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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Liberation Economist - Part 1

An Interview with Euclides Mance

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GEO Original
May 9, 2024
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Euclides André Mance is a leading theorist and practitioner of solidarity economy. Based in Brazil, he is involved in projects across Latin America and in Italy. His many books include A Revolução das Redes (1999), Como Organizar Redes Solidárias (2003), Filosofia da Libertação (2022), and the seven volume Economia da Libertação, the first volume of which was published in 2023. Most have been translated into Spanish and Italian, but remain unavailable in English.

Euclides Mance

Born in 1963, Mance belongs to the generation of Brazilians raised on Paulo Freire and Liberation Theology and active in movements like the Workers Party and the World Social Forum. A philosopher by training, Mance worked as a consultant for UNESCO and the FAO, helping to formulate the Zero Hunger program, and has helped organize numerous solidarity economy research and action projects. His study of solidarity economy circuits – the coordinated circulation of resources among cooperatives and other popular economic organizations – led him to create the innovative software platform Solidarius (see Constelação Solidarius, 2008). General coordinator of the International Solidarius Network, Mance is a co-founder of the Instituto de Filosofia da Libertação. See his website for articles, interviews, educational materials and more:

GEO interviewed Mance in early 2024 hoping to better understand his work and thoughts on solidarity economy, particularly with regards to the platform. The interview was conducted in Spanish, and has been edited for clarity.1

— Matt Noyes


Origins and trajectory: from re-democratization to the Economy of Liberation

My name is Euclides Mance. My academic background is in philosophy, education, philosophical anthropology, and labor economics. My personal trajectory started with participation in popular social movements in Brazil in the 1980s, a period of re-democratization of the country. Re-democratization, because Brazil had suffered under a dictatorship since 1964. By the 1980s, the dictatorship was reaching its end. It was at that moment that I became involved in social movements, particularly the urban popular movements. I was also active in groups linked to Liberation Theology, Christian base communities and social and pastoral ministry. It was through participation in those movements that I became a popular educator, a collaborator in processes of political education, analysis of reality, collective skill building, etc.

I joined the Workers Party, which was the leading force in the popular project in Brazil at that time, and collaborated in the drafting of government policies and programs to be proposed at different levels, connecting popular demands to proposals for public policies. The policies were not mere restatements of the demands made by the social movements, but the product of a dialogic process in which the social movements themselves defined the proposals starting from their own demands, with some technical assistance. It was a very interesting experience. A small part of one of those programs, developed for an electoral campaign in Curitiba in 1990, was published as an appendix to Solidarity Collaborative Networks (Redes de Colaboração Solidária) in 2002. In that book, I placed solidarity economy at the center of a strategy for public policy planning and proposed the organization of a solidarity economy network on a municipal level, as a means of promoting regional development that is sustainable and humane.

In 1993, I participated in the founding of the Central de Movimentos Populares (1993)2 , collaborating for a few years on support activities on the national level, which is how I met Frei Betto [a leading liberation theologian]. In 2000, I participated in the creation of the Brazilian Solidarity Socio-economy Network (Rede Brasileira de Socioeconomia Solidária – RBSES), the first large national solidarity economy organization in Brazil. A network that integrated actors in the different regions of the country, RBSES connected a wide range of initiatives. Another very interesting experience. As an organizer of RBSES, I was able to strengthen my relations with organizations, leaders, organizers and theoreticians of popular economy and solidarity economy all over the country.

Before all of this, I was active in the field of philosophy, teaching for many years at the university level, for example at the Federal University of Parana (UFPR). I found that many students were interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the philosophy of liberation.3 I also worked on the philosophy of language, logic, science.

In 1995, together with other teachers and students, I helped create the Institute for the Philosophy of Liberation (Instituto de Filosofia da Libertação – IFiL), in Curitiba, Brazil, where we brought together many groups that were interested in doing research on the theme of the praxis of philosophy of liberation, whether from the standpoint of education, pedagogy, philosophy, theology, anthropology, or theater of the oppressed.4 Whatever the origin of their reflection or praxis related to the theme of liberation, the institute provided them a space for dialogue and elaboration.

