The word Latin America refers to the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries of the New World. The history of Latin America is enriched with many incidents, facts, twists, turns, and achievements. This article will share a synopsis of the History of Latin America with the readers.
In times preceding the bold arrival of intrepid European explorers, Latin America blossomed as the cradle of advanced civilizations. The Aztec Empire flourished majestically at the core of Mexico, while the resplendent Maya civilization graced the lush embrace of Central America. Meanwhile, the awe-inspiring Inca Empire ascended to towering heights amidst the Andean peaks of South America. These remarkably sophisticated societies meticulously crafted intricate systems of governance mastered the subtleties of agrarian cultivation and bequeathed upon the world architectural marvels that continue to awe and inspire. Their legacies, haunting remnants of their brilliance, persist to captivate and transfix our global consciousness.
The twilight of the 15th century bore witness to a momentous chapter in history, as Christopher Columbus embarked upon epoch-defining voyages to the Americas. These historic odysseys marked the dawning of European colonization across the Latin American expanse. The Spanish, Portuguese, and subsequently, other European powers, unfurled their vast colonial dominions across this immense landmass with unwavering resolve. This era of colonization ushered profound transformations, introducing exotic crops, previously unseen fauna, and novel diseases—an epochal phenomenon now etched in history as the Columbian Exchange. Its far-reaching repercussions reverberated both in the Old World and the New, transforming societies and ecosystems in ways previously unimaginable.
40 Interesting, Cool, Fun Facts about Latin America
The annals of Latin American history unfurl as an elaborate tapestry, intricately woven with the vibrant threads of ancient civilizations. This sprawling region, stretching from the southern borders of the United States to the very tip of South America, serves as a living testament to the multifaceted interplay of diverse cultures and historic events that have indelibly imprinted their mark upon its breathtaking landscapes and its diverse populace. Let’s find below 40 interesting, cool, fun facts about the history of Latin America:
Pre-Columbian Civilizations: Rich Indigenous Heritage
Before the arrival of Europeans in the 15th and early 16th centuries, Latin America was home to a multitude of indigenous peoples, many of whom had highly advanced civilizations. From the southern reaches of the continent, cultures such as the Olmec, Maya, Muiska, and Inca thrived, leaving behind a profound historical legacy. These societies developed complex systems of governance, art, architecture, and agriculture, shaping the foundations of Latin American history. Best Academic Research, Project Paper Writing Services.
European Colonization: Suppression and Slavery
With the advent of European exploration, Latin America’s fate took a dramatic turn. The region fell under the control of the Spanish and Portuguese Crowns, resulting in the suppression of native languages and Roman Catholicism’s imposition. The arrival of European colonists also brought the dark chapter of African slavery, particularly in areas where indigenous populations were scarce. This deeply ingrained exploitation of labor would have profound and lasting impacts on the social fabric of Latin America. Track All of Your Travel Requirements from One Place.
Independence and Political Transformation
The early 19th century witnessed a wave of independence movements across Spanish-American regions, culminating in the majority achieving sovereignty through armed struggles. However, some areas like Cuba and Puerto Rico remained under colonial rule. Brazil, once part of the Portuguese Empire, declared itself a separate monarchy and later transitioned into a republic in the late 19th century. These political transformations marked a significant turning point in Latin American history, paving the way for new forms of governance.
Challenges of the Post-Independence Era
The newfound political independence did not immediately translate into stability. Many Latin American nations grappled with political and economic instability in the wake of independence. Foreign powers, notably Great Britain and the United States, wielded considerable influence in the region, essentially establishing a form of neo-colonialism. While these countries maintained their political sovereignty, foreign powers exercised significant control over their economies. Qatar Airways: Book a ticket and fly with confidence all over the world.
Emergence of Latin America as a Cultural Entity
The concept of “Latin America” as a cultural and regional entity traces its roots back to the 19th century. Initially proposed by French thinker Saint-Simeon Michel Chevalier, who envisioned the United States as part of the “Latin Nation,” this idea gained traction among Latin American intellectuals and political leaders. They no longer looked to Spain or Portugal as cultural models but turned to France for inspiration. Under Napoleon III’s reign, the term “Latin America” was coined in France and played a pivotal role in establishing France as a cultural and political leader in the region.
