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These articles were published Thursday, April 17, 2003, in Vol. 3, No. 76
Jo Stuart
About us

Long lines await boarding at the Terminal al Caribe in Barrio Amon, San José
A.M. Costa Rica photos
Typical store door
The holidays are upon us

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The buses are carrying the public to the beaches and mountains. We have a story BELOW! The police have sealed liquor outlets as of last midnight. We hope you stocked up! We did.

Today and tomorrow are legal holidays in Costa Rica, and all but vital government offices will be closes, as will banks and embassies. Most stores have been closed for several days.

A.M. Costa Rica will not be published tomorrow, Good Friday. This is one of  the three weekdays the newspaper does not publish. Have a wonderful Easter or Passover.

When in Rome, first check things out
Some of my readers are under the impression that I am an authority on Costa Rica. Anyone who has to make eight visits to Immigration to renew a cédula is not much of an authority.

When it comes to Costa Rica, I paraphrase that popular disclaimer: "I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like." I think this is what people who are considering coming here — especially to stay — should think about: What do I like? What is important to me?

Like anywhere in the world, if you have lots of money, you can live here very comfortably, pretty much on your terms. But you still have values and a worldview and an expectation of people, and it’s nice to be in an environment where they are compatible. 

Often it is the little things that make or unmake your contentment. I knew there were certain things I wanted in order to be comfortable. I wanted to live where bougainvillea grew (i.e. a warm climate). I wanted to be able to drink the water and flush a toilet. I wanted access to some of the things I love: music and theater and good restaurants. I wanted good public transportation because I did not want to own a car — or anything, for that matter. 

On a deeper level, I wanted to experience living in a country without an army, without the idea that war was a solution. (Fighting wars, we are told, are what armies are for). Not having an army affects the psyche of a people, just as having one does. I come from the United States where "winning is everything" is a value. One can see this as the war in Iraq is ending. The assumption of the war hawks in the U.S. is that because they are winning so quickly with so few casualties (among the coalition forces civilians are not considered), the peaceful solution advocates will change their attitude. 

That seems to be happening in the States, but not here in Costa Rica. Here, it is the morality of war the people (if not the president) are concerned with, not winning. Except for soccer and politics, having a winner and a loser is not how Ticos think. They want a win-win situation. That is one reason they avoid confrontations. 

Living in Costa Rica

. . .Where the living is good

By Jo Stuart

Heather, an e-mail friend, recently moved to Costa Rica to work. So far she loves it here, and her pleasure is enhanced because she is around people who seem to be very happy. She also commented that when her boss gives her a project, she assumes he means he wants it right away. He doesn’t. He expects it in a week or two, and has told her to slow down. But her creativity flourishes when she is under pressure. Heather is from the U.S.

Her experience reminded me of the story about the anthropologist living with a tribe in New Guinea, I think it was. They were a happy people, but the "chief" of this small tribe was in possession of the only hatchet. Every day he would lend it to one or another of his relatives or another member of the tribe, who would do whatever job they had to do and return it at the end of the day. 

Getting caught up in her participant status and wanting to help, the anthropologist sent to the States for a load of hatchets and happily handed them out to everyone in the tribe. The productivity of the people increased considerably, but there was also a breakdown in the social order of the tribe. The rituals and the relationships that centered around the hatchet were gone. Chaos ensued. 

Now it could be argued that everyone having a hatchet was far more democratic and productive. But was it the role of the anthropologist to bring about the change without preparing the people for the consequences?  Thinking of that story, I suggested to Heather that she work at her own pace — and then sit on the finished product a while. 

That perhaps one of the reasons Ticos are happy is because they are not under pressure to do everything yesterday. I have no doubt that Heather will figure out how to stay happy here. For Americans elsewhere, one can only hope. 

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Moody's downgrades Costa Rica's currency ratings
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Another international credit-rating service has changed its financial outlook on Costa Rica to negative.

The firm, Moody’s Investors Service, announced the change Wednesday. As part of a review of the credit risks experienced by countries with highly dollarized banking systems, Moody's said it changed to negative from positive the outlook for Costa Rica's foreign and domestic currency ratings.

