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Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Gonzalez Family Appeal

Aired June 28, 2000 - 12:01 p.m. ET


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: We are awaiting word from the Supreme Court on the fate of 6-year-old Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez. The order keeping him in the United States expires at 4:00 eastern this afternoon. Unless the Supreme Court says otherwise, Elian, his father and Cuban relatives and friends would be free to leave the country after that hour. We're monitoring that story. And we'll have full reports for you in just a moment.

But first, important rulings from the Supreme Court, including a case involving gay rights and the Boy Scouts. The justices ruled that the Boy Scouts of America may forbid homosexuals from serving as scout leaders.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Charles Bierbauer has more on the case.


JAMES DALE: And that's me when I was 18 years old.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SR. WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): James Dale reached Eagle Scout, scouting's highest rank, he earned dozens of merit badges, and as a young adult became a leader in his New Jersey troop.

DALE: For 12 years, you were perfect, you were perfect, you are just what we want. You know, get involved, get more involved, we are happy to have you. It is a family, you are a part of the family. And then they find out one small thing about who you are, and they kick me out.

BIERBAUER: The scouts found Dale is gay.

EVAN WOLFSON, LAMDA LEGAL DEFENSE: There was never any accusation that he had done anything wrong or, indeed, done anything improper or inconsistent with scouting.

BIERBAUER: Not so, say the Boy Scouts, whose oath says, "a scout is morally straight."

VINCE MCCARTHY, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: Boy Scouts believe that it is their First Amendment right to define what that terms means and not for the Supreme Court of new jersey to define it. BIERBAUER: Gay rights groups frequently base their claim to equal treatment on a constitutional freedom of association. The Boy Scouts are using that same freedom to exclude gays, but gays say it should not apply.

WOLFSON: The Supreme Court has, in case after case after case, made clear that just to claim the freedom of association to defeat a civil rights law is not enough.


BIERBAUER: So in the cases before the court, they have ruled for the Boy Scouts of America, against the Nebraska abortion ban, for the Colorado limitation on abortion protesters, and for the aid from federal funds to parochial schools.

But the information just handed to me now that you want to hear is that the application for a stay in regard to the Elian Gonzalez case, as presented to Justice Kennedy and referred to the court, is denied. The petition for a writ, that is the petition to hear the appeal has been denied. Both cases -- both elements denied, that means that Elian Gonzalez will be free to return to Cuba with his father this afternoon -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Charles, I know you have just gotten the news. But is there any explanation of this decision in what you have just received.

BIERBAUER: No, the court very typically issues these statements on a very thin sheet of paper, just three lines. And the two issues were: Would they hear the appeal? That has been denied. And would the justices extend the stay, keeping Elian Gonzalez here? That has also been denied. There is nothing now keeping Elian Gonzalez in the United States, except getting from where he is in suburban Washington out to the airport and onboard that plane -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Charles Bierbauer, thank you.

We are going to go down to national correspondent Bob Franken. He is outside the estate here in Washington, D.C., where Elian and his father and other friends have been staying.

Bob, any reaction there? this news, of course, just seconds old?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can guarantee you that right now there is a shaking of hands and some cheering going on inside the Rosedale estate, where he has been staying in an opulent section of Washington for the last several weeks. Elian Gonzalez, of course, after he was reunited with his father, moved from one place, and then to this one, which had the advantage of being near his lawyer's office.

Now, the expectation is, they are going to waste no time whatsoever in packing up and heading out of the United States. The plan has been for him to head quickly to Dulles Airport outside Washington, and make some sort of statement in Spanish to the people of the United States, and then head on a plane with his entourage and family, and Elian Gonzalez will then leave the U.S. seven months and three days after he first came to the shores, after being shipwrecked with his mother, who of course did not make it to the United States.

This, of course, has been a geopolitical battle, a legal battle of the highest magnitude. But the personal story is of a 6-year-old boy and his family heading back to Cuba over the protest, of course, of the Miami relatives.

They had been nervous, we had been told, about actually believing that this would be the last day. There was kind of superstition that so many people have that they don't want to put up their hopes only to have them dashed again.