Modern Complexities: The Shifting Notion of “Latin America”
In the mid-20th century, especially in the United States, the term “Latin America” was occasionally used to encompass all the southern regions. This was often employed in discussions of contemporary political and economic relations rather than cultural aspects. However, contemporary definitions of Latin America are relatively modern, dating back to the 19th century, and applying the term to the pre-Columbian era is anachronistic. Nevertheless, the impact of the diverse pre-Columbian cultures on the societies that emerged post-conquest is undeniable and continues to shape the region’s rich and intricate history. These influences are explored further in the subsequent sections. Learning Language Guide, Speaking, Reading, Writing, Listening Skills.
Ancient Roots: Latin America’s Millennia of History
Latin America is a region deeply rooted in history, with evidence of human presence dating back possibly 30,000 years. Various migration models to the New World have been proposed, although pinpointing precise dates remains challenging due to limited primary text sources. Remarkably advanced civilizations flourished at different times and places, notably in the Andes and Mesoamerica, laying the foundations for Latin America’s diverse cultural heritage.
The Age of Exploration: Columbus and European Powers
The dawn of Latin America’s colonial history unfolded with Christopher Columbus’s historic landing in the Americas on the 12th of October. European maritime powers rapidly established trade networks and colonies in the New World, driven by ambitions to expand their empires and convert indigenous populations to Christianity. Spain, focusing on the central and southern regions of the continent, formed a vast empire shaped by the Tordesillas Treaty. Rich in human and material resources, this empire became a significant source of silver and gold.
Empires Take Shape: Spain and Portugal
Portugal, influenced by the same Tordesillas Treaty, carved out its empire in Brazil, emphasizing agricultural improvements for sugar production due to the absence of large, complex indigenous societies or mineral resources. These distinct colonial trajectories defined the character of Latin America’s emerging nations.
Devastation and Demise: Impact on Indigenous Populations
One of the most tragic chapters in Latin American history was the decimation of indigenous populations during European colonization. The arrival of Europeans, carrying diseases such as smallpox and measles, led to catastrophic population declines among native communities. Bartolome de las Casas, a Dominican friar, raised early alarms about the devastating impact of European diseases on indigenous populations. His writings shed light on the suffering caused by the lack of immunity to these diseases, and his accounts offer invaluable insights into the scale of the indigenous population’s decline.
Brutality and Cultural Suppression: The Conquistadors’ Legacy
The conquistadors and colonists wielded immense influence over Latin America’s population, but their legacy is marred by brutality. Bartolomeo de las Casas documented the atrocities committed by the Spanish conquerors, describing how they worked to annihilate indigenous communities by preventing reproduction and deploying ferocious dogs to hunt down those who attempted to escape. Las Casas estimated that around three million natives perished due to war, slavery, and forced labor, leaving an indelible scar on Latin America’s history. His accounts of cruelty paint a harrowing picture of the era, with Las Casas himself remarking on the incredulity of future generations in comprehending these horrors.
Suppression of Native Culture and Religion: Maya Codices
Under Spanish rule, native culture and religion faced relentless suppression. The Spanish authorities even went to the extent of burning the Maya Codices, precious books containing invaluable information on astrology, religion, customs, and behavior. Today, only four codices, including the Dresden Codex, the Paris Codex, the Madrid Codex, and the HI Codex, have survived, offering glimpses into the rich heritage that once thrived in pre-Columbian Latin America.
Controlled Immigration: Religious Purity in the New World
The Spanish Crown maintained strict control over immigration to its foreign colonies, with travelers required to register with the House of Trade in Seville. This was a deliberate strategy to ensure religious purity in the overseas empire. The Crown, having expelled non-Christians like Jews, crypto-Jews, and Muslims, meticulously scrutinized the backgrounds of travelers.
Evidence of religious adherence through personal testimony was essential, reflecting the Crown’s commitment to allowing only Christians into the New World. Examining specific individuals connected to the Crown provides valuable insights into how religion shaped entry into the newly discovered lands. This rigorous control over immigration played a pivotal role in shaping the religious and cultural landscape of Latin America.
