NicaNotes: Nicaragua’s Finance Minister Ivan Acosta: “We are going to have GDP growth … of between 4 and 5%, which is important!”

[This interview by Dennis Schwartz took place on the Revista En Vivo program on Nicaragua’s Channel 4 on June 8, 2022. The interview has been edited for length. Translation by Tortilla con Sal and AfGJ. The entire interview can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTiAukig1hs]

Finance Minister Ivan Acosta appearing on the Channel 4 program Revista en Vivo.

Dennis Schwartz: Let’s start! How has May been economically for our country? How is our economy doing?

Minister Iván Acosta: The year 2021 was an exceptional year in economic performance, in growth, across all the numbers. If we look at expenditure, it means that the construction of roads is accelerating, the momentum in drinking water and sanitation is continuing; more resources are being invested to make an impact on employment and above all on the welfare of the population.

In the first months of this year, up until May 2022, 22,000 new jobs have been recovered, which is also important from the point of view of the Social Security Institute records. Therefore, all indications suggest that the economic evolution of 2022, as of May 31, is in line with the projections made by the Central Bank, that we will have a GDP growth. We are not talking about the Monthly Index of Economic Activities but about Gross Domestic Product, of between 4% and 5%, which is important. Four or 5%, according to those data that you have probably seen from ECLAC and the World Bank, would place us close to those that are going to have the best performance in the economy of 2022, in spite of the turbulence and fluctuations of the international economy.

From January to May, the economy has evolved close to the estimates…. Furthermore, as regards the budgetary execution performance of public institutions the expenditure part is going at a higher pace than in 2021.

It is important to make the comparisons, 2021 was a year of a reactivation, a growth of 11.3%, the highest ever combined figure. During the COVID pandemic in Latin America there was 8.3% growth over the two years, 2020-21, and definitely those numbers have been the base scenario that we are acting on in 2022.

How much is it estimated that the economy has moved in the first five months? The third month cut-off tells us that the Monthly Activity Index is performing above 6%, as of March. And we estimate that with the fiscal data for May, economic activity is still very strong. ….

Schwartz: How has this worked out?

Acosta: First, one can see financial activity recovering, which was one of the sectors most delayed during the reactivation. Credit is increasing little by little; there is a positive impact on deposits. Deposits are [growing] close to 4%, similar to their best figures which were in March 2018, at 4%. Reserves exceed by more than US$1.5 billion the best figures of December 2017. That is, we are talking about over US$4.3 billion as against US$2.7 billion approximately.

We are talking about more than US$1.5 billion extra in reserves, so we have a much stronger Central Bank than in 2017…. We see fiscal performance expressed via taxation with a lot of activity; April was extraordinary and May is even better. So, the accumulated results from January to May in tax and fiscal terms are on a very good path and support the budget expenditures, which is the most important thing.

Schwartz: When we talk about spending, people believe that we are standing still, and in order to spend more we have to receive more, through our activity.

Acosta: Fundamentally, the budget is a question on which one probably always wonders, how is the expenditure financed? The fundamentals of the economy and the economic policies and public policies defined by President Daniel Ortega, are that most of the expenses must be financed with tax revenues. That is to say, expenditure expands as a higher growth rate of tax revenue is achieved, and this is expressed in the budget deficit.

In the last seven or eight years, or about 10 years, a decade, … the amount of resources from tax revenue, from other budget revenue, plus the evolution of previous savings allows us to finance the budget, adding in too some bond issues in the securities market and also international financing via loans or donations. If they are loans or donations these are incorporated into the budget.

When one looks in the end at what you have in your favor and what you spend, it is very important that the Nicaraguan economy, financial policy, and fiscal policy have been very prudent; that is to say, seeking the greatest efficiency and strengthening savings at opportune moments so as to be able to resist shocks such as the one in 2018, or the pandemic. I think this is very important, that is, we are always spending according to what we have, not spending beyond what we have.

Schwartz: It is very meticulous work, to be making adjustments, to be carrying it out where possible while not stopping the social programs that are fundamental. Based on this, controlling prices in fuel, energy, imports of the agricultural products that are required now that we are in the rainy season, how is it being achieved? How do we maintain it?