But now the process is going to get under way. It is being coordinated by his lawyer Greg Craig. There are going to be a few meetings, and then the entourage, the motorcade, under the coordination of the U.S. Marshals Office, heading to Dulles Airport, and then back to Cuba.

MESERVE: Bob, do we have any idea if Elian knew that this decision might come today?

FRANKEN: As I understand it, they were told they were not telling him because they didn't want to confuse him. He is 6 years old, as a matter of fact. And the family just felt that there were too many possibilities that there could be more delays. So that he wasn't told. I suspect right now he is being told, and that he is now packing up his toys, all the souvenirs he had of this visit to the United States, and getting ready to head back to Cuba.

MESERVE: Bob Franken, thank you. We will be back to you throughout the afternoon.

Recapping the Supreme Court has just made a decision not to hear the case of Elian Gonzalez. They have also decided not to extend the stay keeping him in this country. That stay issued by an appeals court will expire at 4:00 p.m. Eastern this afternoon. We do expect Elian and his family to board a plane and be on their way to Havana shortly after that.

Right now in Havana, CNN's John Zarrella. He is on the phone.

John, very early, but is there any sort of reaction there?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, certainly not yet, Jeanne. I think it will take a little bit of time before Cuban television comes out with the statement. Last Friday, after the appeals court ruled against the family, it was about 45 minutes to an hour before Cuban television first reported the news to the Cuban people. So it may be a while yet before that word is filtered out.

Up until now, the Cuban government has maintained, as late as in the morning papers today, that the Cuban people should be calm, they should remain calm, they not get overly excited in anticipation, because there was still the chance that the boy might not be coming home today with his father. The Supreme Court could have interceded and that would have kept him in the United States longer.

But, of course, now the Cuban government is preparing for an arrival here in the United States, preparing for an arrival here back in Cuba. And it would be an airport arrival, perhaps not more than 10 minutes long, at which we believe his grandmothers will be there. We are not sure whether President Fidel Castro will be there. But the plan is for that short arrival at the airport and then the family would be wisked away, presumably back to the hometown of Cardenas, although earlier on, there has been some talk that they might move to a transition house, which had been set up in the suburb, the Miramar suburb, outside of Havana.

So, again, waiting for announcement from the Cuban government. But still, no news out of the government to the people yet -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: I was wondering, John, about that transition house. We remember seeing the picture of quite an opulent house by Cuban standards. Why might they decide not to use that at this point?

ZARRELLA: Well, they don't really ever give you any explanations for a lot of the decisions that they take here in Havana, but the one thing that they were saying was that they felt as if, because he had spent so much time with his father and with his family, with his friends, in the Washington, D.C. suburb, that he was being reassimilated at that point. And so that it might not be necessary to go to the transition house, that it might be just as well to go right back to Cardenas.

And they are saying that there really won't be much access to him, if any access to him or the family once they get back to Cardenas.

I can tell you that when the announcement was read on -- over U.S. television just now by Charles Bierbauer, here in the hotel people were smiling, the Cuban workers here in the hotel were smiling and cheering the news that he would be coming back.

And a lot of them have told us over the last few days -- people here in the streets, when asked about the case -- that many of them said they were tired of it. They wanted it to be over with, and that Elian Gonzalez should have been back here a long time ago.

So certainly here in Cuba, a lot of people glad that it is finally coming to an end. Although the Cuban government is saying, Jeanne, they are going to continue on with all of the protests and demonstrations against U.S. policies, which was the platform that they got from the Elian Gonzalez case -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John Zarrella, thank you.

So once again, in about four hours time, Elian Gonzalez will be free to leave the United States. He's been here since November 25th, when he was picked up off of an inner tube. His mother and 10 others had died in an attempt to flee Cuba. He survived and was the subject of an intense custody dispute between his father and relatives in Miami. The Supreme Court has now said they will not hear the case, and they will not extend the stay. Elian is free to leave.

In Miami now, CNN's Mark Potter, he's outside the home where Elian lived with relatives.