Moody’s said the country’s foreign currency country ceilings for bonds and notes is Ba1 and for bank deposits Ba2. The government's local currency rating is Ba1, it said.

These ratings are used by investors to assess risks and are a factor in how much international investors will pay for financial products, like bonds, issued by Costa Rica.

Just April 7 another prestigious firm, Standard and Poor’s downgraded its financial opinion of Costa Rica. The firm said that it was revising the outlook on Costa Rica’s long-term credit rating from stable to negative.

Standard and Poor’s said that Costa Rica has heightened vulnerabilities due to several factors. The negative rating could cause the country to pay higher interest for governmental bond issues and also discourage some investment. Among the vulnerabilities cited by the firm were what was called "fiscal slippage." The county’s budget deficit rose to nearly 5.2 percent of gross domestic product in 2002 and may only decline to 3.6 percent under temporary measures, the firm said. 

Moody’s said that the change in the outlook for

Costa Rica's ratings is part of an ongoing, 
case-by-case process intended to bring the firm’s ratings a greater emphasis on the risks posed by dollarized banking systems. Those risks have been the subject of a recent study and were outlined by Moody’s in a March special report, "The Implications of Highly Dollarized Banking Systems for Sovereign Credit Risk," the firm said.

Moody’s said it will monitor Costa Rica's increasing dollarization of its financial sector, which the rating agency views as possibly negatively affecting the country’s creditworthiness. The change in the ratings outlook also takes into account the risks posed by the combination of a crawling peg exchange rate regime, increased government borrowing in foreign currency, and high domestic interest rates, the company said.

Costa Rica devalues its currency against the dollar every business day, the "crawling peg exchange rate regime." Much of Costa Rica’s financial transactions are based on U.S. dollars, including advertising in A.M. Costa Rica, Internet services and even cable television costs.

Moody’s also said this about Costa Rica:

A long-standing democratic tradition continues to add an element of stability. 

Its export strategy, while successful, has not been sufficient to reduce its vulnerability to shocks, including terms-of-trade shocks.

The government’s slow progress in undertaking much-needed structural reforms may also limit future improvements in the country's credit      quality. In particular, due to a lack of reform in the fiscal area, sharp cyclical swings in public-sector deficits are still the norm. 

Restaurant at beach fighting against bulldozers
By Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A popular restaurant and night spot overlooking the ocean in Manuel Antonio is being threatened with an order to close.

The Mar y Sombra bar and restaurant was visited April 10 by police and demolition workers who were ready to carry out an order to tear down the place.

Frederico Ramirez, owner and founder of the establishment of more than 34 years, said he is engaged in a fight with the Municipalidad de Aguirre to remain in business. The day the authorities came to his business he talked with officials who later agreed to keep the bulldozers at bay for now.

The Municipalidad de Aguirre includes the towns of Quepos and Manuel Antonio, considered one of Costa Rica’s main tourist draws. The municipality has given Mar y Sombra until May 17 before it is torn down. 

"That is the big question. Why here? Why now?," Ramirez said about the order to close his business. He said the order refers to the fact that his business is in violation of a 1977 zoning law which says establishments must be a certain distance from the ocean.

Ramirez pointed out that Mar y Sombra has been around since before the law was written and he has not had trouble since the law was instituted. 

The restaurateur is working to comply with the 

law by moving some of the property further from 
the beach, he said, but the motive to tear Mar y Sombra down may be more political than just a zoning violation.

"I have to be reserved for now," Ramirez said, he did not want to say too much for fear of hurting his case. But the owner said he is prepared to continue to fight. "Never," was Ramirez’s response to the idea that Mar y Sombra would close.

"We are not just some place that has been here for 35 weeks. We have 35 years here," Ramirez said.

"The people of Quepos love this place," Ramirez said, adding that Mar y Sombra is one of the most popular destinations for tourists.

When the order was almost enforced April 10 many taxi drivers drove to the Mar y Sombra to protest the closing because of how much it means for their businesses. Taxis make good business taking tourists to the remote Mar Y Sombra at nights, Ramirez said.

