning President Alberto Fernández's successful campaign in Argentina's 2019 general election, he said that his foreign minister would be Felipe Solá; Solá, in turn, announced that Argentina would not leave the Lima Group even though it had been set up with the express purpose of regime change in Venezuela. On October 6, 2020, Argentina voted with the Lima Group for Resolution L.43 to extend the mandate of the fact-finding mission. It was this vote that set Alicia Castro's teeth on edge.

Erosion of Sovereignty

"What is at stake here," Castro told me, "are two very serious concerns."

First, there is a general assault on democratic institutions across Latin America. We were speaking a few days before the election in Bolivia, where the leftist Movement for Socialism (MAS) won the election and reversed the coup d'état that overthrew the MAS government in November 2019. Across Latin America, coups of one kind or another—lawfare and hybrid wars—have been used against leftist political forces. Daily assassinations and intimidation of leftist leaders in Colombia seem not to have awoken the same kind of indignation from the governments of Peru and Brazil; they focus their attention—thanks to a magnifying glass provided by Washington, D.C.—on Venezuela.

Governments that are interested in reducing "the disgusting gap between rich and poor," Castro said, are threatened with removal. This is what Lula (Brazil), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (now vice president of Argentina) endured. "The commercial news media and social media with its armies of trolls and bots play a central role in the demonization of popular leaders and the destabilization of democracy," Castro said.

The second concern is that the Lima Group is driven by an agenda from North America and Europe. In her resignation letter, Alicia Castro referred to the Drago Doctrine. In 1902, Argentina's Foreign Minister Luis María Drago objected when the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy attempted a naval blockade against Venezuela to recover its investments; Drago said that armed intervention must never be allowed for the recovery of public debt and that the sovereignty of Latin America must be defended.

"It is particularly painful that Argentina voted together with the United Kingdom against Venezuela," said Castro, given the conflict over the Malvinas Islands between the UK and Argentina. In 2012, when Castro was the ambassador to the UK, she challenged UK Foreign Minister William Hague over London's failure to hold talks over the disputed islands.

For Argentina to join with the UK and to ride roughshod over the Drago Doctrine seemed a full violation of everything that defined its independent foreign policy.

Even worse, however, is the suggestion that Argentina's government acted in the UN to please the wealthy bondholders who are in the midst of negotiations over the possibility of a default. It could well be a coincidence that the International Monetary Fund's mission team (Julie Kozack and Luis Cubeddu) arrived in Buenos Aires on the day of the UN vote. Refinancing the $44 billion debt is the main issue before Argentina's government, which is in no mood to sour relations with the U.S. Treasury Department as the discussion about timetables for repayment are ongoing.

Ethics

Stung by Castro's resignation, the Argentinian government said that the country "does not subscribe to" the general orientation of the Lima Group. This is welcome news, but it does not explain its UN vote on October 6.

"Anti-colonialism is… an ethical imperative," Castro wrote in her resignation letter. This is a powerful sentence. It was an act of immense bravery for her to have resigned in such a public way. But her resignation has clarified for many people the importance of standing up straight in a world where too many people drop their shoulders before the arrogance of the powerful.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

How Ecuador's democracy is being suffocated

By Vijay Prashad and Pilar Troya

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

A recent poll showed that if Andrés Arauz Galarza were allowed to run in Ecuador's presidential election of 2021, he would win in the first round with 45.9 percent of the vote. The pollsters found that Arauz—who was the minister of knowledge and human talent from 2015 to 2017—wins across "all the social strata and regions of the country, with a slight weakness among the richest voters in the country."

Andrés Arauz entered policymaking and government when Rafael Correa was the president of the country, from 2007 to 2017. A stint at the Central Bank led to a career in the planning department (SENPLADES), before Arauz became a minister in the last two turbulent years of Correa's government. There was not a whiff of corruption or incompetence around Arauz in his decade of service; when Correa left office, Arauz went to Mexico to pursue a PhD at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

Far behind Arauz in the polls is Guillermo Lasso Mendoza, the candidate of the right. Lasso, who is a wealthy banker, had run against the current President Lenín Moreno in 2017 but lost. He is the consensus candidate of the right wing, which cannot seem to advance his standing in the polls. He sits frozen at 32 percent.

Those polled said that Arauz was by far the most attractive candidate. But, if the ruling bloc in Ecuador has its way, Arauz will not be sworn in as the next president of the country next year. They will use every means to suffocate democracy in their country.

