Wednesday, January 3, 2018


Prospects for Cuba’s Revolution in 2018

TeleSUR speaks to Cuba expert Arnold August about Raúl Castro's impending retirement and U.S.-Cuba relations.

Telesur: Marking 59 years since the triumph of the revolution, do you think there is something particular this year about the celebration given the looming elections and Raul Castro’s impending retirement?
Arnold August: Basing oneself on Cuban press publications in the last few days of December leading up to the January 1 celebration, and talking with Cuban colleagues last night and today, there is no mention at all regarding the April 19th 2018 election of the new president.What are then the themes to mark the passing of 2017 to 2018? Cubans, like everywhere in the world, first and foremost highlight events of the outgoing year.
For example, the official Granma daily reviewed major events or accomplishments of 2017. Domestically it was the successes in the health sector. Internationally, among others,it was the ongoing efforts in favour of Latin American/Caribbean integration and cooperation such as ALBA, the Venezuelan resistance and the Trump move to recognize Jerusalem. While the youth communist daily Juventud Rebelde hailed the 70,000 youth participating in voluntary work, and the international Youth and Student Festival in Sochi, it also did deal with 2018. It pledged to focus on the 90th anniversary of Che’s birthday, June 14. The revolutionary youth, through its prestigious regular contributor Graziella Pologotti, wrote that one of the peaks for 2018 will be the 150th anniversary of the October 10 1868 revolt against Spain as the precursor of the 1959 triumph. This piece was reprinted on Cuba Debate. The workers’ weekly Trabajadores featured a special front page contribution by the president of the Instituto de Historia de Cuba, Rene González Barrientos. He painted a picture of all the 1868 focal points while suggesting that the 2018 climax will be the commemoration of the 1868 initiation of the Manuel de Céspedes-led rebellion for independence and the eventual end of slavery. The historian provided readers many of the memorable features of the War of Independence. In my telephone discussions with Cuban friends on the 31st of December and January 1st regarding 2018, they manifested a desire that the revolutionary tradition continues.
Thus, looking at 2018 from the perspective of the Cuban Revolution, while the April 19 new legislature that will among other important responsibilities also elect the new president will constitute but one more event in its long history going back to 1868 and since then to 1959. By asserting this, does mean that I am underestimating the historical significance of April 19, 2018? No. However, this stance allows us to prepare for a new ideological and political offensive against the Cuba Revolution.
What is the content of this? We saw a preview of this in December last year. Raúl Castro, in the habitual closing session speech to the last session of the current legislature, notified in almost casual ways that the convocation of the new legislature and thus the election of the next president has been postponed to April 19 when Raúl will not be seeking a new mandate. However, he dealt with in some detail (the length depending on the theme), with many topics that normally whet the appetite of the international mainstream media: Irma recovery successes and challenges, municipal elections voter turnout results, foreign debt payments, dual currency, Cuba-US relations, “sonic” attacks, the non state or private sector,the new state sector regulations, the U.S. blockade, Cuba-U.S. cooperation and exchange, full and elaborated support for the Bolivarian Revolution, in favour of Christina and Lula in Argentina and Brazil respectively, CELAC, climate change and the U.S. on the Paris agreement, support for Palestine and opposition to Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, Raúl barely stepped down from the podium when the international conglomerate media “reported”virtually in chorus only one theme: April 19.What was the content of this topic that filled the vacuum to replace all or some of the controversial topics elucidated by Raúl that previously fuelled the international rumour and disinformation mill? There were various features such as Raúl trying “to hang on to power etc.” However, the common denominator more often than not was the following: the “Castro era” will come to an end on April 19th. Thus, the new president will have to confront “growing demands for democratization and opening”and deal with the increased use of social media in Cuba. The narrative often spars against invisible “hardliners” in Cuba. However, who are the hardliners? It seems to be a red herring to serve as a pretext for creating divisions and pressuring Cuba to “change” according to U.S. desires. Thus, my New Year’s wish would be for them to name who these “hardliners” may be. It does not seem that this wish would ever be fulfilled as the list would be far to long to assemble.
It may seem to some that the “democratization” demand consists of innocent comments. However, this political orientation is similar to what the media immediately concocted after the passing of Fidel Castro on November 25, 2016: Castro the “dictator” is gone and thus there is no longer a “pretext” for maintaining a so-called closed socialist economy, one-party system and full independence in the face of U.S. demands for flexibility in Cuba-U.S. relations. Of course, nothing in the future can to compare to form of the November/December 2016 anti-Fidel media blitzkrieg. Nevertheless, the content is similar and advances the same U.S. imperialist goal of chaos and regime change.