Mar y Sombra is one of the only late night dance places in the area and is located on the beach. 

The Mar y Sombra was the establishment two women from the United States visited in December when they were attacked on a stretch of nearby beach. The attacks were of concern to the tourism industry of the area because it was evidence of a rise in criminality.

During the fallout from the attack on the tourists some in the tourism industry called for the closing of the Mar y Sombra for safety reasons.

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía
y Seguridad Pública photo
This smuggling technique puts drugs in the frame of the case.

Spaniard in transit here
held as drug smuggler

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Drug agents arrested a Spaniard at Juan Santamaría Airport Tuesday and said he had more than a kilo and a half of cocaine hidden within the shell of his suitcase. That’s a bit more than three pounds.

The man, Pedro Sánchez Castillo, 33, was singled out by authorities because he seemed nervous during his transfer at the airport, they said. He was coming from Quito, Ecuador and flying to Amsterdam, Holland, they said.

After searching Sánchez authorities discovered what they said was cocaine embedded in the framework of his metalic suitcase.

The man from Barcelona, Spain, faces charges related to international drug smuggling which carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison, said agents of the Policía de control de Drogas.

Four robbery suspects
held in Guanacaste

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police nabbed four suspected gas station robbers after they made a wrong turn down a dead end street during a chase in the Guanacaste community of Filadelfia.

Four bandits rolled into a gas station Wednesday. They were in a red Hyundai when they entered the gas station lot and stuck up the attendents, according to the police.

A pursuit began and suspects were caught after they turned down a dead end street and police blocked them in.

Police said they found a bag in the car filled with 1,357,000 colons ($3,479) and $156. Authorities will hold onto the money until they can decide where it belongs.

The three Colombians suspected of the crime have these last names and ages: Aristizábal Herrera, 27, Suárez Perdomo, 38 and Reyes Corto, 15. The Costa Rican suspected of the crime has the last name Crespi Guzmán. He is 18.

Police find still
for cane liquor

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Police found a liquor distillery Wednesday in a well-hidden location.

The bootleg operation was in San Pedro de Santa Bárbara, Heredia, in a remote area on the outskirts of town where high vegetation made it difficult to see and reach, according to police.

The liqour factory was equipped with all the necessary tools to ferment ingredients. The equipment was of the kind particularly used to produce "chirrite," an outlawed cane booze, according to police. The fluid is similar to guaro, which is available in stores. 

The clandestine alcohol factory produces under unsanitary conditions, police said, and the liquor made could cause major bodily damage and even result in death, if drunk.

Police said that in recent years they have made a greater effort to stamp out the production of "chirrite" or "sacos," as it may also be called. The liquor can cause nerve damage, brain damage and is lethal in some cases.

Factories producing the toxic booze have been uncovered mainly in the Cartago, Alajuela and Heredia area, police said.

Colombian leader knocks
back rebel demands

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — President Alvaro Uribe has rejected rebel demands to create a new demilitarized zone as a condition for any prisoner exchange involving jailed guerrillas and rebel hostages.

Uribe said Tuesday that not one millimeter of land will be demilitarized so that a "bunch of bandits" can abuse the nation. Uribe also was quoted as saying that for these bandits, the moment of defeat has arrived.

The comments came one day after the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia called on his government to create a new demilitarized zone to allow a swap of hostages in rebel hands for guerrillas in state prisons.

The rebels occupied such a stronghold during three years of peace talks under Uribe's predecessor, Andres Pastrana. The terrorist group is holding dozens of high-profile captives as bargaining chips. 

Their prisoners include former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped in February of last year. Meanwhile, police say they arrested five people Tuesday suspected of planning to attack a military hospital with a car bomb here. 

Police say the suspects are rebels belonging to the terrorist group and may be responsible for another car bombing that devastated a social club here in February, leaving 36 people dead and more than 160 injured.

Retired servicemen
plan country jam

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

English speakers are planning a country music jam session Sunday at Mac’s American Bar in Sabana Sur about 3  p.m.