Religious Purity as a Travel Pass: Francesca de Figueroa’s Journey
In the early 17th century, Francesca de Figueroa, an African-Iberian woman aspiring to travel to Cartagena, faced a bureaucratic challenge in colonial America. Her remarkable journey highlights the pivotal role of religion in securing travel permits. Francesca sought a license from the Spanish Crown, which demanded proof of religious purity. A witness, Elvira de Medina, testified that Francesca and her ancestors were “ancient Christians” and not recent converts or practitioners of other faiths.
Despite Francesca’s African heritage, her religious credentials cleared the path for her voyage to Cartagena in 1601, with the decree issued by the President and Official Judges Case de Compression of Seville. This historical anecdote underscores the significance of adhering to Christian norms and securing royal approval when navigating the bureaucratic intricacies of travel in colonial Latin America.
Religion’s Enduring Influence in the New World
Religion played a central role in the New World, profoundly impacting everyday life and governance. Laws and regulations often emanated from religious beliefs and traditions, creating a complex interplay between faith and culture in colonial Latin American societies. This fusion of religion and governance gave rise to conflicts, with divergent cultures, particularly African and Iberian, experiencing friction. Witch trials became a focal point of these cultural clashes, with Europeans viewing witchcraft as the rejection of God in favor of devil worship.
This was deemed heretical and unacceptable, subject to severe punishment by both Spanish and Latin American authorities. Paula de Iguiluz’s case illustrates how aligning with Christianity could mitigate sentences in witchcraft trials. Paula, an African descendant skilled in witchcraft, faced charges of witchcraft, prophecy, and apostasy in 1620. She strategically invoked Christianity during her trial, reciting prayers and seeking forgiveness, leading to a reduced sentence and her eventual return to a life of servitude. The Spanish Crown’s unwavering commitment to preserving Christianity in Latin America shaped colonial rule for over three centuries.
Independence and Transformation: Latin America’s Evolution
Following the models of the American and French revolutions, Latin America embarked on a journey toward independence, with the majority of nations achieving autonomy by 1825. This newfound independence disrupted the existing colonial market structure that thrived on Spanish imperial reforms and fostered economic dependence on foreign investments. Industrialization began to take root, drawing the attention of Western European powers, notably Great Britain and France, as well as the United States.
These nations assumed a larger role in Latin America’s economic landscape. Concurrently, the emergence of a Latin American ruling class and intellectuals sought to create a distinct identity for the region, albeit one that largely excluded indigenous peoples. This transformation underscored the enduring legacy of colonialism and the complex interplay of culture, politics, and identity in Latin America’s history.
Post-Independence Turmoil and Nation-Building
Following the dawn of independence, Spanish America faced significant challenges in consolidating the newly formed states. The failed attempts at unification, such as Gran Colombia, the Federal Republic of Central America, and the United Provinces, led to domestic and interstate conflicts, ultimately resulting in the emergence of new countries. Brazil, in contrast to its Hispanic neighbors, remained a united monarchy, avoiding the pitfalls of civil and interstate wars.
These post-independence civil wars often pitted federalists against centrists, with political power often wielded through military oppression. The legacy of colonial cultural diversity persisted, as these nascent nations sought to construct a shared identity based on European languages and culture, be it Spanish or Portuguese. However, internal cultural and class divisions fueled tensions that hindered the process of national identity formation.
Nationalism Takes Root and Border Disputes Emerge
The subsequent decades marked a prolonged journey towards nationalism in Latin America. Many of the new national borders had been established centuries earlier, mainly serving the interests of colonial powers such as Odissinia or Bourbon. These borders became focal points of political identity and were often characterized by instability, leading to conflicts, particularly in the latter half of the 19th century.
Two major conflicts during this period were the Paraguayan War (1864-70), also known as the Triple Alliance War, and the Pacific War (1879-84). The Paraguayan War pitted Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay against Paraguay, resulting in Paraguay’s near-depopulation and significant territorial losses. In the Pacific War, Chile triumphed over Bolivia and Peru, securing control of resource-rich territories.