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Fidel Castro made a surprise appearance at the 6th Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba (Source: KPCC)
However, two years ago these forces inside and outside of Cuba completely underestimated the political consciousness of the Cuban leadership and the vast majority of people at the grass roots. The Cuban Revolution was and is being strengthened. Without “firing a shot”, it won that battle. What will happen in the first few months of this year as the Cuban Revolution heads toward April? It is after all unprecedented. For the first time since the Cuban Revolution a non-Castro will be the most visible political personality in the formal Cuban political system.
This is what, as you ask, is particular this year. However, it is not as earth-shaking as the international monopoly media would have us believe. The April 2018 National Assembly of People’s Power session is not, as we have seen above, on the agenda of highlighted events to transpire in 2018. On the contrary, 2018 is the year whose peak will be attained on October 10 indicating the Cuban revolution is 150 years-old. It is able to deal with the inevitable generational change as just one more of many challenges it has faced over decades and decades. In fact, its detractors are immune to the fact that this has been going on since Fidel Castro ceded his formal position over a decade ago to his brother who in turn has been working with both the other “históricos” and the next generation.
To that effect, this transformation is being exhibited not only in the political system. For example in December 2017 for the first time a young woman (34 years-old at the time), Yailan Orta was nominated as the editor of Granma. This is unique. As the former editor of Juventud Rebelde she also emerged in 2016 and 2017 as a leader of the grassroots youth resistance to the CIA-fomented World Learning Program and the blockade. In addition the new Granma director Yailanis very active in social media, a characteristic of the press leadership unheard of previously for generational and technical reasons. She thus maintains direct contact with the forty percentage or so (and growing) of the population that has access to internet, many of course who are youth. The attempt by the international media to create divisions and chaos in Cuba in the wake of April 19 will be solidly defeated in the short and long term. The opponents of the Cuban Revolution, both open and hidden, are no match for the new generations represented by the many young and not so young revolutionary journalists, all other sectors of society and the next president.
Telesur: What do you expect in Cuba-U.S. relations for 2018?
AA: I will go out on the limb and predict that Trump will somewhat soften his stand on Cuba.
On December 17, 2017, according to the official White House transcript, this is what Trump said during an impromptu meeting with reporters. One asked for his view on the third anniversary of the Barack Obama-Raúl l Castro joint statements announcing the new bilateral recognition and Embassy re-openings:
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. It is the anniversary, and hopefully everything will normalize with Cuba. But right now, they’re not doing the right thing, and when they don’t do the right thing, we’re not going to do the right thing. That’s all there is to it.”
Dealing with unpredictable Trump, visitors to TeleSur can venture to reach their own conclusion. “Hopefully everything will normalize with Cuba.” Let that sink in. Does he mean it?
Even if Trump made this remark next to the Marine Air Force One Helicopter, his statement did not drop from the sky. Since his election in November 2016 to date, the pro-engagement forces in the U.S. have doubled-down on its demands to further open trade and travel to Cuba. This wave of opposition to restrictions that runs the gamut from sectorial demands such as the export of agricultural products from Trump-supporting Midwest states and Texas, to travel industry, to agricultural-machinery manufacturing,to port cities in Florida and Texas close to the Havana harbour and Mariel container port, to across the board bipartisan Republican and Democratic parties at the national, state and city levels, Trump may be foolish, but not to the extent of seeing the writing on the wall for 2020.
This why, as 2017 was the year of Trump imposing restriction on Cuba while maintaining diplomatic relations, 2018 may be the year that he backtracks to a certain extent.
From the Cuban side, 2017 was the year that the Cuban Revolution valiantly stood up to Trump as the U.S. imperialist bully while keeping its cool on maintaining the door open to the negotiating table. Cuba, as it  has done since 1959, did not give in one iota on the principles of defending its sovereignty and independence. It was also the year that, despite the rhetoric, a series of successful bilateral meetings took place in Havana and Washington dealing with interests of common concern.
In 2018, the new generations further coming into power may be even more, not less, prone to defend Cuba’s sovereignty, dignity and further develop the Cuban Revolution against all attempts by the U.S. and its allies (open and disguised) to subvert it.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

