Voices about Asia: „Prolonged Occupation of Hawaii and the Baltic States.” Interview with Kuhio Vogele

Dr. Kūhiō Vogeler has eighteen years of experience researching Hawai‘i’s unique cultural and political landscape. He has taught classes on Political Science, Political Theory, Politics of Hawai‘i, and Public Law and Judicial Behavior. In 2009 Dr. Vogeler completed his doctoral dissertation, “‘For Your Freedom and Ours’: The Prolonged Occupations of Hawai‘i and the Baltic States.” As part of his dissertation, Dr. Vogeler conducted forty-three extensive interviews, which included (in the Baltic States) former Heads of State, Parliament Members, and constitutional law scholars, as well as (in Hawai‘i) Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustees, professors, activists, and international law scholars. Dr. Vogeler’s expertise focuses on international legal issues and international relations related to Hawai‘i and the Baltic States. Dr. Vogeler is currently a cultural researcher at Cultural Surveys Hawai‘i in Waimānalo (source: http://kuhiovogeler.wordpress.com/about/)

Despite his busy schedule Dr. Kūhiō Vogeler kindly agreed to an interview with me, which took place in East West Center on March 6, 2011. In an incredibly accessible way, he explained the major concept of his biggest project so far, the issue of occupation of Hawaiʻi, as well as some of the problems that Hawaiʻi has been dealing with for a long time. Occupation of Hawaiʻi isn’t necessarily a popular topic in Europe, or even the USA, but an interview with Dr. Kūhiō Vogeler makes one think that Hawaiʻi and its status is not only idealized, but also misjudged, misinterpreted and perhaps even misused.

Dr. Kūhiō Vogeler not only turned out to be a great information resource on the history of Hawaiʻi, but also possible solutions for its future, including independence or at least a change of status.

Małgorzata Citko*

Malgorzata Citko: Thank you so much for the meeting. I would like to ask you about your Ph.D. dissertation. The topic seems very interesting: Prolonged Occupation of Hawaii and the Baltic States. It’s a comparative study. Where did the idea come from?

Kuhio Vogeler: Back in 1993 there was this reenactment of the overthrow done, and one of the people who played one of the characters was Niklaus Schweizer (Professor of Classical German literature, European and Pacific history at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa). Niklaus was the honorary Swiss Council up until just a few years ago. Once he said that Hawaii is just like Estonia, but I wasn’t convinced at that time. Then, I started to learn from [David] “Keanu” Sai (Doctor of Political Science) and other people about this idea about occupation and how it might apply to Hawaiʻi. So one day I sat down in front of my computer and checked the CIA webpage, then I went to the US State Department webpage, and I went to all kinds of webpages, and basically in three days and I went through every country that was listed. I looked at the political status, year of independence, etc.

Kuhio_Vogeler by M.Citko

Was this back in the 1990’s?

No, no. It was in 2006. Well, when Niklaus mentioned Estonia to me in the 90’s, it didn’t seem to match with Hawaiʻi.

That was already after the transformation of the system in the Baltic States, so “Keanu” Sai probably mentioned it as an example, right?

Yes, actually Haunani-Kay Trask (Professor of Hawaiian Studies at the UHM) said in 1993 that We’re no different than the people in Lithuania that were occupied by the Soviet Union. But that concept of occupation hadn’t sunk in even with me. It wasn’t until later that this idea of occupation started to take hold. Once it started to take hold, then I started to wonder what other places are there that are similar. This was in 2006.

Was there anything in Hawaii politically delicate that made you think more about the idea of Hawaiʻi as an occupied territory?

Someone that deserves a lot of credit for bringing this out is certainly “Keanu” Sai, as he was talking about occupation when people weren’t. Back in the 1970s there was Pōkā Laenui (Hayden Burgess, Institute for the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs), and back in the 1970s there was a famous court case, the “Nappy Pulawa” case. “Nappy” was Wilford Pulawa’s nickname. And it was a double murder, a double kidnapping case, and Pōkā Laenui defended “Nappy” Pulawa saying that it is a prolonged foreign occupation. He may not have used the term occupation, but he said prolonged foreign intervention. That was the first use of that concept. After that case most people talked about the idea of colonization, indigenous rights, as all over the world indigenous rights become more and more important, just like in the Baltic States. Estonia and Latvia were part of Unrecognized Nations and Peoples Organizations (UNPO), but as soon as they realized their circumstances, they pulled out. But then people in Hawaiʻi thought that they should be part of UNPO, too. And all through the 1990s, people talked about UNPO or indigenous rights, and if one looks at Haunani-Kay Trask’s book, it’s talking about indigenous peoples. So Keanu was the one who went to the Permanent Court of Arbitration and really kept bringing this concept of occupation up again and again.