External Influences and Economic Restructuring
During the mid-19th century, Latin America faced the growing influence of the United States, which sought to expand its territorial reach and exert its influence across the hemisphere. The Mexican-American War (1846-48) saw Mexico lose more than half of its territory to the United States. In the 1860s, France indirectly aimed to control Mexico. Meanwhile, Brazil was consolidating control over vast sections of the Amazon Basin, often at the expense of neighboring nations.
The 1880s witnessed aggressive U.S. policies aimed at safeguarding and expanding political and economic interests in Latin America. This era saw the creation of the Pan-American Conference, the successful completion of the Panama Canal, and U.S. intervention in the final Cuban War of Independence.
Economic Disparities and the Rise of the Caudillos
The export of natural resources formed the backbone of most 19th-century Latin American economies, allowing a wealthy elite to flourish. This restructuring of economic and political realities created a significant wealth gap, with landed elites amassing extensive lands and resources. For instance, in Brazil, a mere 1% of the population owned 5% of the land.
Gold mining and agriculture, especially for these wealthy landowners, were exclusive domains. These “Great Owners” wielded immense control over local activities and held considerable influence in the political arena. Local political instability and economic realities gave rise to the Caudillos, whose power and patronage were derived from their military prowess.
Political governments, theoretically democratic, adopted either presidential or parliamentary forms, with a strong inclination toward Caudillo rule or aristocratic influence. While some nations, such as Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and Colombia, experienced elements of democracy, others leaned toward elitism or authoritarianism, often with the support of the majority. These measures aimed to maintain Latin America’s role as a global supplier of raw materials within the international economy.
The United States and Its Interventionist Policy
At the outset of the 20th century, the United States continued to assert its interventionist stance in Latin America, primarily driven by its strategic interests in the region. This approach was officially articulated in Theodore Roosevelt’s Big Stick doctrine, which redefined the Monroe Doctrine to prevent European intervention in the Western Hemisphere. Following the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, the newly established Cuban government and the United States inked the Platt Amendment in 1902, granting the U.S. the authority to intervene in Cuba as it saw fit.
In neighboring Colombia, the United States pursued approval to secure a swath of Panamanian territory for the construction of the eagerly anticipated canal across the isthmus. Despite Colombian resistance, a Panamanian revolt provided the U.S. with an opportunity. The U.S. supported Panama’s bid for independence, and the new nation was born. It’s important to note that U.S. intervention wasn’t confined to these instances; during the early 20th century, there were multiple military incursions into Central America and the Caribbean, primarily motivated by commercial interests, earning the moniker “Banana Wars.”
The Mexican Revolution Unfolds
The second decade of the century bore witness to the most significant political upheaval in Mexico. In 1910, President Porfirio Díaz, who had ruled for three decades, pledged to step down. Francisco I. Madero, a moderate liberal with aspirations to modernize the nation during the Socialist Revolution, launched a campaign for the presidency. However, Díaz reneged on his promise and ran for re-election.
Madero’s arrest on election day and Díaz’s declaration as the victor ignited a revolt that marked the onset of the Mexican Revolution. Revolutionary movements coalesced, with key figures emerging, including Pancho Villa in the north, Emiliano Zapata in the south, and Madero in Mexico City.
Madero’s forces vanquished the Federal Army early on, temporarily assuming control of the government. In the second election in November 1911, Madero emerged as the victor. Madero, advocating for moderate reforms and greater democracy, failed to win the support of many regional leaders, paving the way for continued unrest. His inability to address agrarian grievances prompted Zapata to resume his revolutionary activities by breaking ranks with Madero.
On February 18, 1913, General Victoriano Huerta, a conservative, staged a coup with U.S. assistance. Four days later, Madero was assassinated. Revolutionary leaders like Villa, Zapata, and Venustiano Carranza, who had previously opposed the federal government militarily, now found themselves under Huerta’s control. Villa and Zapata briefly captured Mexico City but soon returned to their respective strongholds, leaving Carranza in charge of the central government. Carranza organized the suppression of the rebel forces led by Villa and Zapata, with General Álvaro Obregón playing a prominent role.
The Mexican Constitution of 1917, still in effect today, was promulgated but not initially enforced. The struggle against other revolutionary leaders persisted, with Zapata being assassinated in 1919, Carranza in 1920, and Obregón officially elected later that year. Villa met his end in 1923. With his key rivals removed, Obregón consolidated power and achieved relative peace in Mexico. Although a liberal government was established under the new constitution, certain aspirations of the working class and rural population remained unfulfilled, echoing the ongoing challenges in Latin America.