International Day for the Abolition of Slavery: Learning from Angerona, Cuba

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The Cafetal Angerona, located at about 5 kilometers from the current town of Artemisa a city with about 80 thousand people, the capital of the newly formed Artemisa Province of Cuba prior part of the Pinar del Rio province, was declared a National Monument in June 1989.  Little could be done, however, to bring the monument back to its previous splendor without financial resources. Cuban volunteers did what they could without funding and cleaned the area of vegetation that was blocking access and accelerating the deterioration of the site.
In Angerona, the site of a coffee plantation, history and archaeological field work are coming together to hopefully help us understand a little bit better life under slavery dehumanizing conditions and giving life to the drowned voices of slaves. Looking into slave trade, slavery and the lives of slaves can be a challenging experience for all of us, and one that forces us to reflect and question racial prejudices and privileges. Furthermore, slavery is not over as it continues to besiege the world; thus field work in Angerona can have a role in enriching our reflections on slavery and on encouraging us to challenge it and work towards stopping it wherever we find it in the world today.  .
Peculiarities of Angerona
Angerona may have differed from other plantations as it may have offered slaves a marginally better existence than anywhere else in Cuba. For example, in Angerona slaves may have benefitted from working under better conditions, in covered areas protected from the weather, the afternoon tropical Sun or very strong rains; slaves may have benefitted from not working at night and being better rested. Angerona may have included an infirmary; slaves may have lived in units with kitchens and with their family members rather than in barracks divided by gender. Such concepts are part of the Cuban folklore regarding Angerona but they need to be proven by research. In 2018 a team of archaeologists from St Mary’s University, in Nova Scotia, is planning to explore such questions under the supervision of Aaron Taylor.
And yet, regardless of whether, or how far, Angerona departed from the typical model of plantations Angerona was still a plantation. And, the plantation economy target was the exploitation of slaves, and, slaves suffered the most cruel, barbaric and dehumanizing system known to us. There was physical violence against slaves in Angerona and slaves were locked in their quarters behind walls and a gate and watched from the Watchtower at all times to prevent them from escaping. The mud floors of the slaves’ quarters were covered with limestone, Taylor shared in a presentation about his field work in Angerona this past November 28th, to prevent slaves from eating mud, a method slaves used in attempting escape slavery by killing themselves. We can only guess about their desperation and anguish.
Angerona came into existence in 1822, the work and idea of Cornelio Souchay Escher, a German, of French Huguenot, background who bought the land on which it would be build (530 hectares) in 1813 for, arguably, for 14 thousand pesos. Souchay arrived in Cuba from Germany in 1806 and at the age of 22. He was born in October 21st, 1784. Souchay stayed in Havana from 1806 until 1822 when he moved to Angerona with her lover, a black woman born in Haiti, Ursula Lambert. Cornelio had met Ursula in Havana and they have done business together. Ursula, 6 years her junior, had been born in 1790 in Haiti, the free daughter of slave parents. She and her parents arrived with her parents’ owners in Cuba in one of the last migration waves the result of people fleeing the war of liberation which was raging in Haiti since Ursula’s birth. They settled in Guantánamo, Eastern Cuba.
The historical context
A number of relevant episodes were taking place in the world at this time. For example, from 1770 the British colonies of North America had been fighting for their independence from Britain, which was recognized in 1783 by the Treaty of Paris. In Haiti, the “Societe des Amis des Noirs” (The Society Friend of Blacks) was established in 1878 following the steps of Wilberforce, the British abolitionist. In 1789 the French people stormed the Bastille, liberating the incarcerated and launching the French Revolution, focused on bringing the monarchy down to create a republican government but also in the rights of men with the proclamation of the declaration of the Human Rights of Man and the Citizen.
Haiti was, a French colony, located close to Cuba, a colony of Spain, both with plantation economies exploiting slaves. In the case of Haiti, 20 thousand white men dominated and controlled more than 400 thousand slaves. The power of the King was being challenged in France and threatened to be replaced by a republican system and, naturally, at the colonies the colonial power and structure was bound to be challenged. In fact, Haiti becomes the second colony fighting for its independence, after the United States (1776) but Haiti also becomes the center of a rebellion of black slaves. When in 1791 the Slave Rebellion starts in Haiti Toussaint Louverture was 50 years old, a slave born of African parents working at the Breda plantation; he had learned to read thanks to the teachings of an older slave. Initially the Rebellion of the Slaves takes the side of the King knowing that only the King could warrant their freedom but soon this will change and the rebellion will side with the Republic. Louverture, a self taught naturist, had enrolled in the army of the King as a doctor and only after ensuring the safety of his master and his family who he put in a ship for Baltimore and to whom he regularly sent means for survival. An interesting point because it shows that the dehumanizing treatment slaves received did not cause them all to forget their humanity; in fact, most black generals involved in the Rebellion of the Slaves ensured the safety of their masters and their families.  Soon Louverture and his generals realize that the king is not planning to comply with his promise and they stopped supporting the monarchy, thus, in 1794 Louverture and his army join the forces of the Republic wearing the tricolor rosette. (2)