Mark, reaction there?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jeanne, as you can imagine, here in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, this is seen as very bad news. It's not a surprise, but even though that's the case, this is just a bad day for the Cuban-American community. Jose Basulto of Brothers to the Rescue is with us.

You fought to keep Elian in this county for seven months. This must be a devastating announcement from the U.S. Supreme Court.

JOSE BASULTO, BROTHERS TO THE RESCUE: Let me explain to you, this to us is not a political defeat. We are involved in a war. This is just a battle. This is a family tragedy for this community; a family tragedy because it hurts each and every one of us. This child could have been my grandson, could have been one of my sons. So, for us, it's as if one of the members of our family has been removed back to Cuba, after all the suffering our families have gone through, and the reasons we had to come to this country in the first place. All this is being denied by the Clinton administration.

POTTER: I saw you when you got the news and you were shocked. And you seemed emotionally upset. How personally do you feel about it?

BASULTO: Very deeply. I was very involved with the child. I spent a great deal of time with him. I even did homework with him. And, as I said, it's just like if a grandchild of mine is being taken back to Cuba, a country which all of us here left. Only the Cuban- American community here are the true peers of this child. And this has not really gone to court. The family court, which is the one that should have heard this, was refused to the child. It's as if -- you know, criminals here are afforded that right. This child was refused by the acknowledgment of the Castro and Clinton administration that made this deal a long time ago. And this is just the end chapter.

POTTER: Jose, thank you for your time.

BASULTO: You're very welcome.

POTTER: Let's let Ramon Saul Sanchez step in.

You're with the Democracy Movement. You too fought for months to keep Elian in the country. The Supreme Court has said there is nothing that stops him from going back to Cuba today. Your reaction, please.

RAMON SAUL SANCHEZ, CUBA DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT: Well, we're very disillusioned with the Supreme Court decision. However, unfortunately, it's something that we already expected. And the fight for Elian Gonzalez continues, because we must fight for the rest of the children of Cuba. And he's going to be returned to that place, where oppression has endured 41 years. And what we are doing right now, is we're trying to refocus the energies of the people back into Cuba to support the dissident movement there, and to reclaim our right to return home and reunite the Cuban family.

POTTER: As word spreads throughout this community shortly that this has been the decision from the Supreme Court, what sort of reaction do you expect?

SANCHEZ: Frustration. A lot of frustration, a lot of sadness. We already see it and hear it everywhere. Unfortunately, what we are trying to do is give the people a sense of objective in the next few weeks and few months so that we have something to rechannel and refocus on in our struggle. And we can put behind this battle, and continue on with the war.

POTTER: Are you expecting demonstrations today? Any emotional outpourings?

SANCHEZ: There will be some demonstrations. We are going to have our caravan depart from here to Watson Island for the flotilla that is organized for the 13th of July. And there will be some activities around the city.

POTTER: You're not expecting any violence or trouble of any sort?

SANCHEZ: No, we are not calling for any demonstrations or any type of violence. But I know that there will be some sort of expressions somewhere around the city.

POTTER: Now, there has been concern throughout this community, as you well know, that this issue of Elian Gonzalez has split the community ethnically. Are you concerned about what needs to be done to bring the community together?

SANCHEZ: We are always concerned about that, especially because Miami is a very unique place where you have so many different ethnic groups. And the turnover of the groups is very, very, very big. It's not the same when you live in another city of the United States that you get used to the same people for a long time. And here you don't have that ability. So it's different. At the same time, I think it's a virtue of this city that we all appreciate very much.

POTTER: OK, well, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate hearing your thoughts.

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

POTTER: That's the situation here in Miami's Little Havana. The ruling from the Supreme Court was anticipated, but still there is considerable sadness and anger now that the ruling has come -- Jeanne, back to you.

MESERVE: Mark Potter, thank you. One of the parties involved in this tug-of-war over Elian Gonzalez, the U.S. Justice Department. Officials there, led by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno OKed the raid on the Miami relatives' home. They also have fought in court, championing the rights of Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

Pierre Thomas is now at the Justice Department with the very latest from there -- Pierre?