When exactly was this?

He went to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 1999, and the final settlement was in early 2001.

Relatively recent…

Yes, relatively recent, and even if you mentioned the idea of occupation five years ago, people looked at you really weird.

Has this changed?

Yes. 1993 was the turning point for mentioning the term “sovereignty.” Specifically January 17, 1993, hundredth anniversary of dethronement of Queen Liliʻuokalani, was pretty much when it became OK to say “sovereignty” in polite company. Occupation has come about in the last 3 or 4 years, long after that. So in 2005 I started to learn about it all from “Keanu” and started to research it in 2006 looking for a dissertation topic. I was going to write mainly on non-violent protests in Hawaiʻi, but then I thought I could see if there are other examples. I basically checked every country in the world.

And that’s how you found Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia?

Yes. I also had completely arbitrary criteria. I was just looking for any countries where the whole territory had been occupied for more than 25 years. If only a portion of the country was occupied, then that doesn’t have the same applicability. It had to be for more than 25 years, as I wanted it to be more than one generation. In the early 1900s the US went into Haiti for 19 years, so that was close. There is also the example of East Timor, but that occupation took place there with Indonesia. Also, East Timor was a Portuguese colony, so they were both colonized and occupied. That didn’t quite pan out either. There are many examples, even Palestine, but that’s a UN mandate territory and it’s not the whole territory that’s being taken control of. Actually, when you get into the particulars there are not too many places that fit.

You claim that Hawaii is occupied, not colonized. Could you explain the difference between occupation and colonization?

Sure, the real simple way to explain this is that if one independent state comes into another independent state and controls that independent state – that is an occupation. Examples are the US in Iraq, the US in Afghanistan. However, a territory that hasn’t yet been recognized as an independent state, the so-called terra nullius, land that is not part of the family of nations yet, can be colonized. And we could get into specific aspects of that, i.e. examples of some US agreements that are called treaties, but they are not equal treaties in the sense of “state-to-state” treaties. There are also areas in the Pacific where some states went and claimed that it was terra nullius and just took it over, so we have that subjugation aspect.

You actually went to the Baltic States for ca. 6 weeks, and you talked to many politicians, presidents, political scientists who helped you understand occupation in those countries and probably helped you out with the similarities or discrepancies to the status of Hawaiʻi. What were the conclusions after your fieldwork there? Did you expect to find what you found?

Well, the biggest surprise to me was the people who I happened to be able to interview. I have some Estonian friends here and they had a friend over there. I met someone at a conference in the past, and they had a friend in Latvia. I also met someone here at the East West Center who knew of someone over in Lithuania etc. However, I didn’t expect that when I first got there that the first person I was going to be interviewing was President Arnold Rüütel of Estonia. After that I interviewed Professor Endel Lippmaa (Estonian Academy of Science), Professor Marju Lauristin (Tartu University, Estonia), etc. I talked to many people that I never expected. When I went to Latvia, the person that happened to be my contact there happened to be a member of parliament, so the people that I interviewed there were a former minister and the rest were parliament members. After that I went to Lithuania and my friend asked me who is one person I’d like to interview, so I said Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, de facto President of Lithuania (1991-1992). He said OK, got on his phone, and by the end of the day I had an appointment with Landsbergis. The biggest surprise was who happened to open up their doors, and the information. There was so much information that I gained that there wasn’t anything specifically that stood out. I realize that those people know what I was talking about because they were observing the transformation process and they’re also part of the government today. That was the biggest surprise at that time. It wasn’t until much later when I started to analyze the information, and the really unusual conclusions came out.

What were those unusual conclusions?

