monthly news magazine for
Roatan, Utila & Guanaja

September, 2004 Vol.2 No. 11
Calendar Style
feature story / editorial / local news / business

words and illustrations by Thomas Tomczyk
charts by Connie Wrights

65,000 and GROWING

Bay Islands Voice conducts a study to estimate the current population of Roatan


Every one knows Roatan has been groving at an alarming pace. Yet until now, no one knew the real numbers. Ask anyone on Roatan and you could get any answer: 24 thousand, 35 thousand, 100 thousand, but it will be based on a hunch, not on hard data.
Bay Islands Voice has conducted a population study that takes into account a commodity needed and used by everyone - energy. More precisely, the study compared peak power demand at a given time across the Honduran department. Comparing the three island populations during peak demand, which is at 7:30pm, eliminates having to account for energy-hungry businesses such as packing plants, offices, etc. These are all closed by 7:30pm; Roger Woods, manager of Guanaja's BELCO, agreed that the power consumption of the two packing plants connected to Guanaja's grid at that time is insignificant. The majority of demand for electricity in the evening comes from individual customers.
At 7:30pm most people are at home, cooking, watching TV and running their fans and air-conditioning. On an assumption that a person on Utila, Guanaja or Roatan uses a similar amount of power at a similar time during the day, Bay Islands Voice used the most accurate available population data for Guanaja and Utila to interpolate energy data from across the three Bay Islands to estimate a probable population size for Roatan (see chart). In conclusion: there are between 60 and 70 thousand people residing on Roatan. The margin of error: 10%.
Small differences in average usage per island, as shown by the # people per megawatt in the chart, can be explained. Though on Utila, a prepayment system makes the customers more energy conscious, according to the findings an average Utilan uses 15% more energy than a Guanajan. This anomaly could be explained by the fact that Utilans are wealthier then Guanajans and are more likely to own and use energy consuming appliances such as TVs, air-conditioning units, clothes dryers and freezers.
Power Co.
Max. Demand
People/1 Megawatt
1.0 MegaWatt
1.1 MegaWatt
7.0 MegaWatt
* All three power companies provide power
to 95% ofisland population
** based on UPCO and 2001 national census
*** according to 2003 Guanaja Municipal census
**** estimated 10% margin of error (varience: 59,500-73,150 people)
The lack of knowledge of the population has affected the economic development of the islands. International airlines and resorts can't make rational decisions about coming to the Bay Islands, since they are not sure about how many people actually reside here.
I.N.E. [National Institute of Statistics] conducts the once-a-decade national census, inscribed in the country's constitution. The first such census on the Bay Islands was done in 1901, when it surveyed 4,137 inhabitants. Overall, the results and methods of the Honduran censuses have proven inadequate and confusing. In 2000, the underpaid volunteers grossly undercounted and in some instances completely omitted some Bay Islands communities. For example the census combined French Harbour and Los Fuertes as one community, overlooked independent settlements "in the bush" and accounted for only 153 people in Jonesville.
Not everyone is happy with the thought they have to wait another seven years to what could be another poorly done national census. The idea of funding an independent population study has been picked up by several individuals and groups. In 2000 Spanish engineers weighed garbage thrown out on Roatan's two dumps to estimate the island's population. Julio Galindo, owner of Anthony's Key Resort, tried to bring in a graduate student of statistics to conduct a self funded study of island population.
On the other hand, the populations of Utila and Guanaja are more middle class than that of Roatan. The disparity of incomes is far greater on the big island and the number of homes using minimal amounts of energy is greater. Thus it is possible that the average use per person of energy is less than on other two islands.
While peak demand data varies depending on the month, the numbers provided by the three power companies come consistently from the summer months of 2004.
The Bay Islands Voice population study is by no means perfect, but provides an effective way of estimating population explosion of the island. The 65,000 estimated to reside on the Bay Islands aren't only Honduran residents. Some of them are tourists: foreigners, or tourists from the mainland visiting their friends on Roatan, looking for work opportunities while they are on the island.
"Roatan has the highest percentage of floating population in the country," said Bay Island congressman Evans McNab. "Plenty of them are visiting their families, looking for work, etc."
Congress, the Honduran legislative body, is composed of a fixed number of 128 congressmen. With the country population of over 7,000,000, each congressman represents a population of 55,000 to 60,000 people. This creates a paradox of urban areas of San Pedro or Tegucigalpa having 20 or more congressmen while vast areas in the North-East of the country are unrepresented. There is a movement among some Honduran congressmen to have congressmen represent a district, not population. The change in law would require a constitutional amendment and a 2/3 vote support in congress.
Since 1982, the Bay Islands have been represented by a single congressman. The Bay Islands had 21,922 registered voters before the presidential elections in 2001. "I wouldn't be surprised that [on Roatan] there would be as many as 30,000 eligible voters in 2005," congressman McNab.
Undercounting of the Bay Island population has political repercussions. If the Bay Islands have close to 90,000 people, their representation should be reflected in not one, but two congress seats. National government should subsidize and provide healthcare, police, social and educational investment proportional to higher actual population of the Bay Islands department.
In order to be eligible for government subsidies, the Dr. Polo Galindo Clinic in Punta Gorda has undertaken a census of three communities on the East Side of the island. The house to house census of populations of Punta Gorda has counted 1,735 people. The studies for Polytilly Bight and Jonesville have been suspended, but eventually should be completed.
In 2003 Guanaja municipality conducted a population survey as they contacted customers of the municipal potable water service.
UNDP funded a population estimate for the Bay Islands in 1992. The results: Bay Islands population at 23,850 people, Roatan- 15,720, Utila- 2,180, Guanaja- 5,950. Eight years later PMAIB conducted an internal, nonscientific study of the Bay Islands population. The study used a Satellite image and assumed a density of five people per dwelling. The results showed little change, but were grossly inaccurate: Bay Islands population at 24,991 people, Roatan - 19,326, Utila - 2,113, Guanaja - 3,552.
Of interest, however, are PMAIB estimates that 42% of the department's population is under 18 years of age. According to the organization, 39% of the Roatan Municipal's population lives in the urban centers of Coxen Hole, Los Fuertes and French Harbour. The fastest growing population centers in Roatan Municipal have been Los Fuertes, Loma Linda, El Swampo, Colonia Policarpo Galindo in Sandy Bay, Flowers Bay and Gravels Bay. For Jose Santos Guardiola: El Bight, Barrio Lempira, Diamond Rock, La Loma. On Guanja PMAIB estimates that 60% of the people live on Bonacca Cay and in Savannah Bight. After Hurricane Mitch, the population centers of Brisas and El Pelicano have grown rapidly. On Utila, the isolated, Spanish speaking population center of El Camponado has grown from just a couple houses to several hundred.
Another way to see Roatan's population growth? Island Shipping, by far the biggest importer of cars to Roatan, currently brings in an average of 15-20 vehicles per week, up 20% from 2003 numbers. That is between 780 and 1,040 cars a year. Only 3-4 cars leave the island via the same route.
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The Global Olympics by Thomas Tomczyk, managing editor