In IFiL, we organized a Solidarity Economy Nucleus (Núcleo de Economía Solidaría) which developed a proposal for an Integrated Local Solidarity Economy System (Sistema Integrado Local de Economia Solidária – SILES), that included creating an electronic tool for handling requests for, and tracking exchanges of, organic products. The IFiL core group took on a wide range of tasks in the RBSES and provided solidarity economy training and support across the country. We ended up creating a separate juridical entity with partners from other countries: the International Solidarius Network (Red Solidarius Internacional), initially comprising Solidarius Brasil and Solidarius Italia.

In 2003, during the first year of the Lula administration, I was invited to collaborate in projects sponsored by UNESCO and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). I helped develop organizational policies on solidarity-based economic development for the Zero Hunger program and collaborated in the evaluation of the Consortia for Food Security and Local Development (Consórcios de Segurança Alimentar e Desenvolvimento Local ) in Brazil.

As I deepened my analysis, I published a number of books in which I elaborated a theoretical approach based on praxis, drawing on accumulated experiences and elaborations which I systematized on the basis of concepts drawn from the philosophy of science. It was out of this engagement with praxis that the paradigmatic theme of liberation emerged and became central to my work in the scientific field, beginning with the Network Revolution ( A Revolução das Redes, 1999), How to Organize Solidarity Networks (Como Organizar Redes Solidárias 2002), a collaborative effort involving many members of the RBSES, Solidarity Collaborative Networks (Redes de Colaboração Solidária 2003), and Zero Hunger and Solidarity Economy (Fome Zero e Economia Solidária 2004). I systematized the paradigm of liberation in a 2022 book, Philosophy of Liberation (Filosofia da Libertação ) and, in 2023, published the first of what will be seven volumes of Economy of Liberation (Economia de Libertação).

By applying theoretical principles of network analysis to economics, I was able to formulate a strategy of collaborative solidarity networks as a means of economic liberation. This work had a very controversial scientific dimension and I wanted to give it a consistent formulation. So, in the late 1990s, I developed software to demonstrate the possibility of making consistent projections by modeling economic flows. That is, at the outset the goal was to create a simulation of economic feedback flows, on a scientific basis, in order to test the validity of the approach.

The first program – RedeSol (Rede Solidária) – was published in 1999, and was available to download on a software repository in Brazil. Later, at the First Brazilian Meeting of Solidarity Culture and Socio-economy (I Encontro Brasileiro de Cultura e Socioeconomia Solidárias), where we founded RBSES, I presented the software, showing how we could connect different economic projects in a network that tracked economic flows and feedback and how such networks could be progressively deployed. It was at that meeting that we decided to transfer the program to the web so that it could be used via the Internet. We initially called the portal Solidarity Network (Rede Solidária), which was the name of the software, but later, when the Brazilian network dissolved into the Brazilian Solidarity Economy Forum (Fórum Brasileiro de Economia Solidária) we changed the name to Solidarius.

In México, I collaborated with José Luis Gutiérrez on a system for local solidarity interchanges using smart cards, which we first tested at a 2004 meeting in Aguas Calientes.5 Interruptions in the production of the cards obliged us to change all the cards and devices already in use, so I decided to take a different approach, creating an online system that could be used with any device capable of opening a dynamic web page. Thus, having revised the SILES program we wrote in the 90s, and combined it with the technology developed in the International Solidarius Network, we conducted the first experiments in international interchanges using electronic credits.

That was in 2007. We had already accumulated experience using a methodology for creating an internationally stable unit of economic value, a solidarity credit. Based on this methodology, which sets the value of a solidarity credit in accordance with a calculation of the purchasing power of different nations, we were able to carry out interchanges and establish quotes, whether for national currencies or social currencies in different countries. This made it possible to convert any value into another and integrate economic flows throughout the network of networks, using different forms of acquisition, be they purchasing, selling or bartering, with an international or local standard of value, converting one thing into another. All of this made possible by a technology that at that time did not yet have a name: blockchain, the notorious blockchain.

Why blockchain? In this technology everything is guaranteed by chains of blocks of transactions, visible and downloadable on any computer, validated through the comparison of accounts based on the constitutive blocks. Programmers asked me, “why do we have to show all the transactions? Why do we have to make everybody’s transactions visible to any participant, not just their own?” Because, in effect, it is the sum of the transactions in the complete sequence of blocks that permits one to assure the validity of the transactions made at any moment, based on what has come before.