The unusual conclusions were the applicability of the information in the Baltic States to Hawaiʻi. Only due to the fact that there are two occupations taking place doesn’t mean that what occurred in these three circumstances would apply to Hawaiʻi in the same way. The way that it does apply to Hawaiʻi is in such an unusual way, that I never expected. That’s the crux of it and that’s the part of my dissertation that is perhaps causing the most interest but also the most discomfort for some people.

Can you explain a little bit more what those unusual conclusions were? It’s really interesting.

The reason why I was so vague is because it gets very technical very quickly. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were democratic republics. Hawaiʻi was a constitutional monarchy. The question is: how can the principles that apply to a democratic republic also apply to a constitutional monarchy? And the way that they apply is in such an unusual way. It gets into the concepts of dominium and imperium. Dominium is the ultimate land title of a country. Imperium is the authority to govern it. If there is a democratic republic with the government on behalf of the will of the people, we are dealing with the imperium, but also with the ability to have eminent domain etc. There are restrictions to that, depending on the country and the laws, etc., but the government holds that ultimate land dominium. What about the constitutional monarchy? If there is an absolute monarch, we are dealing with the dominium and the imperium. But in Hawaiʻi, there exists a very unique thing that’s explained in the Declaration of Rights, 1839, and brought into the 1840 constitution, where it says that the land doesn’t only belong to the king. It belongs to the king, the chiefs and the people in common, but only the king has management of the land. What I am trying to say is that imperium is in the king through this constitution, but that the dominium is actually broken up into these three groups. In 1845 there was a land commission clarifying that these are three classes of rights. This is where it gets very technical. In Hawaiʻi’s history, in 1848, or beginning in 1846, there was a process called the Māhele – a process of trying to define private land ownership. In Hawaiʻi there were in fact rights to the land (i.e. during the time of King Kamehameha), but the idea of private land ownership was not spread among individuals. What happened in 1848 was that the king and 252 konohiki (chiefs) traded their dominium rights for private land ownership. The dominium rights changed, the king got about half of the land, the chiefs got about a third, the rest belonged to the government. As those native tenants, the king and the chiefs went through that commutation process, government had both imperium aspects of dominium. It happened due to the fact those rights were given up for private land ownership. In 1893 the government is taken out and the US came and tried to take over with the 162 US troops that were landed. Then, in 1917 the queen died. The question is, if those rights became government rights, but in 1917 there was no government any more, there was no queen, where did those rights go? If we look at the principles that apply to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, they can always refer to the people. The people still existed, the government could be taken out, but the people still existed! In Hawaiʻi the government was taken out, but there were not the same principles in the same sense. What in fact happened was that there still was that last class – the native tenants remaining, who never gave up those dominium rights. Those rights are vested, so no one can take them away. Because this last group never gave up their dominium rights one can say that the rights remained in the state. Whether they remained in the state or whether one says that it’s in this last class, they still have them.

There are many examples from World War I or World War II where part of the government was taken out and another part of the government was able to exercise those rights, i.e. Belgium during WWI. In the case of Hawaiʻi, with the occupation and the queen having passed on, this last class had the dominium rights, and therefore since there was no government, they would also have the imperium rights. It means that since Hawaiians are still being born, those rights reside within them today. So anyone, who is claiming to be the government, needs to have either the approval, or some sort of voting mechanism coming from this last class. The big reason why this affects Hawaiʻi today is that there are organizations claiming to be the government of Hawaiʻi. What this shows is, whatever ones’ lineage is and if some group is claiming to be the government of Hawaiʻi, but is not elected by this class and the non-native Hawaiian kingdom subjects, it is not what it claims to be.

This all sounds very democratic…

Oddly yes, it sounds democratic, as it is the equality in terms of voting, but there is a theoretical difference in what rights there are. There still are those dominium rights that can be commuted, and since there exists that imperium aspect, it plays out very similar to a democratic republic, even though it’s a completely different system.

Was it easier to compare Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to Hawaiʻi due to those similarities?

