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Legal Pot Gets Calderon Consideration as Deaths Mount

Location: 
Mexico
A record number of homicides in Mexico has forced President Felipe Calderon to open discussions on a new strategy in the war on drugs: legalization. The impact of violence is the biggest threat to the Mexican economy according to 57 percent of Mexican executives, a survey published last month by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu showed. Mexico, which spends about $8.2 billion annually on law enforcement, would save between 5 percent and 15 percent of GDP if narcotics were legal in all countries, said Luis Rayo, a finance professor at the University of Utah.
Publication/Source: 
Bloomberg (NY)
URL: 
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-08-20/legal-acapulco-gold-gets-calderon-s-consideration-as-drug-killings-climb.html

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 28,000 people, the government reported this month. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Santiago Papasquiaro, site of Saturday's firefight
Friday, August 13

In Ciudad Juarez, 17 people were murdered across the city. Among the dead were two members of CIPOL, the police intelligence service, as well as a young couple. Several people were shot outside a nightclub, and three men between the ages of 20 and 25 were killed after their car was ambushed by a group of gunmen.

Saturday, August 14

In Durango, at least 11 gunmen were killed after a two-hour firefight with the army near the town of Santiago Papasquiaro. Three troops were wounded during the gun battle. Many believe that Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is hiding in Durango.

In Monterrey, at least eight gunmen kidnapped a plastic surgeon while he was performing surgery. It was later reported that one of his patients was the target of the raid. Police and army personnel launched an operation to find the abducted surgeon, with no success.

Sunday, August 15

In Morelos, at least six people were killed. In one incident, three young men were gunned down after a botched kidnapping attempt by gunmen outside their home. In another incident, the body of an unidentified man was found bound with tape and plastic. A note threatening the lives of local police officers was left alongside the body.

Monday, August 16

In Ciudad Juarez, 20 people were killed in several incidents in the city. The incidents included two separate triple homicides. Several of the bodies discovered in the city were bound with tape and showed signs of torture. Over the weekend, 51 people were killed. Monday’s killings bring the 2010 death toll in Ciudad Juarez to approximately 1,884.

In Oaxaca, gunmen killed eight members of a hunting party near Mexico's Gulf Coast. The exact motive for the killings is unclear. In Monterrey and in Reynosa, armed men threw hand grenades at the local offices of Televisa.

Tuesday, August 17

In a video made public on Tuesday, an alleged member of the Juarez Cartel claimed that the cartel is hiring attractive young women to serve as assassins. The suspect, Rogelio Amaya, claims that around roughly 30 women between the ages of 18 and 30 have been recruited and trained to carry out hits, which many of them have. Rogelio Amaya is thought to be a member of La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juarez Cartel.

In Culiacan, four prison inmates were murdered and were discovered in a dumpster. All four had their throats slit. Three of the four men had been arrested earlier this month following a firefight with police. Violence between rival drug trafficking gangs is common in Mexican prisons.

Wednesday, August 18

In Nuevo Leon, the body of a kidnapped mayor was discovered three days after his abduction. Edelmiro Cavazos of was the mayor of Santiago, Nuevo Leon. He was discovered near a waterfall near the town after having been kidnapped by a group of at least 15 armed men wearing uniforms of the federal police force, which was disbanded nine years ago.

Total Body Count for the Week: 112

Total Body Count for the Year: 7,030

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.

Mexico

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 28,000 people, the government reported this month. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Thursday, August 5

In Ciudad Juarez, eleven people were killed in various incidents across the city. In one case, a 20-year old woman was shot dead as she walked with a 4-year old girl, who escaped unscathed. In another incident, an apparent extortionist was shot and killed after a shoot-out with security guards. Drug trafficking organizations across Mexico are also involved in extortion.

Friday, August 6

In Matamoros, at least 14 inmates were killed during a clash between rival gangs inside the prison. Troops from the Mexican army were eventually sent into the facility to restore order. It is unclear which groups participated in the fighting, but much of the recent violence in the Matamoros area been the result of fighting between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas Organization.

Saturday, August 7

In Mexico City, thousands of journalists marched to protest the killings and disappearances of journalists due to prohibition-related violence in the country. Similar protests were planned in Sinaloa and Chihuahua. Over 60 Mexican journalists have been killed since 2000. This year, the Committee to Protect Journalists says that 10 journalists have been killed, and many face daily threats to their lives and harassment.