The Greeks decided to show the world that you can prepare for the Olympic Games at the last minute. Originally, the second modern Olympics in Greece were to be 100 years after the first Athens Olympics of 1896. The Greeks finally got it together 8 years later with the XXVIII modern Olympiad. The Greek Olympics were a reminder of Olympic traditions that maybe should be forgotten. When a Greek Olympic sprinter Cinteras was disqualified for failing to take a drug test, the whole Olympic stadium booed, whistled and screamed. A similar booing incident occurred at a gymnastics final.
I guess the politically correct thing is to clap for all the new sports, once they appear on the Olympic roster. Made into an official Olympic sport at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, softball has become a proving ground for American sport dominance. There is something bordering on cruelty when the US softball team outscores their opponents 50 to 1 overall. Wake up America! Nobody cares about softball, but you. Even worse - nobody plays it anywhere else.
Americans remain fascinated by their women's softball dominance while ignoring the mundaneness of their basketball and volleyball teams. For our sake, let's hope lacrosse won't be made into an Olympic sport… nobody plays it outside North America either. Rugby used to be an Olympic sport in 1924 in the Paris Olympics before it was taken out "because of lack of interest," maybe women's softball should follow.
28 sports and 37 disciplines have made it to the Olympic Games and I don't know if I agree. Women's pole-vault ... Well, OK. But women's weightlifting, definitely not too esthetic for my taste. And there is even super heavyweight category… women over 75 kilos, please. And the synchronized diving… definitely suspicious.
Each country has a different approach to Olympic fashion. If you can't win in any of these sports, at least you can look well losing. Some nations can't even accomplish that. The green and red Belarusian costumes look like they were made for a folk dancing troupe. The Chinese warn-up suits look like they were bought at a discount store.
An Iranian woman competed wearing a chadora in the only competition that allowed her to stay competitive in the headscarf…. Shooting. And let's not forget about the high-tech fashion accessories: graphite bikes, polel vaults, no-resistance swim costumes, titanium bows.
No one accessorizes better then the Triathletes. While watching the event it was great to see people that just a few months ago crossed their lives with ours on Roatan. Susan Williams, women's winner of the 2004 Bay Islands triathlon won a bronze medal. Sheila Taormina, ranked No. 2 at the Olympics and winner of the first B. I. Triathlon, came in a disappointing 23rd after leading out of the swimming portion of the event. Hunter Kemper won the First B.I. Triathlon and came in ninth in Athens. Eneko Llanos, winner of Bay Islands 2004 Triathlon came in 20th.
Countries that four years ago couldn't spell Olympics, now fight for gold. Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Turkey have all bought long distance Kenyan and Ethiopian runners to compete under their banners.
Still, I am most impressed with the Japan's medal achievements; they are fifth in overall medal ranking. China is giving US a run for the gold medal achievement- 35-32. The most per capita medals have been won by the Australians - 43 in total.
That's a contrast with Honduras which has participated in the Olympics since 1968, but is still waiting to win a medal. The six Honduras athletes in Athens didn't get one either. In order for Honduras to have a chance at some medals, perhaps a new sport should be introduced. Maybe Hondurans would be good at Lacrosse?