The Legacy of World War I
While the reputation of Germany and German culture in Latin America remained elevated after World War I, it never fully returned to its pre-war standing. The aftermath of the war had a lasting impact on the global political landscape, including Latin America.
The Rise of Sports and the Olympic Movement
Sports in Latin America saw a surge in popularity, captivating enthusiastic fans and drawing them to grand stadiums. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) played a pivotal role in promoting Olympic ideals and fostering participation in sports across the region. After the successful hosting of the 1922 Latin American Games in Rio de Janeiro, the IOC actively contributed to the establishment of National Olympic Committees and the preparation for future international competitions.
In Brazil, sports often intertwined with political rivalries, which occasionally hampered progress. Nevertheless, Latin American athletes made significant strides in international sports, notably with their participation in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris and the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam.
The Introduction of Football and Economic Challenges
In the late 1800s, English and Scottish engineers introduced football (soccer) to Brazil, leaving a lasting mark on the region’s sports culture. They also played pivotal roles in international sports organizations, such as the North American YMCA’s international committees and the American Playground Association, where they helped train coaches. However, while sports thrived, economic challenges loomed.
The global economic collapse led to a sharp drop in demand for raw materials, severely affecting Latin American economies. In response, intellectuals and government leaders in the region began to reevaluate their economic policies, shifting towards alternative industrialization through imports. Their goal was to establish self-reliant economies with thriving industrial sectors and a growing middle class, less susceptible to the fluctuations of the global economy.
The Roosevelt Administration’s Approach and Nationalization
Amidst the potential threat to U.S. commercial interests, the Roosevelt Administration recognized the need to adapt to these changing economic policies. The United States implemented a “good neighbor” policy, permitting the nationalization of some Latin American companies. Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas famously nationalized American oil companies, a move that solidified his legacy.
Cárdenas also oversaw land redistribution, fulfilling the expectations of many who had supported the Mexican Revolution. Additionally, the Platt Amendment, which had granted the U.S. legal and governmental interference in Cuban politics, was repealed during this period. World War II further strengthened ties between the United States and most Latin American nations.
The Cold War and Political Choices
In the post-war era, the specter of communism emerged as a major political issue for both the United States and Latin American governments. The onset of the Cold War forced governments in the region to make choices between aligning with the United States or the Soviet Union.
Costa Rica’s Transition to Democracy
After the Costa Rican Civil War of 1948, the nation embarked on a transformative journey, establishing a new constitution and earning recognition as Latin America’s first legitimate democracy. However, the newly formed Costa Rican government, mandated to prohibit the presence of a permanent army, focused internally and refrained from seeking regional influence. Challenges persisted, including a conflict with neighboring Nicaragua.
The Triumph of the Cuban Revolution
Throughout the 20th century, socialist and communist movements sprouted across Latin America, with the Cuban Revolution under Fidel Castro emerging as one of the most successful. The Cuban Revolution opposed the rule of Fulgencio Batista, who had held power in Cuba for six years.
The Dominance of Sugar in Cuba’s Economy
Starting in the 1860s, the Cuban economy underwent a profound transformation, with a pronounced focus on sugar cane cultivation. By the twentieth century, a staggering 82% of Cuban sugar production found its way into the American market, rendering Cuba a critical player in the global sugar trade. Despite the repeal of the Platt Amendment, Cuba wielded substantial influence in American politics and daily life. It garnered a reputation as an “American brothel,” where U.S. citizens could indulge in a wide array of pleasures and illicit activities as long as they had cash on hand.
Challenges to Constitutional Governance
Despite a constitution that promised social development, Cuba faced disruptions to constitutional rule due to dictators, corruption, and the rise of figures like Batista. Batista initiated his final stint as the head of the government through a coup in 1952. In response, a coalition of revolutionaries sought to restore the constitution, reorganize the democratic state, and liberate Cuba from American influence. They achieved their objective with Batista’s fall on January 7, 1959.