Sunday, August 8

In Ciudad Juarez, over 200 armed federal police officers raided the hotel where their commander, Salomon Alarcon,  was staying. After blocking off the streets to prevent his escape, they detained Alarcon at gunpoint, accusing him of having planted drugs on officers to force them to become involved in extortion plots. The officers found weapons and drugs in his hotel room. The officer was held captive until the Federal Police Commissioner General agreed to suspend him pending a full investigation into the allegations. It was later found that Alarcon was on the payroll of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Also in Ciudad Juarez, two federal police officers were shot dead as they walked in plainclothes through the center of the city at night. A large police operation was immediately launched, but no arrests or confrontations occurred.

In Palomas, Chihuahua, three severed heads were discovered in the main plaza as locals left Sunday mass. A charred SUV with the headless bodies was discovered south of the town. A note left with the bodies indicate that the victims were extortionists who were killed by a rival criminal organization. Last October, the mayor of Palomas was kidnapped and found murdered.

Monday, August 9

At a forum in Puerto Vallarta, Mexican authorities said that drug-trafficking organizations pay an estimated $100 million in bribes monthly to municipal police officials. According to Public Security Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, this estimate is based on officer perceptions and on a list of payouts to police officers that was seized during recent operations. He also said that 20% of municipal police officers make less than $79 a month, and 60% make less than $317 a month.

In Morelos, seven people were killed in prohibition-related violence. Among the dead were three men who were decapitated in the town of Ahuatepec. In Ciudad Juarez, police discovered the dismembered body of an officer.

Tuesday, August 10

In Morelos, 10-12 heavily armed men ambushed a police convoy carrying a high-profile prisoner to jail. Two officers and the prisoner were killed in the ambush. Mario Alberto Chavez Traconi, 54, was known as the King of Fraud. The ambush occurred after the police convoy was cut off by SUV's and the gunmen attacked the police officers with assault rifles.

Total Body Count for the Week: 146

Total Body Count for the Year: 6,994

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.

Mexico

Mexican Presidents Talk Drug Legalization

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/fox_0.jpg
Vicente Fox
Last Tuesday, Mexican President Felipe Calderon briefly opened the door to drug legalization, saying it was something that needed to be discussed, only to clarify in a press release hours later that he remained opposed to legalization. Now, Calderon's predecessor, former President Vicente Fox, has stepped up to call forthrightly for legalization, and just two days ago Calderon again expressed a willingness to rethink his aggressive anti-drug campaign.

The discussion comes as Mexico staggers through the fourth year of Calderon's war on the so-called drug cartels. Despite deploying nearly 50,000 soldiers and federal police in the fight, violence has only increased, with the death toll rising year after year. And the drug trade goes on, seemingly unimpeded by the campaign.

Fox's call came in a Saturday blog post in which the ex-president cited the "enormous cost" of fighting organized crime, beginning with the more than 28,000 people the government admitted last week had been killed in prohibition-related violence since Calderon came to power in December 2006. He also cited the cost of corruption among law enforcement and public officials, the loss of tourism, and the threat to foreign investment.

Felipe Calderon attending security conference
"We should consider legalizing the production, distribution and sale of drugs," wrote Fox, like Calderon, a member of the conservative National Action Party (PAN). "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked. Legalizing in this sense does not mean drugs are good and don't harm those who consume them," he wrote. "Rather we should look at it as a strategy to strike at and break the economic structure that allows gangs to generate huge profits in their trade, which feeds corruption and increases their areas of power."

Fox also called for the "rapid return of the national army to its bases," saying it was "neither conceived for nor is prepared for police work." The military's role in Calderon's campaign has tarnished its image and led to "more and more" human rights violations, he added. The military's role should be taken over by a new national police force and there should be direct election of police chiefs and high commanders, Fox wrote.

On Tuesday, Calderon underwent his second session of talks on the drug war that he began last week, this time mostly with opposition legislators. Calderon wasn't ready to jump on Fox's legalization bandwagon, claiming that it would lead to increased drug use and wouldn't reduce drug traffickers' income. But he did signal an increasing awareness of the disastrous impact of his policies. "I know that the strategy has been questioned, and my administration is more than willing to revise, strengthen or change it if needed," Calderon said at the meeting. "What I ask, simply, is for clear ideas and precise proposals on how to improve this strategy."

Under the 70-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexican drug trafficking organizations were not so much suppressed as managed, but with the election of Fox, the modus vivendi between traffickers and the state was shattered. Midway through his term, Fox declared war on the cartels and went after their leaders. That led to intramural fighting within and among the cartels and to increased confrontations between traffickers and police, a situation that has only continued to escalate under Calderon.