Playing will be Blue Desert, a multinational group that includes guitarist Bill Sullivan of Heredia. 

The musical event for which no entrance fee will be charged is being promoted as an excuse for retired U.S. servicemen here to meet. The bar is near the Tennis Club on the old road to Escazú opposite Parque la Sabana

UN postpones Cuba vote
until today's session

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

GENEVA, Switzerland — The U.N. Human Rights Commission has postponed until Thursday a vote on a resolution concerning Cuba's human rights record. 

The commission was to have acted on the measure Wednesday, but the move was delayed after Costa Rica proposed an amendment criticizing Cuba's recent crackdown on pro-democracy dissidents. 

The resolution, co-sponsored by Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru and Uruguay, initially called for Cuba to allow a human rights envoy to visit the communist-run island. Cuba refuses to do so. 

Havana, for its part, proposed its own amendment, calling for criticism of the four-decade-old U.S. trade and travel embargo against Cuba. 

On Tuesday, Argentina said it would abstain from the U.N. vote on Cuba's human rights record, reversing its policy of condemning rights violations on the island. 

Jamaica to reopen
search for oil

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

KINGSTON, Jamaica — The government here says it plans to begin another search for oil off its southern coast later this year. 

International news reports quote Phillip Paulwell, Jamaica's minister of technology, as saying the government is currently reviewing proposals for the exploration. 

Venezuela and Ecuador reportedly have offered technical support but officials say funding for the exploration is to come largely from private investment.  In the early 1980s, a search for oil in the same area proved unsuccessful. 
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Plan Puebla road work tramples Indian lands
By Wendy Call
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

When the Mexican publication Masiosare, a regular supplement to the daily La Jornada, published its predictions for 2003, these were among them:

Mexico and the United States won't sign any agreement on migration. There will be war in the Middle East. There will be no peace talks in Chiapas. The Plan Puebla Panama will continue on paper only. 

So far, Masiosare seems on target. The U.S. government has unleashed a full-force war against Iraq. In part because of the war, there is no serious hope for progress on a U.S.-Mexico migration agreement in 2003. Meanwhile, the situation in Chiapas remains grim, with negotiations at an impasse and increasing paramilitary violence.

Will Masiosare also be right about the Panama plan? The day after it printed those predictions, Business News Americas published an editorial with its own prediction: "2003 will be vital to [Panama plan's] future."

The Business News Americas editorial noted that the Panama plan "was enthusiastically greeted by a number of quarters including international lending institutions, the media, and many regional politicians and business leaders." 

The current silence from those sectors is noteworthy. The Inter-American Development Bank has stopped updating the portion of its website devoted to the Panama plan, while the Mexican government has shut down its own web page devoted to the Panama plan. (A polite message at the old website explains: "The [plan] will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs starting January 13, 2003." On the ministry's website, there is no single section on the plan although some miscellaneous documents related to the plan are available.)

The Business News Americas editorial noted delays and funding problems with the plan's highest priority: road construction. Although behind schedule, road crews continue working throughout the region toward the goal of creating a highway network running down the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Mexico and Central America, and including several links between the coasts. 

Most of the construction is slated for Mexico. This reflects overall financing priorities for the region. For 2003, the development bank has committed a total of $1.5 billion in loans to Latin American countries. About 60 percent of that total is destined for Mexico, though it accounts for only about one-fifth of Latin America's total population.

This road-building frenzy has impacted communities all over southern Mexico. At first glance, highways might seem a relatively benign element of a mega-development program like the plan. But the experience of several communities in Mexico's Isthmus of Tehuantepec shows otherwise.

The Catholic Church-affiliated Centro de Derechos Humanos Tepeyac (Tepeyac Human Rights Center) of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, has been working with communities affected by highway construction since 1997. The human rights center has focused its work on a highway that will connect the state capital of Oaxaca with the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the Pacific Coast. Predating the Panama plan by several years, the Oaxaca-to-isthmus highway was incorporated into the Panama plan in 2001.