No, as I never expected it. In the case of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, there are three principles: people, laws and territory. Those are the three things always being referred to in occupation, so that if these things disappear then where did the country go? In the Baltic States people started to register those who could trace their ancestry to before the occupation period, and these principles were really clear. But does it apply in the same way within a constitutional monarchy? It almost applies in the same way, but it has to be applicable in the internal laws. That is why in Hawaiʻi there are actually have two classes: native tenants, or aboriginal Hawaiians, and the non-native Hawaiian kingdom subjects. Voting-wise it’s equal, but in terms of the rights that exist at this very moment, that’s not equal, as there still are those dominium rights and we have the extension of that idea of imperium up until today through that dominium aspect. I know it all sounds complicated…

…that’s true, but it makes much sense.

That’s actually only about half of the way it applies. There is a whole other aspect to it.

You mentioned that Hawaiʻi has been in fact occupied twice. Can you explain a little bit what the circumstances of the first and the second occupation were? For how many years Hawaiʻi has been occupied now?

One could almost say three times, but not quite. In 1843 Captain Lord George Paulette came in and tried to say that Hawaiʻi was a British territory. But that was before Hawaiʻi was recognized as an independent state. It was from February up until July 31, 1843. Hawaiʻi was recognized by Paulette as an independent state on November 28, 1843. There was a take over of the government etc. But one can’t really say occupation, as Hawaiʻi wasn’t recognized as an independent state yet.

After Hawaiʻi became recognized as an independent state, the US occupied Hawaiʻi since January 16, 1893, when they landed their troops, until April 1, 1893, when Commissioner Blount told the captain of the Boston to put the troops back on the Boston and lower the American flag. That was about a three-months period. Then, on August 12, 1898, there was a reading at the ʻIolani Palace (official residence of Hawaiʻi’s monarchy) saying that Hawaiʻi had become part of the US. But it was only at the beginning of September 1898 two thousand troops were brought in. So on the 12th August there was a formal ceremony saying that Hawaiʻi was part of the US, even though it was not. Actually two completely different documents were exchanged. One – a supposed treaty that was never ratified, and the other was a joint resolution, which just doesn’t make any sense. That was 1898, and until now, there has been an increase of troops and Hawaiʻi has been occupied ever since. It was in fact a part of the Spanish-American war and Hawaiʻi was supposed to be a coaling station.

Do you differentiate between Hawaiʻi becoming part of the union and occupation or are those different? I mean inclusion in the US…

This is the way I look at it: it is good to have the examples of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania because, according to the Soviet Union, they were republics of the Soviet Union. But it doesn’t mean they actually were. If the history of Hawaiʻi says that there was Treaty of Annexation, it doesn’t mean that it was ratified, because it was not. In that same sense, one can say that Hawaiʻi is the 50th state, but what was the process by which Hawaiʻi became the 50th state? What was the process by which the territory of Hawaiʻi became part of the US? If the territory of Hawaiʻi never became part of the US, then Hawaiʻi certainly cannot become the 50th state.

So you are saying that this is the status of Hawaiʻi right now…


…in terms of international law…

In terms of international law, Hawaiʻi is not part of the US. I am always asking people: if Hawaii is part of the US, where are the documents. People go and they point to Texas, but in Texas three things happened that didn’t occur in Hawaiʻi: Texas was brought in as a state, Hawaiʻi was brought in as a territory; there was a plebiscite in Texas, in Hawaiʻi they knew that a plebiscite would never pass, so they never did a plebiscite; and there’s the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceding the territory from Mexico to the US. So there was a treaty, a plebiscite etc., Texas had a completely different process.

OK, so if there is no document, and if that all is just a claim, why do you think Hawaiʻi is still under American occupation?

I think there are a few reasons. First of all, the term occupation is just beginning to have a widespread use. Even in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania it took time for the term occupation to really get wide usage. There are some people who lived through the whole occupation, and they certainly knew that it was occupied, but for its legal meaning to be understood and for it to have impact, that took years. In Hawaiʻi people are just beginning to use the term occupation. Also, in Hawaiʻi it took a much longer period so that process of change is going to be probably slower. There are demographics. In Latvia there was 52% of the population being ethnically Latvian at the time of transformation. In Hawaiʻi there are ca. 22% ethnical Hawaiians. In Latvia the process occurred more deliberately, in Lithuania and Estonia things happened relatively quicker. Due to a high Russian population people in Latvia thought of themselves as minorities.