Mexico

Ex-Mexico President Calls for Legalizing Drugs

Location: 
Mexico
It looks like the Mexicans are finally understanding the folly of drug prohibition. Last week, Mexico's President Felipe Calderon agreed to open the door to discussions about the legalization of drugs. Now, Mexico's former president, Vicente Fox, is joining with those urging Calderon to legalize drugs in Mexico, saying that legalization could break the economic power of the country's brutal drug trafficking organizations.
Publication/Source: 
The Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gMi5B2USfJStXxfqgWWr2xjRYpOgD9HFMD5O0

If You Think Marijuana Legalization Helps Drug Cartels, Think Again

One of the most enduring disconnects in the legalization debate is the question of what will become of those nasty drug cartels when we end marijuana prohibition. Here's how Tim Rosales of the No on Prop 19 campaign framed it in a debate with Jane Hamsher on CNN:

You would just be giving the Mexican drug cartels a platform, a legal platform, to operate from here in the United States. I don't think that's a risk that a lot of Californians, or even Americans, want to take.

I think he's right insofar as people do worry about this, and stirring up those sorts of anxieties isn't a bad strategy for legalization's opponents to embrace (particularly given how little they have to work with). But the idea itself is about as brain-dead ridiculous as can be.

Here's the thing: criminal drug organizations don't want this "legal platform" you speak of. That's not how they do business. Their product is grown by day laborers and slaves, not master cultivators. Their business strategy is characterized by assassination and bribery, not Facebook fan pages and free massage Fridays. They have no intention of paying taxes or appearing before local zoning boards, and they can't compete with American entrepreneurs who are happy to do the paperwork and can explain where their investment capital came from.

We're going to legalize pot, not thuggery. The murderers in Mexico don't possess a single skill that would give them an advantage in a regulated market. Their only asset is a willingness to break the law, and in the unlikely event that they elected to run a legal business instead, they wouldn't be criminals anymore. We will control the regulatory process and there's nothing about marijuana that invites fraud or extortion to any greater extent than every other taxable commodity on the market.

If you're still not getting this, let me put it another way: Mexican drug cartels don't sell marijuana because they're passionate about cannabis culture or botany, or because they love stacking bricks of mid-grade in the back of a pick-up truck. Absolutely the only reason they're in the marijuana business is because we gave them a monopoly on it. When we take that away from them, they will make less money and their organizations will get smaller.

Those who still can't or won't accept this are entitled to their opinions. But please allow us the courtesy of giving it a try. You had your chance to crush the cartels. Now it's our turn.

Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 28,000 people, the government reported this week. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

better late than never: Pres. Calderon now supports discussing legalization
Thursday, July 29

In Guadalajara, police killed one of the highest-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel. Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, 56, was the third-highest ranking member of the cartel, only behind cartel bosses "El Chapo" Guzman and "El Mayo" Zambada. Coronel was killed after resisting an army raid on his lavish Guadalajara home. A bodyguard was captured. Over $7 million in cash was discovered inside the residence, as well as large quantities of jewelry and weapons. Coronel was known as the "King of Ice" for his multi-million dollar methamphetamine business.

Saturday, July 31

In Coahuila, policemen rescued two journalists who had been kidnapped on Monday. A third reporter had been released by his kidnappers Thursday, and a fourth was released under unclear circumstances. The men had apparently been kidnapped by drug traffickers in an attempt to have Mexican media broadcast their messages to the Mexican public. The men had been kidnapped after covering the arrest last week of a prison director accused of letting out prisoners at night to commit killings. About 30 reporters have been killed in Mexico since 2006.

In Ciudad Juarez, 15 people were killed in different parts of the city, bringing the city's death toll for July to 291. This makes July the second deadliest month the city has had so far in 2010, only behind June's total of 313. As of August 1, there have been 1,701 murders in Ciudad Juarez this year.

Sunday, August 1

In Ciudad Juarez, a riot took place during visiting hours at the city's main prison. The clashes began when members of the Aztecas gang took 12 guards hostage and attacked members of their main rival, the AA (Artist Assassin) gang. The Aztecas are allied to the Juarez Cartel, and the AA fight for the Sinaloa Cartel. Two men were killed in the clashes. Some 150 visitors,including women and children, were present at the facility when the incident took place.

Tuesday, August 3

In Mexico City, Mexico's intelligence chief acknowledged that the death toll from drug-related violence is far higher than previously reported. Guillermo Valdes Castellanos, the head of the National Security and Investigation Center (CISEN) now estimates that just over 28,000 people have been killed since President Calderon took office. Last month, the office of Mexico's Attorney General estimated that some 25,000 had been killed.