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A Video Business Card for Roatan

Roatan is getting its first, professional, DVD business card. "There isn't a product out there that showcases Roatan," said Steve Hasz, coordinator of the project.
Although there have been videos before that included Roatan as a destination, they have not focused solely on the Bay Islands or Roatan in particular. "Temptation Island" and "Place under the Sun," have brought recognition of Roatan to TV viewers in the US and Europe. Underwater cinematographer Tim Blaton produced a video that is shown at airport souvenir stores and sold thought the island.
14 days of filming planned for the project and weeks of editing will cost "in the 10's of thousands of dollars," according to Hasz. The video uses product placement as means of advertising the 10 sponsors of the project and featurs the island as a relocation destination.
The producers are also considering editing the material gathered during the filming to a shorter version, excluding the product placement, and selling the product to a cable TV channels.
A team of three young cinematographers undertook the project: Ashley Hasz, cinematographer and director; Tari Seagul, sound; and Ajla Hodzic, host, along with producer Dean Milverton.

In the midst of filming musical group Puro Sol in Palmetto Resort on August 22.
"For the first time I am actually acting as myself," said Hodzic, a 24 year-old host originally from Bosnia-Herzegovina. "This is both exciting and at the same time extremely embarrassing."
Hodzic acts as a visitor-host in the video. She rides horseback on the beach, dances punta with the Garifuna and flies in a Cessna over the mountainous island. The video will include underwater photography taken by Chris Benson.
Even though sights in La Ceiba and Copan will also be included in the video, Utila and Guanaja will not. The video will be edited to a 60 minute interactive DVD. It will be distributed on cruise ships coming to Roatan, in souvenir stores throughout the island and sold on Roatan oriented websites. First run of 2,500 DVDs should be in stores by the end of the year.
BARELY ENOUGH POWER: Roatan's Energy Crisis