Cuban colonials become increasingly concerned when Haitians started to immigrate to their island, some with their slaves with a focus on establishing and working there. Haitians immigrants fleeing the Rebellion of the Slaves made Cuban colonials increasingly concerned about the Rebellion expanding to Cuba and the propaganda the Haitian slave owners spread in Cuba contributed to this because they wanted the Cubans to believe that Louverture had plans for attacking Cuba to liberate the slaves there too. The details are complex and Louverture is taken prisoner in 1802 under Napoleon directive, a directive Napoleon himself regretted later in writing. Louverture is sent to Fort de Joux where he dies of hunger in April 1803 but the fight for Haiti’s independence continues and Haitian independence is granted in January 1804 after the island was burned to the ground by the rebels, who set fire to everything in their efforts to be free. (2)
A lovestory: the daughter of slaves, the slave owner
When, in 2014, Berta Serafina Martínez Páez completed her biography of Ursula Lambert, the Cuban movie “Roble de Aroma/The Scent of Oak” (2005) had already portrayed Ursula as a sophisticated and attractive black young woman with a taste for music and a flair for organizing and very much in love with Cornelio Souchay, the owner of Angerona.  But, a film has limitations in terms of what can and cannot share with an audience regarding the complexities of interpersonal relations between slaves and their owners. Berta had, as a writer, more time and space to reflect and consider complexities and pay more attention to detail. Berta had collected an impressive number of documents about Ursula and Berta herself is a woman of color. She explains during an interview that she reflected much on the complexities of life in the Angerona coffee plantation and investigated the life of Cornelio Souchay almost as much as Ursula´s life.  When Berta published Ursula’s biography and presented it at the Havana Book Fair in 2015 she had already visited with living descendants of Souchay in Germany, her hope was to write a biography on him as well.
Angerona functioned as a coffee plantation between the years 1822 and 1837, she argues, that year Cornelio Souchay dies and at this point, or few years later, the plantation passed to the hands of Andre Souchay, Cornelio´s nephew. Soon after that the coffee plantation is unable to function for a number of reasons, one of them, she believes, had to do with both Cornelio Souchay and Ursula Lambert been extremely good managers who paid much attention to detail, while Andre was not. The plantation suffered their absence. At its height, Angerona had 450 slaves who took care of 750 thousand coffee plants; by 1837 the number of slaves was less than half, close to 200. Ursula moved to Havana after Souchay died and continued to work and live there until 1860. She died at the age of 70 a rich woman with a fortune of her own making and 20 slaves to her name.
The main challenges Berta faced in writing the biography had to do with her own feelings about slavery, the brutality of slave work and the plantation system but also the questions arising in connection with the intimate relationship between Lambert, a black woman daughter of slaves, and Souchay, a slave owner. Berta was challenged too by the reality of Ursula Lambert owning slaves herself until her death. To complete her work, she explains, she had to be able to “put things in its place, reclaiming their lives with their virtues and challenges,” she had to understand them as imperfect human beings and find value in the work they did in bringing to life the most productive and sumptuous coffee plantation of Cuba (“towering over more than 130 existing ones in San Marcos and Cayajabos at the time of cafetal splendor”). (1)
Berta is passionate about the history of Artemisa, her community. She learned about Angerona in 1959 but could not start her research until 1982. Her knowledge of the plantation economy and of the history of the area helped her. Berta is dismayed in finding that Cubans may not be as interested as she is in history or in Angerona. Her book is an attempt to share knowledge, to inform and engage others with her passion. Her research, detailed and demanding, was recognized because of its quality by the Oficina del Historiador de la Ciudad de La Habana who published her book.  The book she wrote is available outside of Cuba and it can be found in a number of American libraries on loan (the New York Public Library or the Columbia University Library of New York).
Beyond Angerona