In the first stage of software development, we used PHP and mySQL, which worked very well. After the World Social Forum of the Amazon, in Belém do Pará, we decided to change everything in order to integrate various initiatives underway in different countries, using a system of multiple interconnected servers built with Java. So, we abandoned PHP. This was a mistake. Using Java set us back because, at that time, there were certain technical problems that could not easily be solved using that language. We ended up having to go back to PHP and start over, not at the beginning but at an even earlier stage. I documented this very interesting process in a book titled the Solidarius Constellation (Constelação Solidarius, 2008) in which I presented the methodology used in the Solidarius system of interchanges.

Based on this earlier work, I continued to elaborate the theoretical foundation of the work already underway and, at the same time, the practical methodologies required to put the ideas into practice. So we organized an annual training course in solidarity economy circuits and later a course on the incubation of circuits; we’ve done it now for over ten years. In some cases the courses are organized in collaboration with universities and governments.

Having taken a break to write two books, one on the unjust conviction of President Lula da Silva, titled Moro’s Fallacies (Falácias de Moro, 2017), and the other on the coup d’etat against Dilma Roussef, titled The Coup – Brics, Dollars and Petrol (OGolpe – Brics, Dólar y Petróleo, 2018), my current focus is on the publication of the seven volume Economy of Liberation (Economia de Libertação). The first volume was published in 2023 and the second is nearly ready to be submitted to the publisher. For the remaining volumes there are finished first drafts.

So, this gives you a sense of my trajectory and what I am currently working on. You can download many of my books, articles, presentations, and other materials on my website,

Collaboration and the praxis of liberation

While it may appear that there is a certain divergence in the themes I have pursued, all of it is very much connected; the central theme is the praxis of liberation. What I seek is human liberation, liberation of communities, of societies. The process of liberation has different aspects: political, pedagogical or educational, economic, cultural. Over time, I have been developing the theoretical-practical mediations needed to move forward in a praxis of liberation that is concrete, consolidated, and efficient, capable of producing true structural changes in reality.

In pursuing this work I have always worked in groups. This is a very important concept, central to popular education, in which the production of knowledge always has two dimensions. On the one hand, knowledge is drawn from previous experience. This knowledge has been proven in the concrete praxis that actors have carried out in their specific realities. While it is not formulated scientifically, and the language is not that of the sciences, historical praxis confirms that this knowledge is real and truthful, because when it is put into practice the outcomes are those that this body of knowledge says they will be. On the other hand, we have knowledge that is academic and epistemologically validated through peer dialogue, with the methodologies of proof corresponding to formal science, natural science, social science, etc., each with its mechanisms of validation.

So what happens is that when I am in this movement, together with other actors, we are co-producing a scientific understanding that connects the knowledge derived from lived experience, from social movements for popular and solidarity economy, with academic knowledge, problematizing both forms of knowledge, re-elaborating both, articulating and systematizing them. In this way a popular knowledge is constructed, having the two dimensions.

So, and this is an important point, knowledge of this kind is always built in a communitarian way, through a dialogic method. For this reason I am always in dialogue with people, communities, with movements, based on a historical and ethical commitment to the sharing of knowledge generated with each community.

If knowledge is generated through your reflection with people about their praxis, that knowledge must be returned to them because they were involved in its production and the goal is to strengthen their praxis of liberation. So, this is another important point to underscore: knowledge is not produced in isolation, but always with groups of people, one way or another.

Some of the groups with which I have collaborated have continued on their path. For example, in the field of philosophy of liberation, many of the people I worked with in the 80s and 90s continue to work together in IFiL. We are no longer in the same city; we are in different locations. But, since 2013, the Brazilian Congresses on the Philosophy of Liberation have been the work of many different actors, pushing that work forward; we still meet periodically.