As the island grows the issue of dependable power becomes more and more critical. For two weeks in July, Roatan was faced with a series of unscheduled blackouts, sometimes as many as five times in one day, for as long as eight hours. The unpredictability of doing business on the island proved a challenge to many businesses and individuals.
Rotisseria Aleman was closed for two weeks in July as its owner was forced to take a vacation. When the power went out five consecutive times in one day, his refrigerator compressor burned-out and he lost three batches of chicken due to interrupted roasting. "It was better to take a vacation until RECO figures out what to do," said Kurt Neudecker, owner of two Rotisseria Aleman restaurants in Los Fuertes. He gave two weeks of paid vacation to his four employees and closed the restaurants. "I lost Lps. 40,000 in sales in July," said Neudecker.
At the height of summer, Roatan businesses had to either suspend business, or to operate with the possibility of a power outage at any moment. Restaurants couldn't chill their produce; dentists couldn't operate their equipment. For a group of dental specialists visiting from La Ceiba, the possibility of loosing power in a middle of a root canal was a scary prospect.
Hundreds of employees spent hours waiting for power to be switched back on. Few businesses are set up to function without power. Still the inconsistency of RECO power had made some businesses decide to invest money in back-up generators. Neudecker has reopened his restaurant, but decided to purchase a $1,000, 12HP Coleman generator as back-up. "I can't continue to throw chicken into the sea," said Neudecker.

Bay Islands Voice talked to RECO's general manager, Ing. Leonardo Casco about this summer's energy problems:
Bay Islands Voice: In July, an electrical surge at Eldon's Supermarket caused light bulbs to explode and cash registers to give-out. What happened?
Leonardo Casco: They [Eldon's Supermarket] normally don't hook-up with RECO. They normally just run on their own generators. Their generator broke down, they hooked-up another generator. (…) It's something that couldn't happen because we closed or opened a circuit. We had to ration power that week. We had to open the circuit to take some load off. Everybody in French Harbour is disconnected, not just Eldon's. Then we would connect somebody from a different sector so everybody would have certain amount of power during the day. (…) They sent us a letter saying "you did this to us." I don't believe "we did that." I believe that this is an internal wiring problem. We inspected it [Eldon's Supermarket] and we found out about a short-circuit that happened a day before that was put out with a fire extinguisher.
B.I.V.: What do you think about some smaller businesses purchasing generators in order to operate?
L.C.: We ideally would like to provide the most reliable service. Our goal is to provide 100% reliability, but we cannot guarantee that. There is always risk involved of service being interrupted. Of course not to the extent of what happened last week.

B.I.V.: What happened during the first week of August?
L.C.: We had different problems. Our initial problem was reduced capacity with engine No. 1 working at 50%. We needed some parts. We had a problem with No. 5, the 1.6 Megawatt generator. That went completely down and we had to order parts for it [fan]. With that, we were working at our limit capacity and still didn't have to ration power. But, we didn't have a back-up. Then we started having problems with generator No. 8. [rented from CEMCOL], it needed a major job. We started rationing. And then we started having problems with No. 7. (…) We also had a problem with generator No. 2- it was down. There were mechanical problems, electrical problems, control systems, things like this. We fixed them, everything seems fine and we put the generator back on line. Then when this [one generator] trips, it overloads all the other generators and we lose power completely.
B.I.V.: With all these different problems, is it just coincidence, or perhaps lack of proper maintenance, or planning?
L.C.: There are different levels of maintenance: predictive maintenance, preventive maintenance. These are very sophisticated techniques: infra-red cameras, vibration meters. We don't have these things.
B.I.V.: Had anything like this happened before at RECO?
L.C.: Actually, there was a point when RECO had only 6 Megawatts capacity, in 1999. Three generators broke down and we were left with only 3 Megawatts capacity.
B.I.V.: Have we seen the worst of power outages this year?
L.C.: I would hope so. I would expect so.
B.I.V.: We have telephone, black and potable water lines running underneath Coxen Hole streets. Why don't we have underground power lines?
L.C.: We wanted to this. We had several meetings with the [Roatan] municipality. We even had planned out where different types of transformers would be installed. But then we lost communications with the municipality.
B.I.V.: Was it in part because of the price quoted to move the power lines?
L.C.: Perhaps that's the reason why the municipality just didn't want us to do the job.
B.I.V.: Is it at all possible to come back and lay the power lines underneath the sidewalks?
L.C.: Yes, of course it is.
B.I.V.: Did you have any recent interest from companies interested in buying RECO?
L.C.: We had a visit from a group from Canada, owners of the Cayman Islands Electrical Company. There was nothing conclusive out of that, just conversations.
B.I.V.: Have the cases of sabotage of RCO property repeated themselves since the case almost a year ago?
L.C.: No, not really. We had some problems last year and we decided to increase our security then. We are a big company and we are exposed to many threats. It's part of our responsibility- preventing sabotage.