Acosta: The global economy is suffering from several shocks, a set of shocks that have had an impact on the global international economic performance. …. Nicaragua is part of the Global Economy, and so, since February, President Ortega has given us instructions to look ahead as best we can and to formulate solutions that guarantee the least impact on our population, on consumption, and above all to protect production.

So, what has been done? In his speeches of May 4 and May 18, President Ortega stated very clearly that we had to adjust to the new times and face the turbulence or fluctuations in the economy. And thus there are four or five containment measures that are having a positive impact to offset as much as possible the effects apparent in the global economy.

First of all, the most important, very important resources have been invested in keeping the price of gasoline, diesel and cooking gas stable. …. Secondly, there is a very meticulous management policy, the issue of the electricity rate in which there is a policy that began back in 2019, to take all measures to maintain rate stability in energy, which is another of the leading prices of the economy. If energy rises, the whole chain of productive costs rises, but it also has a direct impact on Nicaraguan families. The policy of containment measures and energy subsidy [for households where] the consumption is less than 150KWh/month has been guaranteed for a long time, but as of 2019 the electricity rate has been stabilized….

Since the Government took office in 2007, we have worked to transform the electricity generation matrix. That is to say, a very important amount is being generated, sixty or 70%, from renewables. So, this isolates it from the global impact of oil; but, there is a part which is still generated with fuel oil. So, it is important that the policies defined by Comandante Ortega include controlling those rates, and that guarantee that the rates have not fluctuated since 2019, but they have been controlled via a clear Policy of Rate Subsidy to protect the production, employment and tranquility of families.

On the other hand, there is a whole Production Promotion Policy, to ensure market supply. One of the most important issues against inflation is that there is production, and for that … we must attend to producers, we must assist, we must transfer capacities to the producers in order to guarantee good production. Besides, with a good rainy season there must be a good production and a good supply to the market.

At the end of May we can confirm that the preliminary numbers on exports show growth of 18.5% with more than US$1.88 billion exported. That18.5% rate, having closed in 2021 at US$3.6 billion, indicates that we are going to end the year above US$4.0 billion. This is a forecast, in other words, we should be above US$4 billion. Why are we going to be above US$4 billion? Because the volume of coffee exports has increased and prices are on the rise; they have reached US$335 [per hundredweight] today. Gold remains above US$1,850 [per ounce] and volumes are also increasing. …. Likewise, in products derived from sugar cane, we are talking about rum, more is being exported. Peanuts, tobacco products [mainly specialty cigars], even dairy products and beans are growing significantly with respect to 2021.

That is to say, you have a higher total export volume of 2% higher than in 2021, and in values it is 18.5% higher; this indicates that we are going to have higher exports than in 2021. I estimate about US$400 million more than in 2021, together with a positive impact on domestic demand, because there is a good volume of family remittances arriving in the country. The Central Bank said that they grew 26% in April, and I believe they will continue to grow in May.

On the other hand too, investments have been recovering. The Central Bank also announced that in 2021 it closed [foreign investments] at more than US$1.2 billion and this rhythm will continue. That is to say, if all the sectors, investors, private sectors, producers, transportation, commerce, popular commerce, popular markets continue working hard, we are going to have a very good year, regardless of the turbulence or fluctuations in the international economy.

Schwartz: That is what is foreseen at a global level, what had been calculated to be going up has in fact collapsed. But our economy, thank God, is well managed.

Acosta: The World Bank and the Monetary Fund … are very conservative, [and] with the indicators they have, they had estimated the Global Economy growing at 3.4% and they have lowered it to 0.9%. The Emerging Economies … have been adjusted by two points less, from 5.4% to 3.4%. …. In the case of Central America and even Latin America it has been adjusted down, but we have Central Bank Indicators indicating that despite the fluctuations we remain between 4% and 5%. …. So we would be in a known range, where the Nicaraguan economy has shown its performance and that is close to its potential GDP, as economists say. It is close to its described capacity.

Also, and it is very important, so I am going to emphasize this, if I am producing, if I am finding markets, and I am getting good prices, and my internal demand is supported by the family remittance transfers, and also investments are coming back; if my trade balance is going well, foreign investment and private investment are reactivating, and we have a macroeconomic stability policy keeping sufficient resources in the Central Bank, so that the banking sector is funded, and we have a good execution of expenditure, and the public investment program is at the same pace as in 2021, all of this means that you have good results, regardless of what may be forecast abroad…

So we foresee that we are going to be the economy with the best evolution in Central America.