PIERRE THOMAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jeanne, I just got off the phone with a senior Justice Department official. And he described the feeling in the building as relieved. Word is quickly spreading. Officials were not surprised by the ruling, but they said they never know until the Supreme Court rules. The Justice Department has been very invested in this story; the attorney general flying down to Miami, her home town, to try to resolve this. That didn't work. She ended up having to call the raid.

So the Justice Department felt like, that they needed this ruling to vindicate their position. They held throughout that the father speaks for the boy. And they felt like, that each one of the courts was ruling in their favor was a sign that the Supreme Court would rule in their favor as well. But, again, the word here is relief, Jeanne.

MESERVE: So politically, Pierre, what will this mean for Janet Reno?

THOMAS: Well, you'll recall the raid was just two months ago. And there was a feeling here at the Justice Department and around Washington that there would be hearings, that the Justice Department would be grilled on their decision to go in. But the public sentiment was pretty much in favor of the father being in control of his son. And that never materialized.

So now you have the Supreme Court agreeing with the Justice Department. And there's a feeling that this will now fade away. Don't expect any press conferences from the Justice Department. We are being told that the Justice Department would like for the family to be able to leave in dignity today, Jeanne.

MESERVE: Pierre Thomas, thank you.

And we'd like to welcome our international viewers and bring you up to date on what has happened. Just about 20 minutes ago, the U.S. Supreme court said it would not hear the case of Elian Gonzalez, and it would not extend the stay which has kept him in the United States. That was set to expire at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon.

Joining me now, CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack.

Roger, this stay was in effect until 4:00 p.m. But with the justices' ruling, could Elian leave now?

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, the stay stays until 4:00. And I don't believe that the Supreme Court in any way went ahead and modified that stay. So, technically, he must remain here until 4:00. But, you know, quite candidly, I think that if he wanted to leave at any time before that, I don't think anyone would stop him. There are no further appeals. And remember, it was just -- what happened here, is that Justice Kennedy, who was in charge of that area, just refused to alter the stay to give the Supreme Court the ability to hear it.

So, with him actually saying: No, I will not do that, that brings this case to an end.

MESERVE: You and I had an informal conversation earlier today about this case. And you felt the court could have gone either way. Why do you think, at the end, they made this decision?

COSSACK: Well, this is the kind of case where, if they wanted to do it, they could have done it, because there is a conflict between different circuits in the United States as to what the Immigration Department should do and should not do. But I think, finally, in the last analysis in this case, it has been heard. And I just think Justice Kennedy felt that this was perhaps the time to bring it to an end.

MESERVE: I just want to mention, we're looking at a live picture now of Marisleysis. This, of course, the cousin who acted much like a mother to Elian Gonzalez while he was in Miami. She, of course, very disappointed when the raid took place and Elian was taken away and returned to the custody of his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

Didn't mean to interrupt you, Roger.

COSSACK: No, I was just going to complete my thoughts by saying that, in fact, I think that it was time to bring this to a conclusion. I think that perhaps Justice Kennedy felt that maybe he couldn't have gotten the full United States Supreme Court, or at least four votes, to have the Supreme Court to hear this. You know, one really doesn't know. But I must tell you that I'm not shocked by the fact that this is coming to an end.

MESERVE: But you did mention to me that the attorneys for the Miami relatives had raised some very interesting points in the appeal they filed with the court. What were those points?

COSSACK: Well, one of the things they said was: Look, there is -- one of the things they have to do when they go to the Supreme Court is to say: Look, there is a reason, Supreme Court, that you should hear this. It's not just because we don't like the decision. There has to be a reason. And one of the strongest reasons is that if there is differing opinions from different parts of the country.

And one of the things that they have pointed out was to say that: Look, there is different circuits that have different viewpoints on what the INS has done. You should hear this case, Supreme Court, so you could establish a bright line that would, in effect, give all circuits knowledge of what the law is. So that's why I thought that they might hear it, but in the final analysis, they didn't.

MESERVE: OK, we are now taking some live pictures. These are aerial shots of the Rosedale Estate. That's the estate here in Washington. Obviously, it's breaking up a little bit; this shot coming to us from a helicopter, our affiliate WTTG. We'll try and bring those pictures back to you when they're a little bit more clear.