As Roatan is growing, the island's demand for energy grows even faster. Maximum demand peaks daily between 7:00pm and 7:30pm and has grown from 6.5 to 7 Megawatts over the course of this year. Even more dramatically, the minimum demand has increased 25% over the last year from 3.2 to 4 Megawatts.
During its 12 years of operation RECO has expanded its fleet of diesel generators to seven. They are capable of producing 11.2 Megawatts. Two Dutch Stork-Wartsila 2.0 Megawatt generators were purchased new in 1990. Three CAT 3516B 1.6 Megawatt generators were purchased in 2001 and CAT 3516 engines six and seven: provide 1.4 and 1.0 Megawatt respectively.
To deal with recent generator problems RECO is currently renting an additional 1.6 Megawatt CAT generator from CEMCOL for $25,000 a month. The company is looking into purchasing a 2.5 Megawatt GE generator this year and an additional two over the next two years.
Financing plans are prepared to create an additional supply line from RECO's plant in Los Fuertes to Coxen Hole; this line is the heaviest used line carrying 70% of the load.
On Utila, Ricardo Flores, general manager of UPCO since December 2003 has been pushing forward with new investments and solutions to "old problems." Flores came to Utila from La Ceiba where he worked as a manager of a heavy equipment company.
Salt contamination has caused several outages early in 2004, but the company consulted BELCO, RECO and US manufacturers and decided to upgrade a portion of its power line insulation from 15KW to 34KW. About 30% of the company's high power lines run along the shore and are exposed to an intense salt environment. They been replaced with thicker insulation and dipped in silicon based solution for added resistance. "RECO said they wash their poles with fresh water and haven't experienced the type of problems we have in Utila," said Flores.
To generate a maximum capacity of 1.5 Megawatts the company uses two 750KW Cummins diesel generators. UPCO is planning to add another 500KW generator by the end of the year. The peak demand has grown at 15% a year and is currently 1.0 Megawatts during the summer months. Utila's 9,000 residents have 1,000 accounts and are in 95% connected to UPCO.
In 2005 UPCO plans to install two "hybrid generation" wind turbines at their plant location, 800 inland, in front of Linda's Wall dive site. The turbines will generate 1.3 Megawatt of power and will be backed-up by the diesel generators. The construction of the 150 feet high wind turbines will take between three and nine months. "The bringing of wind turbines will not increase the price of electricity to the customers," said Flores.

In parallel to their energy projects, UPCO is undertaking a desalination plant that should be on-line by the end of September. The plant will be capable of pumping up to 250 Gallons per minute. The drinking water will be poured into five gallon plastic bottles and sold throughout the island. "We aren't sure about the demand yet," said Flores who estimates that Utilans currently consume 1,500 gallons of drinking water a day.
Things are much simpler on Cayos Cochinos. The 300 island residents and the island's one resort rely on their own generators for electricity.
On Guanaja this year, BELCO's energy production spiked as the company was successful in convincing two of the island's three packing plants to connect to its grid. "We are a pioneer in taking over from ENEE," says Roger Wood, BELCO's general manager since 1998.
After Hurricane Mitch, BELCO switched to bigger, more dependable generators. The company purchased two CAT 1,200 KW generators, and two at 600 KW. The last one of these was hooked-up in 2003.
With maximum production capacity of 3,600 KW, the company provides power to 1,300 customers - 95% of Guanaja. Even though the peak demand (1,100 KW) is only a third of capacity, BELCO is already looking into expanding its generating capacity. A 1,600-1,800 KW generator will be put on-line in 2005.
The nine BELCO directors meet monthly to discuss company matters. Last year, BELCO conducted a feasibility study to consider an 800KW wind generator. So far the $1,000,000 price tag is beyond reach. Still the company continues to connect new customers. Every customer counts. By the end of August it should connect six customers in Wilmont Bay and another 11 along the way.
"RECO needs to switch from their Dutch generators. They take too long to rebuild and are very, very, very expensive," said Wood. "They [also] need to switch to for salt spray insulation on their high tension wires." In Guanaja a 10 inch thick, 34KW insulation is used. According to Wood, RECO still uses 15KW insulation, 4-5 inches thick and not as resistant to the corroding effect of sea salt.
The one problem the Guanaja Power Company has to deal with comes from nature. Between July and December, during the shrimp packing season, the island is almost sure to suffer power outages. According to Wood, on average once a month a pelican sitting on top of the power poles stretches its wings so far it causes a short-circuit. BELCO, to no avail, tried to protect the poles with metal spikes. Until the shrimp season is over, every time Guanajans loose their power it also means the death of a pelican.