This detail illustrates that the Panama plan didn't really start with Mexican President Vicente Fox. The Panama plan is a marketing plan — a way to group together the diverse infrastructure projects needed to implement the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Mexico and Central America. As Mexico’s Panama plan Coordinator Herbert Taylor said in a February interview with a Mexican newspaper, "The [Panama plan] isn't a proposal, it is the collective determination to build prosperity."

In August 2000, the development bank hosted a meeting of indigenous communities from throughout Mexico's Isthmus of Tehuantepec — a group whose ideas for "building prosperity" differ greatly from the Fox administration's. At this 

This article was first published as "Rumors of the PPP's Death—Greatly Exaggerated?," PPP Spotlight #2, Americas Program (Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, April 10, 2003).

Copyrighted 2003 Americas Program at the Interhemispheric Resource Center and used with permission.

meeting, Germán Martínez told the story of road construction in his community, an indigenous Zapotec village on the proposed route of the Oaxaca-to-isthmus highway. Martínez had been 
elected by his village, San Pedro Leapi, to coordinate work on the problem of a highway passing through their land.

Martínez described how engineers showed up in Leapi in 1997 for land surveying. Without speaking to the local government first, they began working in a forest that is part of the village's communal lands. He said the Leapi residents worried about the impact of the highway on the aquifer that sustained their agricultural fields, and on forest wildlife. 

When the authorities of Leapi learned the surveying was for a new highway, they wrote to the state government asking for information. They never received a response. According to Martínez, the silence bothered them almost as much as the thought of a four-lane toll road, which they could not afford to use, cutting across their land. In March 1999 Leapi's officials sent a formal letter to the Oaxaca governor, with copies to five other government agencies, asking about the highway project. Only one of the agencies responded, saying: "We don't have any such program . . ."

Most of the official maps that have circulated of the Panama plan highway network include a four-lane highway connecting Oaxaca City and the isthmus, then continuing south to Guatemala. The maps show a path that crosses very close to, if not through, San Pedro Leapi.

A few days after Germán Martínez told his story at the development bank conference, Oaxaca's hotel owners association held a press conference to demand that the Oaxaca-to-isthmus highway project move faster. The president of the association, Rafael Gómez Ruiz, was quoted as saying, "All the municipalities that the highway will cross agree with the project, except for six people [from one town]." (The town mentioned was not San Pedro Leapi.) Five days after this press conference, an editorial in Oaxaca's main newspaper declared, "With the superhighway, we all win."

Since then, both highway construction and community opposition have continued. In October 2002, the development bank took the communities' concerns to the International Labor Organization, charging that the highway construction violated that organization's Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples, which the Mexican government has signed. San Pedro Leapi's story has repeated itself in villages and towns all along the Oaxaca-to-isthmus highway route, and elsewhere in the Panama plan region.

Throughout the Mexican state of Puebla and especially around the capital city of El Salvador, San Salvador, communities have stopped the highways. In many more places, the struggles continue.

In February and March, Grupo América Nuestra (Our America Group), a coalition of Costa Rican non-governmental organizations and unions, the Foro Indígena de Oaxaca (Indigenous Forum of Oaxaca, Mexico) and all the Caritas chapters in the region reaffirmed their public opposition to the Panama plan, seeing it as a continuing threat. So far, rumors of the Panama plan's death have been greatly exaggerated.

Wendy Call is a freelance writer who divides her time between Massachusetts and Oaxaca. She is working on a book entitled "No Word for Welcome: Mexican Villages Face the Future," about indigenous communities in Oaxaca and globalization. She can be reached at: wendycall@world.oberlin.edu.

A.M. Costa Rica/Bryan Kay
They were lined up six deep at the Terminal al Caribe Wednesday in north San José as it seemed most of the population went east.
A.M. Costa Rica/Garett Sloane
Sabrina Henning, 22, and Jessica Salver, 24, discuss their trip.
Most foreign travelers seem to have planned ahead
By Bryan Kay and Garett Sloane
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica’s beaches and other popular travel destinations look like they will be working overtime this weekend. The Caribbean and Pacific bus stations, a feeder for the beaches, were packed Wednesday amid a rush to reach the holiday sanctuaries. It is, after all, Semana Santa.