Correa and Moreno

The government of Rafael Correa, who is now living in Belgium, attempted to move a broadly left agenda while in office from 2007 to 2017. The Citizens' Revolution that Correa led passed a progressive constitution in 2008, which put the principle of good living (buen vivir in Spanish and sumak kawsay in Quechua) at its heart. Government investment to strengthen social and economic rights came alongside a crackdown on corporate (including multinational) corruption. Oil revenue was not parked in foreign banks, but used to invest in education, health care, roads, and other basic infrastructure. From Ecuador's population of 17 million, nearly 2 million people were lifted out of poverty in the Correa years.

Correa's government was anathema to the multinational firms—such as the U.S.-based oil company Chevron—and to the Ecuadorian oligarchy. Chevron's dangerous case for compensation against Ecuador, brought before Correa took office, was nonetheless fiercely resisted by Correa's government; the Dirty Hand (Mano Negra) campaign put enormous international pressure against Chevron. Chevron worked closely with the U.S. embassy in Quito and the U.S. government to undermine Correa and his campaign against the oil giant. Not only did they want him out, but they wanted the political tradition of the left—called Correistas by shorthand—out as well. Moreno, who was once close to Correa, switched sides and became the main instrument for the fragmentation of the Ecuadorian left.

In the election of 2017, Moreno defeated Guillermo Lasso, who is running again in 2021. But, within a short time, Moreno sharply moved rightward. He worked closely with Lasso in the National Assembly to undermine each advance made by the government of Correa. They defunded education and health care, withdrew labor rights and rights to housing, wanted to sell off Ecuador's refinery, and deregulated parts of the financial system. A consequence of these policies has been Ecuador's appalling response, including accusations of deliberate undercounting, to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attack on the Correistas

Moreno and his right-wing allies needed to inoculate themselves from any criticism. They went on a frontal attack against the Correistas.

The first battleground was to fragment the Correista political organization and to deny the Correistas a political platform. A February 2018 referendum was barreled through the country that allowed the government to destroy the democratic structures of the Consejo Nacional Electoral (CNE), the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Judiciary Council, the attorney general, the comptroller general, and others. With the assistance of the CNE, Moreno divided and took control of Correa's party, the Alianza Pais.

When the Correistas tried to regroup and form a party, the institutions of the state blocked them. They said that the proposed names were misleading or that the signatures collected were invalid. By 2019, the Correistas used the Fuerza Compromiso Social platform to run for local elections in 2019. This platform was then banned in 2020.

In Brazil, the oligarchy prevented former president Lula from contesting the 2018 election; that process resulted in a new concept, lawfare—using the law as a political instrument. The same sort of lawfare was used in Ecuador to ensnare Correa and to prevent him from running for office. Correa was accused of bribery—with the bizarre notion of "psychic influence" (influjo psíquico) at the root of the case. The eight-year sentence inflicted upon him prevented him from running for office in Ecuador; that he was in Belgium meant that he could not, however, be arrested and imprisoned.

Election of 2021

The Correistas, using their platform of Union for Hope (Unión por la Esperanza), made an alliance with the Movimiento Centro Democrático to be able to run a candidate for the presidential election of 2021. Arauz won the primaries and was nominated as the presidential candidate. The party decided to have two vice-presidential candidates—both Correa and Carlos Rabascall.

The CNE's president Diana Atamaint indicated that the CNE would disqualify Correa from the ballot, and even suggested that Arauz's candidacy is illegal as a consequence of having Correa as his running mate. Matters are at a stalemate, as lawyers scurry about trying to find a solution to this crisis. The CNE has until October 7 to fix the matter. The first round for the election is on February 7, 2021.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

Pilar Troya is a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. She is an Ecuadorian anthropologist interested in the feminist movement and social public policies, especially concerning gender equality. She served as a member of the board of Ecuador's former Women's National Council (CONAMU), an adviser to the Ministry of National Planning, and an adviser and deputy minister in the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Technology.

Why US political scientists say Evo Morales should be the president of Bolivia

Three political scientists from the United States closely studied allegations of fraud in the Bolivian election of 2019 and found that there was no fraud. These scholars—from the University of Pennsylvania and Tulane University—looked at raw evidence from the Bolivian election authorities that had been handed over to the New York Times. They suggest late-counted votes came from rural regions where the candidacy of incumbent President Evo Morales Ayma was popular; the character of these votes, and not fraud, accounts for the margin of victory announced by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) on October 21, 2019.

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