Then dealing with a subject like slavery we cannot escape asking difficult questions. Facing challenges of the past can help us deal with questions and challenges of the present connected to oppression, exploitation, abuse, discrimination, racism, classism, as well as with views accepting, and even admiring, power and money and of those who hold it without paying due attention as to how it is obtained, held and maintained and at what costs. Most of us and most of the times we live unexamined lives, there is either little time to reflect on them or very little incentive in society for us to do so. There is also strong bias benefitting the rich and powerful and many prejudices against the poor, the week and the vulnerable. We rarely examine how power is achieved or how money is accumulated, or if they are achieved and accumulated in ethical ways or in oppressing, exploiting and abusing others. We rarely consider whether the powerful, rich people at the top of our societies deserve our admiration or should be questioned and condemned for abusive actions against others, and for holding a relentless unlimited ambition.
Angerona is the setting where 450 slaves worked, without rights, to enrich a couple who lived luxurious lives and had much power over the lives of their slaves. This couple exhibited a love for music and refinement, and hopes for creating an orchestra of slaves to show the slaves capacity for growth and refinement. This does not change, however, the reality of slave work, the treatment of slaves as not-human, the fact that they were supervised from a watchtower and locked behind a gate every night.  Even if research were to proof that Angerona was less oppressive than other plantations, a lesser evil, it was evil nevertheless. A few concessions to slaves can provide slave owners some moral relief while they still receive most of the economic benefits of their exploitative enterprise. Still, slavery, slave trade and the existence of slaves is a criminal enterprise that colonizers learned to live with to ensure and maintain their privileges. They ignored the costs to their own humanity, and to the humanity of their own children raised in that form of hell on earth that turned them into corrupted devils pretending to be better that they were. But, often, exploiters forget, or oversee, how exploitation corrupts them more than it corrupts the exploited.
When looking into what shape slavery may have taken in Angerona we are looking into more than the past because slavery exists today. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) there are more than 40 million people victims of modern slavery worldwide.  The term, “modern slavery” includes practices such as forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage and human trafficking. These are situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception or abuse of power. In addition to the 40 million adults victims of slavery there are 150 million children subjected to child labour, almost 1 in 10 children around the world. Of the 40.3 million adults forced into slavery, about 24.9 million are in forced labour while the remaining 15.4 million are in forced marriage. Of the 24.9 million in forced labour, 16 million are exploited in the private sector (domestics, construction and agricultural workers), 4 million are in forced labour imposed by state authorities, and 4.8 million are in forced sexual exploitation.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for about 99% of the victims in commercial sex industry and for about 58% of the victims in other sectors. There are 5.4 victims of slavery for every 1000 people in the world. The United Nations has proclaimed December 2 as theInternational Day for the Abolition of Slavery. This year the 50 for Freedom Campaign aims to persuade at least 50 countries to ratify the Forced Labour Protocol by 2018. (3)
There was much outrage when CNN made public a video where Africans were sold in a public auction in Libya.  People protested and questions were asked to the Libyan government that had to admit their lack of control over the country and recognize the challenges Libya faces since western powers attack and dismantled Gaddafi´s government. Slavery today is cheap and disposable. In 1850 an average slave in the American South cost the equivalent of 40 thousand dollars in today’s money, but, today, and worldwide, the cost of a slave is on average 90 dollars. Modern slaves are not considered investments worth maintaining so they are disposable and easily killed. At the tape CNN showed from an auction in Libya a slave is shown to be sold at 300 dollars. (4)
Thus, when the team of archaeology students and professors from St Mary University visits Angerona this summer of 2018, and, as part of their field research posse the question of whether at the coffee plantation the slave quarters were barracks, separating slaves by gender, or a village, favouring family units, we will be waiting for the answer. We will be waiting not because of what it tells us about the past but because of what it can tell us about ourselves as people, our present and future, and the future of our humanity which makes us who we are. We will be eager to posse new questions to understand, and bring to life, the silenced voices of the slaves of Angerona for what they can contribute to our understanding of the cruel, dehumanizing system human created and labeled “plantation economy”, and imposed in our continent and in our world by the relentless love of money and profit of some of us.
Notes
1. Interview by Teresa de Jesùs Torres Espinosa en Habana Cultural, on “Ursula Lambert: la singular haitiana del Angerona” book author Berta Serafina Martínez Pàez, February 16, 2015. http://habanacultural.ohc.cu/?p=15656
2. Josè Luciano Franco (2010) “Historia de la Revolucion de Haiti. La batalla por el dominio del Caribe y el Golfo de Mexico.” Alba bicentenario, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, Instituto Cubano del Libro.
3. United Nations, 50 For Freedom Campaign, December 2, 2018. http://www.un.org/en/events/slaveryabolitionday/
All images in this article are from the author.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