Also in Mexico City, President Calderon said he was open to debate on the legalization  of drugs. Calderon went on to say that Mexican policy would likely be driven by California's decision on marijuana legalization, which is due to take place later this year.

Wednesday, August 4

In Ciudad Juarez, two police officers and two civilians were wounded after a group of armed men attacked the Continental Hotel, which houses many federal police officers. Additionally, a painted message from the Juarez Cartel threatened the lives of federal police officers.

Also in Ciudad Juarez, a bomb was discovered on one of the four international bridges connecting the city and El Paso. The bridge was closed for two hours, as were several main streets in the area, leading to massive traffic jams. Mexican police and security forces arrived and detonated the bomb. Many Juarez residents fear further bombings such as the one which killed four people on July 15.

Total Body Count for the Week: 177

Total Body Count for the Year: 6,848

Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.

Mexico

Mexican President Calls for Drug Legalization Debate

After presiding for years over the bloodiest drug war escalation in history, Mexican President Felipe Calderon is finally ready to discuss legalization.

MEXICO CITY — President Felipe Calderon said he would consider a debate on legalizing drugs Tuesday as his government announced that more than 28,000 people have been killed in drug violence since he launched a crackdown against cartels in 2006.

"It's a fundamental debate in which I think, first of all, you must allow a democratic plurality (of opinions)," he said. "You have to analyze carefully the pros and cons and the key arguments on both sides." [AP]

It's just an earth-shattering concession from the man who staked his presidency on a desperate attempt to prove that aggressive enforcement could somehow restore peace and order. Now, with the streets stained in blood and corruption permeating the highest levels of government, Calderon appears poised to confront the crushing reality that there's just no upside to any of this. He needs room to maneuver, and after exhausting every traditional tactic in the drug prohibition playbook, there remains only one conversation left to be had.

Of course, Calderon was careful to clarify that he's acknowledging, rather than endorsing, the legalization argument:

But Calderon has long said he is opposed to the idea, and his office issued a statement hours after the meeting saying that while the president was open to debate on the issue, he remains "against the legalization of drugs."
 

Riiiight. He's a politician and surely realizes that paying lip service to a touchy subject like this serves only to give it momentum. Posturing aside, Calderon knows exactly what happens when you open this door. He can see it already in the American press, and I can only imagine that he's now perfectly willing to witness the emergence of a sizable movement for reform in Mexico. If he weren't, you can bet he'd never dare drop the "L" word with a microphone at his mouth.

Whether he intended to or not, Calderon has spent his presidency performing the most compelling imaginable exhibit in the failure of prohibition. After sacrificing so much, his only chance at redemption may depend on his willingness to take the lead in learning something from the smoldering nightmare that now surrounds him.

Juarez Grenade Attack Caught On Tape; Attack Comes 2 Weeks After Bomb Blast

Location: 
Ciudad Juarez
United States
Drug prohibition violence continues in Ciudad Juarez where Mexican federal police officers were attacked with a grenade, nearly two weeks after Mexican federal police were attacked with a car bomb. 262 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez in July -- that's about 8 per day.
Publication/Source: 
KVIA (TX)
URL: 
http://www.kvia.com/news/24475973/detail.html

"Murder City," by Border Cognoscenti Charles Bowden (BOOK REVIEW)

"Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields," by Charles Bowden (2010, Nation Books, 320 pp., $27.50 HB)

by Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/murdercity.jpg
Last Saturday, Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, marked a grim milestone: its 6,000th murder victim since the beginning of 2008. The discovery of 10 bodies that day pushed the beleaguered city past that marker, but the week -- still only half-done as I write these words -- held more gore. On Wednesday, two headless bodies appeared propped up against the wall of building. The heads sat atop upended ice chests in front of them. Writing on the ice chests claimed that one of the men was a carjacker and the other a kidnapper and extortionist, and that both were members of the Aztecas, a street gang that peddles dope and acts as neighborhood enforcers for the Juarez Cartel.

Gruesome photographs of the death scene ran in the Mexican press -- there is a longstanding tabloid press there that positively revels in full-color photos of murder victims, car accident fatalities, burned bodies -- but, according to Charles Bowden, it is almost a certainty that we will never hear another word about them, that we will never know why they had to die so horribly, that no one will ever be arrested for their deaths, that we will never even learn their names.

And Charles Bowden should know. He's probably forgotten more about Ciudad Juarez than most journalists writing about the city ever knew. The poet laureate of the American Southwest, Bowden has been living and writing about the border for decades, and with "Murder City" he is at the peak of his powers.