Backpackers and other foreign travelers making their way through Costa Rica could so easily have been caught up in the rush, unaware of the Semana Santa deluge. But it seems they were more cautious than that with the timing of their trips. The bus stations were almost devoid of foreigners.

Many travelers had their trips planned well in advance, aware of the heightened human traffic on the road and in travel resorts during the Holy Week. Some decided to settle down in locations they were visiting immediately prior to the Holy Week. Others headed to various locations in the final days of last week, just before the rush.

There were, however, a couple of groups of foreign travelers to be found amid the rush Wednesday. But their presence was not due to bad planning.  Rather, their late plans were either of necessity or planned purposefully, and aware of potential problems.

Four backpackers from Great Britain broke away from Montezuma Wednesday to travel all the way to Cahuita. Kerri Lindley, 29, said she and her friends knew the type of travel day they were choosing when they left the Nicoya Peninsula for the Caribbean, but they just said: "Let’s go for it." Ms. Lindley said her group had simply gotten tired of Montezuma after almost four weeks.

"They did the sensible thing," said Ms. Lindley, referring to other backpackers who already settled into a tropical spot for the holiday weekend.

Ms. Lindley and her fellow backpackers were not the typical tourists though. The British group has 
been touring Central America for almost five months, and they do not shy away from adventure,

it seems. They left Montezuma for San José aware they might not have even gotten a seat on the bus to Cahuita.

With that mission accomplished the four have to find living accommodations when they arrive in Cahuita. "We have faith," said Ms. Lindley with the confidence of a traveler who has faced worse challenges.

German travelers Sabrina Henning, 22, and Jessica Salver, 24, were also traveling to the Caribbean. But they are not in Costa Rica merely as travelers. They organize travel for others. Both work for travel agencies here.

So the German women were luckier than other travelers with their plans. With the privileged position of working in the industry, they were able to fix reservations Tuesday, the day before they departed.

Ms. Henning has traveled extensively across Costa Rica in the five weeks she has been here. She said the country and its natural beauty impress her.

She said the Costa Rican people have made a positive impression, too. "I think the people are really nice, but it’s not the country to travel in as a girl, a blonde girl," joked Ms. Henning. Her friend, Ms. Salver, who has been in Costa Rica just over a week, also said she likes the people.

They both said the prices here are a bit expensive. This is something many travelers have hinted at, comparing Costa Rican prices with those of other Central American countries.

"Living is quite expensive. In Germany, for less money I had two big rooms for the same room here," said Ms. Henning. They both live with host families.

And so the two women headed for their Semana Santa break, not quite sure what to expect. Ms. Henning said she was surprised to see streets almost empty downtown. She said she has not seen the streets as empty even on average Sundays as on this Semana Santa Wednesday.

Sardines getting competition as the fish of choice
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

How did sardines get to be the traditional food for Costa Ricans during Semana Santa?

The unusual choice of a traditional food stems from the Catholic Church ban on red meat during the period that commemorates the last days of Earth of Jesus Christ and his Resurrection three days after his death.

The final days of Lent through Good Friday, the traditional day of Christ’s crucifixion, are the most solemn in the church. All parishes mark today, Holy Thursday, with processions and services.

At home the faithful must avoid red meat, and sardines have become the all-around traditional favorite: sardines and rice, sardines and pasta, baked sardines, sardines wellington.

For many Ticos sardines means the Easter season. The food also is inexpensive. Some stores offer two-for-one deals on canned sardines. One can purchase nearly a kilo of canned sardines today for 379 colons, a bit less than $1.

Other more expensive possibilities have entered the diet with the increasing affluence of Costa Ricans. Canned pink salmon costs about twice the price of sardines. Giant shrimp can be nearly 10,000 colons a kilo, some $25.60.

A mix of fish chunks and shellfish is about 3,200 colons per kilo (about $8.20). Then there is the standby of fish filets that range from 1,500 to 4,000 colons a kilo, some $3.85 to $10.25).

A few of the better supermarkets are promoting fresh tuna which can be eaten as steaks or grilled. the price is expensive but highly variable.

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