And, Roger, stay with us. We'll get back to you.

Right now we're going to go to John King, our White House correspondent.

John, any reaction from there yet?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No official reaction from the president yet, Jeanne. He is meeting with his senior staff at this hour in the Oval Office preparing for a news conference scheduled for a little more than an hour from now. We're told by senior officials, though, that they brought the president a note during that briefing, told him the Supreme Court had issued its decision.

And we're told to look for the president at this news conference to A) say he has consistently agreed with the Justice Department's handling of this matter. Of course, it was the Justice Department that asked the Supreme Court not to intervene, not to stop Elian Gonzalez from going home to Cuba. The president will say it has been his position all along that the young boy belongs with his father. And we're told, if he's asked about this -- and he is sure to be asked about it -- he will also say that it is best, in his view, that the United States put this political debate behind, and he'll urge calm in the streets of Miami and urge the politicians to just let this debate die -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John, of course there was one person in the White House who did not agree, and that was Al Gore. What are the implications for him?

KING: Well, certainly the vice president would like this controversy to be behind him, too. His position on the case brought criticism from within the administration, brought criticism from fellow Democrats. Very unclear how this will play out in the November elections. The polling would suggest it certainly hasn't helped the vice president in Florida -- his break with the administration view on this.

Senior Gore campaign officials in recent days, or in recent weeks as this case has been making its way through the courts, privately would tell you what they want is for this case to be over. It's not something they want the vice president talking about either.

MESERVE: John King at the White House, thank you.

And we will, of course, be bringing you that press conference of President Clinton live. That's scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. Eastern. Watch right here on CNN.

Once again, back to you, Roger Cossack. There were many people who felt it would not be a surprise if the Supreme Court did what it did today -- that is, let the boy go -- because every other court that looked at the matter had ruled that way.

COSSACK: Well, that's right. There have been -- that area that heard this court from the 11th Circuit had unanimously -- or had at least agreed that, in fact, the INS had acted reasonably. Really, the issue here was -- and the issues that the courts of appeal heard -- was had the INS acted reasonably in coming to their decision? that, in fact, the father speaks for young Elian, and, in fact, that Elian could not himself come in and ask for political asylum.

The question then was, to the Supreme Court, was whether or not the Supreme Court would disturb that and whether or not there was a chance that they would have come to a different conclusion, perhaps decided that maybe the court -- that the INS didn't act reasonably. Or, in fact, perhaps because, as I said earlier, because there are different views on what the INS should do in different circuits in this country, perhaps they would have wanted to reconcile those views. But in the final analysis, obviously they didn't, and we can presume that Elian Gonzalez, sometime today, perhaps after 4:00, maybe even a little bit before, will be on plane back to Cuba.

MESERVE: OK, Pierre Thomas is at the Justice Department.

Pierre, any further thoughts from there?

THOMAS: Well, one of the things that Justice Department officials had pointed out to me earlier is that in every venue, the Miami Relatives lost. Not only did they lose in federal district court, but they also lost in the one state court proceeding that was before a Miami judge.

So they feel that the consistent position that the father's right supersedes that of a 6-year-old boy was the dominant issue, that this was about parental rights in many ways. And they were pointing that out, that there was no venue where the Miami relatives had won and that this decision by the Supreme Court should have been expected.

MESERVE: OK, Pierre, I just want to reference the pictures we're looking at now.

Again, we've gone to those live aerial shots of the Rosedale estate here in Washington. You do see some children there and some adults. They appear to be outside around a table, which is outside the home. It is unclear to me from this vantage point whether one of them might be young Elian. No obvious signs of celebration in this particular shot.

Roger, let me turn back to you. We're very much focusing on the impact of this on a 6-year-old boy and his father. Does what the Supreme Court did today have broader implications?