The Castro Era and U.S.-Cuba Relations
Fidel Castro, initially declaring himself a secular leader, embarked on a reform and nationalization program starting on May 7, 1959. His policies led to confrontations with the Eisenhower administration, resulting in the severance of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, the freezing of Cuban assets in the U.S., and a trade embargo in the 1960s. The Kennedy administration escalated tensions by supporting the Cuban invasion carried out by Cuban exiles. The failed invasion, known as the Bay of Pigs, further strained relations and solidified Cuba’s alignment with the Soviet Union.
The Cuban Missile Crisis and Leftist Influence in Latin America
Cuba’s collaboration with the Soviet Union, including the placement of intercontinental ballistic missiles in Cuba, culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. This episode brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Throughout the 1970s, left-wing political movements gained significant traction across Latin America. Gift Ideas for Yourself, or Near and Dear Ones on Amazon
This emergence of leftist ideologies prompted right-wing factions, religious authorities, and a substantial portion of each country’s population to support military coups as a means to prevent potential communist threats. The intervention of both Cuba and the United States in regional affairs exacerbated political polarization. Consequently, many South American nations fell under the rule of military dictatorships, often backed by U.S. support.
Operation Condor and Repression
In the turbulent 1960s, several South American regimes collaborated under Operation Condor to ruthlessly suppress leftist dissidents, which included urban guerrillas. This period witnessed a chilling crackdown on political dissent and the systematic elimination of those perceived as threats to the established order.
Washington’s Economic Policies and Crisis Response
During the 1980s and ’90s, Latin American countries grappled with economic crises. Specific economic policy prescriptions advocated by institutions based in Washington, D.C., such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the U.S. Treasury Department, were implemented in response to these crises. These policies often involved structural adjustments, privatization, and fiscal austerity measures that aimed to stabilize economies but sometimes came under scrutiny for their impact on local populations.
Challenging Washington Consensus
In more recent years, several Latin American nations, led by socialist or leftist governments, notably Argentina and Venezuela, have pursued policies that diverge from the Washington Consensus, often leaning towards economic models that prioritize state intervention and social welfare. This trend, however, has not been uniform across the region, with countries like Brazil, Chile, and Peru adopting a mix of policies. The criticisms of the IMF’s policies extended beyond Latin America and found support from economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Dani Rodrik, who challenged what they perceived as the IMF’s “one size fits all” approach.
The Rise of Leftist Governments
Starting in the 1990s and particularly in the 2000s, left-wing political parties began ascending to power in various Latin American countries. Leaders such as Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay, the Kirchner couple in Argentina, Tabaré Vázquez and José Mujica in Uruguay, Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Evo Morales in Bolivia, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador represented a wave of leftist politics. These leaders often embraced socialist, anti-imperialist, or Latin Americanist ideologies in their governance. Positive Parenting Products on Amazon for their Creative Kids
Shifts in Political Landscape
The political landscape in Latin America has seen shifts between right-wing and left-wing governments. Until 2019, a significant portion of the region was governed by left-wing or center-left administrations, denoted as “red countries.” Concurrently, “blue countries” experienced right-wing leadership. This political oscillation has marked Latin American politics in recent years.
The Conservative Wave
The “onda conservadora,” or conservative wave, emerged in South America in the mid-2010s. This trend gained momentum in Brazil when Dilma Rousseff faced a contentious election and lost her presidency in 2016, ending the Workers Party’s four-term hold on the highest office. This wave has been characterized by a rise in conservative ideologies and the strengthening of conservative factions in national legislatures. Analysts noted that the Brazilian National Congress, elected in 2018, appeared to be one of the most conservative in recent history, with an influx of conservative representatives from sectors like agriculture, the military, law enforcement, and religious groups. Grow Your Skills and Employability with Certifications
Economic Crisis and Corruption Scandals
The conservative wave was further propelled by economic crises and corruption scandals that unfolded in the aftermath of the 2010s. This right-wing movement sought to counterbalance previous left-leaning policies with a focus on liberal economic principles, conservatism, and a commitment to anti-leftist ideologies. These developments have reshaped the political landscape in many Latin American countries, reflecting the region’s ever-evolving dynamics and the diverse range of ideologies that shape its governance.
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