by Thomas Tomczyk

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Bay Islands Tourism: we're growing and becoming more sophisticated

Some of the milestones include the introduction of a dedicated tourist police, improving the structure and organization of the cruise ship dock, the improvement of tourism related infrastructure such as garbage disposal and increasing security measures. This is a start, but more will need to be done in order to succeed.
The value of the destination is also being increased through the introduction of new attractions, activities and hotels. In 2005 we can look forward to a new bird park, a stingray activity park much like Cayman Islands' Stingray City and a brand new Garifuna cultural village on the East End. More than 500 hotel rooms will be built and the vacation rental market could double in the next five years.
We are also becoming more sophisticated in our marketing and product offering. Tourism providers are relying more on networks of companies that can promote their services and cut their marketing spending. Resorts and activity providers can then focus on improving their products.
One such network is the online reservations industry. Last year, more than 64 million travelers in the US - 30% of the country's adult population, used the Internet to get information on destinations, or to compare rates. In 2003, 42.2 million actually booked their travel online. Although airline tickets continued to be the most purchased travel product, 71% of online travel bookers made hotel reservations online, a dramatic increase from 57% in 2002.
Online reservations companies are a growing trend and offer a tremendous support system for the tourism industry. Internationally, companies such as Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia dominate the global reservations market, and provide online travelers with an enormous database of destinations, choices and prices. The main advantage to good central reservations websites is that they offer a one-stop shop for online bookings and easy payments, thereby decreasing the time we spend searching for the right products.
Smaller, destination-focused online reservations websites offer travelers a wider variety of choices and discounts on products for one destination. They are also growing in number and popularity and are successful because they provide intimate knowledge of the destination and its products. A key part of their service is providing online booking avenues for small and mid-sized hotel operators that are not normally listed on the international sites.
For the Bay Islands, offers an online central booking and payment system for international visitors. Already it represents most of the hotels and resorts on the islands, as well as vacation rentals, car rental, diving and tours. It provides secure online payment capabilities, objective comparison of accommodation, car rental, tours and more - services becoming increasingly more important to the international traveler.

According to the Honduras Institute of Tourism (IHT), foreign currency revenue from tourism increased by 18% in 2003 and is expected to increase by 20% at the end of 2004. Tourists will spend an estimated US$500 million in Honduras in 2004 and 30,000 new tourism jobs will be created. The national growth figures mirror the growth for the islands. This is especially impressive when you consider that the Caribbean region grew only 10% last year, and that tourism to the US actually decreased.
The main reasons for the growth are: US and Canadian visitors are looking for new, fresh destinations that are affordable and close to home; Central America and the Caribbean are becoming increasingly attractive to the European market; and travel businesses such as hotels and airlines are making it easier for people to visit the region by providing more flights, more discounts and more choice.
Another factor that is contributing to the growth of tourism is investment. The real estate market has doubled over the last two years. Media giants such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Washington Post have been publishing positive news stories on investment and tourism trends. All three publications tout Honduras, and specifically the Bay Islands, in their top choices for investment and tourism. The Washington Post called Honduras the "6th hottest tourism destination in the world for 2004."

This indicates a magnificent tourism future for the Bay Islands. The growth in tourism numbers should be good for the islands and its people as well.
New and fresh aside, there are many factors important to tourists, some of which the Bay Islands do well at and others which probably need some attention: safety, number and quality of hotels and attractions, value and price, attitude of service providers (such as airport staff, taxi's, etc.) and overall customer service, to name a few.
The Bay Islands Chamber of Tourism, with the support of the Honduras Institute of Tourism and the Roatan municipality, has already started to make improvements to the overall quality of the destination.

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May 8

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