Perhaps the surroundings were different too. Location of those countries was Eastern Europe and at a time of big changes. Hawaiʻi as islands are much more isolated, and probably it is more difficult to deal with ideas like occupation etc.

Yes. Hawaiʻi definitely needs a plan. From the discussions that I’ve had with people in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania I understand that during the process people started to look forward and wonder what will happen when they have to do things on our own. Hawaiʻi is not at that point yet. People are use to the US. And even though Hawaiians statistically tend to have the worst health problems, to be the poorest, to have the most problems with jobs, language, it is hard for people to view the US in such distinctly illegal terms. And it is also hard to accept the responsibility of possible changes.

…and perhaps of full independence?


Do you think that it is a military occupation, or also linguistic, cultural one? We don’t speak Hawaiian now, I’ve lived here for two years and I’ve been barely exposed to the Hawaiian culture at the university, in the academic community. It seems that American culture is much more accessible than Hawaiian culture.

Well, first off, it is a military occupation, as one quarter of Oahu is military bases. There are bases on other islands too, so people are trained in one occupied territory in order to go to another occupied territory to fight (Iraq). It is not by chance that there is so much military in such a small area. In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania there were mass deportations, whereas in Hawaiʻi there was a mass immigration. They changed the whole demographics. By the strict numbers, it puts Hawaiians at about 1/5th of the population and then when people talk about concepts of occupation or sovereignty, the reply is that Hawaiians are just 1/5th of the population. In terms of international law, for instance, in Estonia 600,000 people actually participated in the vote that put together the legislature ending their occupation. The population of Estonia at the time was about 1.4 million. It means is that less than half of the population living there at that time voted and put together a legislature. Thinking about demographics in Hawaiʻi and international law, if ethnical Hawaiians and people who could trace their ancestry to before the occupation vote, that counts, and it will have enough significance internationally. It doesn’t matter if that is 25% of the total population.

You have already mentioned that if it is ever going to happen, it won’t be soon. But what would it take to make it happen? Do people in Hawaiʻi really want to be independent?

If you tell people that they are stupid their whole life then at a certain point they might believe it. It doesn’t mean it’s true, but people get used to hearing certain things. One of my cousins, who was a very strong advocate of Hawaiians said: “I don’t think Hawaiians can do it on their own”, and she wasn’t saying it to say the US is good. She was just stating what she believes are the facts. I think that at this point we should be looking at the situation and thinking what would we do if we were on our own, and start beginning to answer those questions. In terms of process, there are five steps that happened with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: the acknowledgement that it’s occupation, the forming of cultural or political groups to start talking about change and start doing things, the infiltration of the political system so that people in the legislature start implementing laws having to do with ending the occupation, the registration of people who could trace their ancestry to before, and then putting together a legislature. If a legislature were created by people, who could trace their ancestry to the period from before the occupation, there is not really much the US could do.

At which step is Hawaiʻi now?

A part of step two is the academic acceptance or the academic teaching of the idea of occupation, and it seems to be taking place at this time. I just recently interviewed someone who used to be in the House of Representatives and she knew about the idea of occupation. There are also Hawaiian civic clubs, which are starting to adopt proposals or resolutions on the McKinley statue and that it should be taken down, as its misrepresenting history, or on the need of acknowledgement on agreement between Grover Cleveland and Queen Liliʻuokalani, which is the acknowledgement of occupation.

Is Hawaiʻi, as a state, or not, or as a part of the US, well represented in Washington? Is the idea of occupation being brought up in Washington?

In Washington, Hawaiʻi ends up with four votes: two Senators and two people in the House of Representatives. That is actually better than when Hawaiʻi was a territory and had no votes. There was also the Akaka Bill on the recognition of native Hawaiians like Native Americans. In terms of Washington, it is not so much a matter of representation, but a matter of clarification. If Hawaiʻi is not part of the US, then it does not need any representation in Washington, as it should have its own government, and there should be a “state-to-state-relationship” in terms of an independent state. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were not necessarily treated differently than other “republics” of the Soviet Union. There was an understanding with the other republics, as they were also being treated poorly. So, there is representation in Washington, but it is actually representing a people and a territory, which is not a part of the US.