The axis of struggles

When I began working on these themes back in the 80s, we spoke of “popular movements of production” because popular movements that were beginning to produce goods and services and organize activities of distribution: barter, fairs, stores, etc. We didn’t yet have the concept of “solidarity economy.” Luis Razeto says that the concept first appeared in Chile, in the context of a discussion in which activists and organizers were debating whether their activities were practices of solidarity or economic practices.6 One woman said, “look, this thing we are making is a solidarity economy.” That is Razeto’s version of a historical process that has been documented and needs to be recuperated. In any case, we didn’t have that concept. In Brazil people spoke of popular economy, popular solidarity economy, solidarity economy, depending on the region of the country and with different theoretical contents. My version of the distinct characteristics of solidarity economy is related to a concept we developed already in the Central de Movimentos Populares: the concept of an axis of struggles (eixo de lutas).

What is an axis of struggles? How can we connect popular movements which are highly diverse, with various practices, different horizons and objectives, organizational forms, etc. in order to undertake actions that are effectively transformational? How is it that there can be conjunctural unity on some theme, on which all the groups are united because at that moment it is important to all of them, only to see this unity later dissolve, become disarticulated, without building forces capable of effecting structural transformation?

What was needed in order for us to be able to speak of truly structural transformation? Building axes of permanent articulation around immediate and strategic objectives, united with each other. But what are these axes of struggles? An axis of struggles has four basic characteristics.

The first is attending to the immediate needs of the actors. The people mobilize for something so you have to find a way to address that immediate objective. But the immediate objective is generally a consequence of a structural problem. This means that there is a risk that the people involved in struggles will simply seek to address the need without taking into account the structural causes of the problem. For example, it is not enough to simply fight for housing because one might create a situation where, in the end, a public agency meets the popular demand for housing by creating an housing project very close to an area owned by real estate speculators, increasing the value of the land belonging to the speculator. The urban infrastructure created by the public agency for the benefit of that group of families, ends up benefiting the speculators as well. So, while speculation in real estate is one of the structural causes of the lack of housing for the majority of people, the solution found to meet immediate demand ends up strengthening real estate speculators. We must, then, deal with the structures if we want to solve the problem for everyone, and not simply attend to the immediate demands of some, aggravating the problem for others. We have to find a way to address the immediate demand within the horizon of structural transformation.

This is the second characteristic of an axis of struggle: confronting the structures that generate the problems. But it is not enough to simply combat the structures, you have to create new ones. This is where the third characteristic comes in: How do we want our needs to be addressed? We have to construct a proposal for public politics and direct action which meets immediate needs, confronts the structures that cause the problems, and, bit by bit, establishes the new structures of the society we desire. The proposal for how to solve the problem, which is the product of an agreement among the actors, created with adequate technical support, needs to be one that can mobilize many people. And this capacity for mobilization is the fourth characteristic of an axis of struggle. Because if a large number of people aren’t mobilized it won’t become an axis of struggle. These are the four basic characteristics of an axis of struggle.

Urban reform is a simple example. It attends to immediate needs – for housing, health, sanitation, transportation, etc. All of that, on the other hand, runs up against the logic of urban development which concentrates capital and exploits people’s needs in the interests of private accumulation of profit. Urban reform is about proposing a new form of organizing a city, based on a project elaborated by urban movements with competent technical support, defining where housing will remain, how public transport will function: schools, childcare centers, etc. That is, there is an urban project that defines the horizon of urban reform and has the capacity to mobilize many people and connect different movements that act in this space, carrying out joint actions around an axis of shared struggles which articulates the different movements and their struggles, on the basis of mutual agreement about the objectives to be won.

I want to underline one more thing, so as to connect this with what I was saying earlier. When we spoke earlier of government programs, I explained how the axes of struggle are turned into guidelines for elaboration of those programs, connecting movement demands with proposed public policies. The policies elaborated by the movements themselves, in order to achieve urban reform, agricultural reform, citizenship and solidarity economy, are detailed in the government’s program. If they win the election, they have a program that is coherent and has the popular support needed to carry it out. If they lose the election, there is a proposal that can lend unity to the leadership and institutional struggle of the movements, concretizing the objectives and providing a participatory mode of organization in opposition to the elected government. Solidarity economy has already appeared as one such axis of struggle, aiming for the transformation of society.

Solidarity economies of survival, resistance and liberation

If we open up this theme, we see that one part of solidarity economy today simply seeks an immediate solution to people’s needs. This is the first condition, which is very important, but it simply does not provide an historical horizon for changing the economic structures of exploitation, expropriation, spoliation, exclusion, and degradation which generate the problems solidarity economy practices seek to confront. This is what we call “solidarity economy of survival.”