"Murder City" is beautiful and horrifying, not just for the exemplary violence it chronicles, but even more so for the portrait it paints of Juarez as a community stunned and staggering, hit hard by the vicissitudes of the global economy, the corruption of the Mexican state, and the wealth and violence generated by the trade in prohibited drugs.  It is non-fiction, but reads like a surrealist fever dream.

We learn of Miss Sinaloa, an achingly gorgeous, white-skinned beauty queen, who turns up raving mad at "the crazy place," a desert shelter for the mentally ill, the homeless, the glue- or paint-destroyed kids. Turns out she had come to the city and been invited to a weeklong, whiskey- and cocaine-fueled party at a motel where she was gang-raped for days by eight Juarez policemen. Miss Sinaloa weighs on Bowden, a witness to the city's violence and depredations, its ugly degradation. She's gone now, taken back home by her Sinaloa family, but there's always another one, he writes.

We learn of reporters killed by the military. We learn about other reporters' poor salaries and about how their real pay comes in envelopes from shadowy men, and they know it means they will not write about certain things. We learn of one reporter who inadvertently crossed the military in 2005 and had to flee to the US border for his life when the military came looking for him three years later. He sought political asylum. What he got was imprisoned for seven months until a Tucson civil rights lawyer managed to spring him.

As Bowden notes:

"It is possible to see his imprisonment as simply the normal by-product of bureaucratic blindness and indifference. But I don't think that is true. No Mexican reporter has ever been given political asylum, because if the US government honestly faced facts, it would have to admit that Mexico is not a society that respects human rights. Just as the United States would be hard-pressed, if it faced facts, to explain to its own citizens how it can justify giving the Mexican army $1.4 billion under Plan Merida, a piece of black humor that is supposed to fight the war on drugs. But then the American press is the chorus in this comedy since it continues to report that the Mexican army is in a war to the death with the drug cartels. There are two errors in these accounts. One is simple: The war in Mexico is for drugs and the enormous money to be made by supplying American habits, a torrent of cash that the army, the police, the government, and the cartels all lust for. Second, the Mexican army is a government-financed criminal organization, a fact most Mexicans learn as children."

Bowden writes about a Ciudad Juarez policewoman taken away by the military and raped for three days. Bowden writes about the military patrol sitting yards away from a drug treatment center where armed assailants shoot the place up for 15 minutes, leaving eight dead. Bowden writes about how the press describes convoys of killers as "armed commandos" dressed in uniforms and says that's code for military death squads.

Remember those two headless gentlemen in the first paragraph? This is why we will never learn anything more about them. The reporters are scared for their lives. Bowden writes about the "narco-tombs," safe houses where victims are tortured and killed, then buried on the grounds. The exhumation of the bodies takes place with great fanfare, but the forensic scientist doesn't want her name used or her face shown, and then the bodies just vanish. Poof! They are never identified, no one knows where they went, no one knows why they died, no one knows who killed them.

Bowden writes about El Sicario, the former state policeman/cartel assassin, who talks with professional pride about kidnapping, torturing, and killing hundreds of people. Now, El Sicario is afraid. The killers are after him, and he has fled his former hunting grounds. And what is even more disturbing for the reader is El Sicario's statement that he doesn't even know which cartel he was working for. In the cell-like structure in which he operated, he knew only his boss, not the boss's boss, or even who the boss's boss was. El Sicario killed for phantoms.

But what is really terrifying is that El Sicario is being chased by "a death machine with no apparent driver," a web of hidden complicities where the cartels are the military are the police are the government, nobody knows who anybody really is, and the dead become evil by virtue of having been killed.

We can blame the cartels (or, obversely, drug prohibition), we can blame street gangs, mass poverty, uprooted families migrating to the city for jobs that have now vanished, corrupt cops, corrupt governments, but the violence may now have escaped any good explanation, Bowden writes. As the Mexican state fails to suppress the violence (at least in part because it is committing a great part of it, the killings are establishing "not a new structure but rather a pattern, and this pattern functionally has no top or bottom, no center or edge, no boss or obedient servant. Think of something like the ocean, a fluid thing without king and court, boss and cartel... Violence courses through Juarez like a ceaseless wind, and we insist it is a battle between cartels, or between the state and the drug world, or between the army and the forces of darkness. But consider this possibility: Violence is now woven into the very fabric of the community, and has no single cause and no single motive and no on-off button."

Absolutely chilling stuff, and absolutely brilliant. Bowden turns prose into poetry, and he provides an understanding of Juarez and its woes that hits you at the visceral level. "Murder City" will give you nightmares, but it's worth it.

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