So it is a paradox…

Yes, but, as I hope, there will be greater awareness of the idea of occupation not only in Hawaiʻi, but also throughout the US, then people would shift in the way they think about Hawaiʻi.

This may be a trivial question, as militarily and strategically for the US Hawaiʻi is an important place, but what were the reasons for occupation when it started and are those reasons still valid?

Well the reasons that were given in the secret debate of 1898 were the need of Hawaiʻi as a coaling station so that the US could fight the Spanish in the Philippines and Guam. Senator Pettigrew pointed out that the Aleutian Islands in Alaska are actually closer, so Hawaiʻi was not necessary for that. As far as Hawaiʻi’s strategic use, Admiral [Alfred Thayer] Mahan talked about Hawaiʻi in these terms way before – using it as a base and therefore anyone who attacks the US is going to attack Hawaii first. Isn’t that what happened in World War II? Hawaiʻi’s strategic importance hasn’t really changed. Latvia and Estonia also had strategic importance, as they had the ports that didn’t freeze. Hawaiʻi continues to be strategically important for the US, but there are two aspects to that. One is if Hawaiʻi is independent, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will boot the US out of Pearl Harbor; two is that Hawaiʻi becomes a detriment to the US, maybe the US would be more willing to pull out and to allow independence. In the case of the Baltic States there was [Mikhail] Gorbachev, who won the Nobel Peace Prize, and Obama just won the Nobel Peace Prize. When tanks came into Lithuania and Latvia, and people died, Senator Bob Dole got up and said that one can’t win the Nobel Peace Prize and then go and send tanks into another country and kill people. In the same sense the US wants to have a positive image in the world, especially if the president won the Nobel Peace Prize. And to the same extent, if there is an independent legislature put together, there is not really too much the US can do. It puts the US in a defensive position and if the US decides to do something against Hawaiʻi, it’s going to make the US look even worse.

This is a very good “deconstruction of the situation”. How do you think, was your dissertation significant for Hawaiʻi? Do you get any attention from scholars from the US mainland? Do you continue working on Hawaiʻi as an occupied territory?

Yes. I’m continuing to work on all of this, and I’m trying to get the word out. I have the Olelo Show on television. I want to make sure that people know about it, as I think that it is empowering. It’s not only empowering in the sense of explaining the situation, but it presents a process that involves the strength of the people. There are some organizations and individuals now claiming to be the King of Hawaiʻi or the Prime Minister of Hawaiʻi. I think this is a disempowering trajectory, as it says that Hawaiʻi can be independent, but “I’ll be in charge”, etc. So I think that it’s important to get the information out there. There are some people, who are very strong proponents of the US, and that’s good, but to say that the US is occupying another country doesn’t necessarily sit well with people, even if they can’t go and produce the documents showing that there was an actual merger. I would like to publish my research, so that the idea spreads.

Well, I think you research does make a difference. Thank you so much for the interview.

Thank you.

(Edited by Matthew Izor – Department of Philosophy at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa)

In „Voices about Asia“ *Małgorzata Citko freshly graduate of the International Relations Program at Collegium Civitas, Poland, and a second-year Ph.D. candidate in Japanese literature at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is going to interview some renowned scholars, policy makers, public figures about the contemporary Asia, its global influence, and other social, political, economic issues.

Voices about Asia: „Prolonged Occupation of Hawaii and the Baltic States.” Interview with Kuhio Vogele Reviewed by on 29 kwietnia 2011 .

Dr. Kūhiō Vogeler has eighteen years of experience researching Hawai‘i’s unique cultural and political landscape. He has taught classes on Political Science, Political Theory, Politics of Hawai‘i, and Public Law and Judicial Behavior. In 2009 Dr. Vogeler completed his doctoral dissertation, “‘For Your Freedom and Ours’: The Prolonged Occupations of Hawai‘i and the Baltic States.”





  • The very root of your writing whilst appearing reasonable at first, did not really sit well with me after some time. Somewhere within the sentences you actually were able to make me a believer unfortunately only for a very short while. I nevertheless have a problem with your leaps in assumptions and you would do nicely to help fill in those breaks. When you can accomplish that, I will certainly be fascinated.

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