On a second level we have a solidarity economy that seeks not only to attend to the immediate needs of the people for consumption, work, credit or what have you, but also to confront the hegemonic model of economy which generates or reproduces the neglect of these needs, to different degrees, so as to obtain profits.

So, for example, say we organize a farming cooperative which produces fruits. There is no boss and no employees, everything is ecological and nobody is exploited. Here we are, building the new. But, when harvest time comes, to whom do we sell the fruit? We sell it to a commercial capitalist, and if the commercial capitalist makes a profit with this fruit, it is because there is a surplus value that these workers, who have no boss and are not employees, have produced with their own labor and that, later, the commercial capitalist converts into profit. So, there is a tendency to mount a resistance that is economic, political, and cultural which, in the end, does not manage to build the new — building the new being a characteristic of an axis of struggles.

So, we have to construct the new, but how? We have to construct a new mode of production, a new system of exchange and credit and a new social formation. But this is very broad, how can it be done, concretely?

We enter, then, into the theme of methodology. Methodology involves considering the different steps of the economic flow and changing them, step by step, stage by stage, starting with that over which we already have the most control in order to reach levels over which we currently have none. We have a certain degree of control over our consumption, what we buy, where we buy things, but beyond that we have little control. So, we start with our consumption. We organize processes of solidarity provisioning as part of organizing circuits of economic solidarity. That which before was a source of profit for commercial capital is no longer part of capital’s economic circuit and becomes a surplus of value that remains within the solidarity economy circuit, in our own supermarket, in our own shop, in our own emporium, as we say. And that value, which is realized within the solidarity circuit, where it remains, forms the basis of a solidarity economy fund, to be used for the liberation of the forces of solidarity economy.

This is connected to the methodology of 2007 (when the Solidarius platform for “interchanges” was first developed), which permits us to generate credits based on the values held by the fund; with those credits we can perform non-monetary “interchanges” within the circuit, preserving monetary funds for use in liberating economic forces, securing machinery, tools, everything needed to expand our capacities for production and circulation, in order to change the economic reality.

This brings us to the solidarity economy of liberation. Why? Because it addresses immediate needs - which if unaddressed make life unsustainable – confronts the existing hegemonic structures – no way to overcome them without confronting them – and creates, bit by bit, the new forms, the new modes of economic organization which permit us to create another economic system than the one that is currently hegemonic, which is exploiting, expropriating, and despoiling human beings and ravaging the planet.

Collaboration and organization in

There is a group of us who began working together in the 90s who continue working together to this day, in a process of perpetual exchange and communication, while living in very different contexts. Solidarity Brasil and Solidarius Italy are the two groups that have the most well defined structures, being constituted as juridical entities. There are also Solidarius México, Solidarius Colombia, and Solidarius Ecuador, where we have teams working together, linked by inter-cooperation agreements. In México, for example, there has been a project in place for many years, involving a great deal of collaboration, that makes use of a Technical Cooperation Agreement with an actor that is a partner in the region. There is no need to create another institution if we can develop collaborative work with an existing partner. This is the logic of networks: we create organizations when they are needed; so, for example, we have an international registry which integrates all of the national units of Solidarius. Here too, we have long term collaborative processes with people who are acting in these regions. In reality, nothing is produced in isolation. Every project, theoretical or practical, always involves the participation of communities in the praxis that gives rise to them.

We can say Solidarius has three dimensions. First, there is, the platform, which has tools which can be used by any solidarity economy organization at no cost, permitting the elaboration of plans for sustainability, network diagnostics, supply and demand maps, economic interchanges, etc.

Second, there is a community of people and organizations using the platform. We have some 3000 users with a variety of needs. Some use the platform for planning and assessing the viability of initiatives, one of the platform’s most widely used functionalities. Others use the network diagnostics, connecting plans for new initiatives. User data are private, so we don’t know exactly how many movements of organizations are integrated in the network projects to which these plans refer.

Finally, we come to Solidarius as a network of research and development initiatives, coordinating education consulting and information technology services for people, projects, networks, communities and governments, encouraging organization and consolidation of collaborative networks of solidarity economy and the creation of regional economic circuits.