¡Fidel Presente, Siempre! Fidel Is Ever Present!

Today, November 25th, 2017, marks one year since Fidel Castro, the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, took his physical leave from us.  As he desired and wished no statues have been erected in his honour; no streets, buildings or plazas carry his name. 

Fidel requires no physical monuments. He is present in every struggle against imperial domination, oppression and exploitation. His ideas resonate and pulsate in the efforts to transform into reality the deepest aspirations of the peoples of the world to create societies founded on justice and human dignity.

It is profoundly fitting that as the world marks the 1st anniversary of Fidel’s passing the people of Cuba are posed once again before the ballot boxes in another reaffirmation of their determination to continue along the road that Fidel forged. On January 1st, 1959, the Cuban people under the leadership of Fidel took control of their country and destiny. Their successful resistance of the empire is the concrete reflection of the principled and dignified politics and leadership of Fidel.  

No words can adequately convey the transcendent and singular meaning of Fidel; his significance extends far beyond the geographical boundaries of Cuba. Since its inception, the Cuban Revolution, under Fidel's leadership, has established an unparalleled legacy of internationalism and humanitarianism

José Martí declared, “Trenches made of ideas are stronger than those made of stones' and “a just cause -even one buried in the depths of a cave - is mightier than an army.”

Fidel is still with us in the trenches, shoulder-to-shoulder with us in our struggle to bring into being a better world, demonstrating what can be achieved by holding aloft the banners of Justice, Peace, Socialism, Internationalism and Human Dignity. His legacy continues to be a living testament and inspiration. 

In this spirit, we declare along with the peoples of the world: 

¡Fidel Presente, Siempre! Fidel Is Ever Present!

On behalf of the Canadian Network On Cuba
Isaac Saney
CNC Co-Chair & National-spokesperson

Excerpts from speech by Cuban President Fidel Castro to the 34th UN General Assembly, in his position as chairman of the nonaligned countries movement, October 12, 1979. 
 
“I speak in the name of the children in the world who do not have a piece of bread. I speak in the name of the sick who do not have medicine. I speak on behalf of those whose right to life and human dignity have been denied…I am here to warn that either injustice and inequalities are solved peacefully and wisely, or the future is going to be apocalyptic. The sound of weapons, of threatening words and hegemony in the international arena must cease.  Enough of the illusion that the world's problems can be solved with nuclear weapons. Bombs might kill the hungry, the sick and the ignorant, but they cannot kill hunger, disease, ignorance and the people's just rebellion. In the holocaust, the wealthy will also die. They are the ones that stand to lose the most in this world. Let us say farewell to arms and concentrate in a civilized manner on the most urgent problems of our time. This is the responsibility and most sacred duty of every statesman in the world. Furthermore, this is an indispensable requirement for humanity's survival.”
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