COSSACK: Well, you have to understand that the issue really was -- I mean, if in fact there could have been evidence that was ever placed before a court that the father was acting in a bad way on behalf of his son, then perhaps this difference -- or this result would have been a little different. But, in fact, there never was. I mean, the other side always took the position of saying, look, the very nature of returning this boy back to Cuba is not good, and, by definition, that is something that we should stop, that Cuba is a bad place and to take someone back there is bad for the interest of this child. That politically may be an appealing argument, but legally it didn't work. And that's what happened here. I mean, therefore, the court was not willing to say that, as a matter of law, that it's unreasonable.

Remember the circuit court, the judges did make some statements during their opinions. They said, look, we understand that Cuba is a place that's not a democracy like America, but we're not prepared to say that, by definition, that makes what Juan Miguel wants to do for his father a bad thing -- or, excuse me, for his son a bad thing.

MESERVE: And as we continue to look at the pictures from the Rosedale estate, proof that kids will be kids: We've seen the children waving at the helicopter overhead trying desperately to get some sort of indication of what's going on there, if preparations for Elian's departure are under way. You see them now waving at us. Some of those Elian's classmates from Cuba who were brought up here.

Now to John Zarrella down in Havana.

John, I'm wondering if it's too early to assess the overall impact that this whole episode will have on U.S.-Cuban relations?

ZARRELLA: Well, Jeanne, I think that -- I can tell you, I'll bring you up to speed right now: They have just now reported on Cuban television the news that, of course, Charles Bierbauer reported from outside the U.S. Supreme Court. They are telling the people here that they have to remain calm, that throughout the day they will be bringing them details on the return of Elian Gonzalez and his family. They are telling the Cuban people that they hope that Elian Gonzalez and the family will be returning today, and as soon as they know for sure they will tell the Cuban people.

The Cuban television is reporting, though, that they don't expect them to leave before 4:00 because of the stay. Now, that just may be their interpretation because the stay doesn't officially run out until 4:00 p.m. Eastern time this afternoon. And they are also telling the people here to remain calm and not to get too excited until they can give them all the details on exactly when the arrival will take place, presumably here in Havana at the airport.

The other thing that they are saying and talking about, the relations that you mentioned, is that they are also continuing the theme which has now been ongoing for the past several weeks to keep up the fight. That is, to keep up the fight against U.S. policies. That has been the recurring theme at all of the weekly tribunals that are held -- they call them tribunals -- they call them tribunals -- that are held around the countryside in different cities. In the city of Olgine (ph) this past Saturday, 400,000 people gathered during which a statement from Fidel Castro was read in which he said they had to continue the fight against the U.S. government, against the embargo, against policies like the Cuban Adjustment Act, the Helms-Burton Law, all the things that had tightened the embargo over the years and encouraged Cubans to try to flee the island and come to the United States. So that has been the theme, the platform given to them. The Elian Gonzalez case has given them that platform. So rather than being somewhat grateful to the U.S. courts, the Cuban government has perhaps done just the opposite. There's been no conciliatory tone towards the U.S. It has really been one of, we're stepping up our attacks on U.S. policies.

There is a belief here that the Cuban government sees the events in Washington, Elian being returned as a victory. They see the easing of sanctions on food and medicine as being a victory in their favor, and perhaps the first real opening or crack in the doors of resistance against them in 40 years.

So that is the overall theme. That's not going to go away. When Elian returns, he may go away. They say that he and his family will be ushered off, perhaps back to Cardenas, the hometown -- that's the most likely scenario -- or perhaps a halfway house, a safe house just outside of Havana which has also been included in the mix, although the government is playing it very close to the vest: no details as to exactly what will happen when the family arrives other than a brief ceremony, a brief arrival ceremony at the airport.

They are saying that -- while their politicizing everything else that goes into U.S.-Cuba relations, the government is saying they do not want to politicize this event. It will be kept extremely low-key -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John Zarrella in Havana, thank you.

And once again, to bring you up to date, it's been seven months since Elian Gonzalez arrived on the shores of the U.S. It appears that today he will be heading back to Havana. Today the Supreme Court said it would not hear his case and it would not stay the order which has kept him in this country while court appeals were pending.

CNN will continue to cover this story. We'll bring you more in just a moment.



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