In each country which is part of the network, we have a national unit which is made up of these intercooperating units and collaborates in their activities, according to their needs and capacities.

One specific area in the Solidarius platform is the Credits section, with specific tools for solidarity economic circuits. This is where the Solidarius Interchange System operates. (Perhaps we should change the name, to make this more clear?) What we have in this area are tools for the organization of economic circuits, like offers and needs lists and tools for selling and buying, barter, and donations. On the international level, the tools for barter and donation exist but the section for buying and selling is not yet in place.

This is because in that case one would need to manage transactions between different national currencies and that is not our strategy. Our strategy is for money to stay in a given country with transactions being carried out with electronic credits, such that the money which remains in the solidarity fund in a given nation is used to finance the development of the solidarity economy in that country, to finance the liberation of solidarity economy forces there.

This tool is being used by some groups and individuals, especially in Brazil and Mexico. We are currently supporting the installation and customization of the platform by a group of cooperatives in the Dominican Republic, in response to a proposal they made to us. They will use the same Solidarius platform but with a different interface, that of their own organization, including all the tools of electronic interchange with the objective of connecting cooperative groups in the country.


The platform is really underused. There is so much more that could be done with it. We have interfaces in English, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian. It is very important to make the platform more user friendly because programming languages evolve very quickly, making it possible to simplify actions for users. For example, solutions that we wrote with older versions of PHP no longer work with more recent versions. Then there is the whole matter of CSS and a series of other things that can now be done much more easily, where the programming techniques we used in the past were much more complex. Today it is possible to do the same thing with programming techniques that are more simple, because the languages have evolved a great deal.

Another element that has reached a point of qualitative transition is artificial intelligence. I believe this will be the next stage of our work, because in Solidarius we have developed some tools along those lines. We already have a tool for self-management with a very high level of members participating in a group. How can one person read the thousands of pieces of information needed to debate a choice and make a decision? We have developed algorithms that make it possible to systematize this whole bundle of discussions in the form of a few more general or more particular affirmations, using heuristic criteria that can be adjusted to the person; in fact these are already tools for artificial intelligence.

I think the algorithms we will publish in the volumes of Economics of Liberation are ready to be used with Restricted Artificial Intelligence. I want to stress this: restricted artificial intelligence. I am opposed to the development of artificial super-intelligences. Even the development of general artificial intelligence can pose serious risks. On the other hand, restricted artificial intelligence remains under human control and we can take advantage of everything it can generate. Generating an artificial super-intelligence would be a tragedy for human kind: an inferior intelligence would no longer be capable of containing a superior intelligence, motivated by propositions that it itself interprets, even if in a mechanical way, reorienting its own action on the basis of its reinterpretation. Every sign represents an object partially and its interpretation generates other signs to be interpreted, so we can not finally know how an artificial super-intelligence – free of love and compassion – will interpret the security directive initially programmed by humans for its operation. This is not a theme for this interview but it is a really important point.


Part 2 will be posted next week.


  • 1Thanks to Cheyenna Layne Webber for introducing us to Euclides Mance.
  • 2Central de Movimientos Populares is a Brazilian left formation uniting various social movements.
  • 3Philosophy of Liberation is a broad philosophical current that has developed in Latin America since the 1960s, and has flourished in dialogue with liberatory approaches in the fields of pedagogy (P. Freire), sociology (O. Fals-Borda), and theology (H. Assmann), among others. One of its strands was led by Enrique Dussel (Philosophy of Liberation, Wipf and Stock, 2003).
  • 4Founded by Augusto Boal, theater of the oppressed integrates theatrical performance and Paulo Freire’s practice of liberatory pedagogy. See Theatre of the Oppressed, Theatre Communications Group, 1993.
  • 5Mance uses the term “interchanges” (intercambios) instead of the more common “exchanges” to differentiate it from strictly money-commodity exchanges. In, interchanges can take multiple forms: monetary, in kind, local currency, electronic credits, barter.
  • 6See the account in Solidarity Economy Roads

Euclides André Mance, Matt Noyes (2024).  Liberation Economist - Part 1:  An Interview with Euclides Mance.  Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).

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