Schwartz: We are growing economically with small and medium producers, and those who have already invested too. This creates openings, because the banks are looking for where to put more money, and they have money. Now they are the ones who are looking for clients to lend to. We are talking about this economic stability that we Nicaraguans have thanks to government policy. We say, physically healthy mind, healthy body, healthy country, healthy economy. We are advancing also by managing public investment. In relation to the priority investments that we have, what are they?

Acosta: The priority investments that have been defined since 2007 by Comandante Daniel Ortega and Compañera Rosario, who have placed great emphasis on improving the competitiveness and productivity of the country. We have concentrated on eight fundamental sectors and, of these, four are very visible.

Very visible is everything that has been done in electric energy, the electrification program whose coverage is already at 99.2%. This is very important because it gives competitiveness; it gives dignity to those who were excluded … and incorporates them as protagonists and economic agents. We are talking about 92.2% coverage after it had been at 52%, 53%, 54% until 2007 [when it began increasing].

We are rapidly approaching 6,000 kilometers [of] highways, in what we call our transportation programs, when [in the past] the most highways we had was 2,000 kilometers and of those only 600 kilometers were in good condition.

These are issues that are very visible. We are talking about building the bridge over the Wawa River, and it is not that we are thinking about it, any more than we were merely saying there will be a road to Bilwi. We are building the bridge over the Wawa River, a bridge of more than 350 linear meters.

There has been enormous progress in potable water and sanitation, bringing potable water to municipal headwaters that were excluded for centuries; we are talking about Bluefields and Bilwi too. We have invested in Chinandega and Masaya, which are Pacific departmental capitals, but we have also reached the center of the country, Santo Tomás, Acoyapa; there is an important effort in water and sanitation in Nandaime. In other words, these are broad programs, with big investments and this is very visible to the population.

Another one of the programs is the largest investment in hospital infrastructure in Central America….. World class hospitals are being built in the departmental capitals and also in the municipalities where there are now a large number of primary hospitals. We are [also] talking about … investment in the quality of services in well-known hospitals in Managua. The Manolo Morales is not the same as it was 20 years ago; the Manolo Morales has had investment in the operating theaters. In Granada US$515,00018 are being invested at this moment. ….

Here COVID could be addressed because there was planning and strategic vision by Comandante Ortega to invest in health and education. Education and health are fundamental issues that had been abandoned during the long and dark years of neoliberalism from 1990 to 2006. That has changed and it is very clearly seen in public investment. But there are also other important investments that have been advancing that are probably less noticeable; for example, the strategic improvement to the Port of Corinto.

It is well known that this is linked to economic activity, to export and import activity, but there is a national investment strategy of almost US$200 million in ports, improvement of airports, including Bluefields and Corn Island, important works of modernization.

But back to education, there is also a sustained policy of improving educational infrastructure, investing in quality, in what we would call improvements in all the pillars that influence secondary education. That is to say, not only in infrastructure but also in access to the internet, information technology, the social policies of education, the policies that minimize desertion, by guaranteeing the best conditions. The school meals program falls within this educational policy.

We are designing a program to strengthen the teacher training colleges, the entire teacher training college network, which is a very important issue. There is an effort to strengthen telecommunications. You may have heard about the broadband program that has to do with rural telecommunications, and certainly being in Managua one cannot imagine how someone from the region of El Tortuguero communicates with the rest of the country. So this is a rural telecommunications program and it is very important to incorporate it.

The ones I am mentioning are programs that of course, if you are not involved in them, then you cannot see it happening, but the whole country is getting connected, no matter from which rural hamlet you are connecting. This has been a part of the modernization of the country during the administrations of Comandante Ortega.

There is a strong momentum in production. We are strengthening our technological development centers, for example, related to improvements in research for the development of seeds resistant to climate change. We are talking about strengthening the Bovine Traceability System from IPSA, strengthening testing laboratories, and technical capacities. Infrastructure of all kinds are also focused in that area. ….

Schwartz: We address it practically every day but it is good to remind ourselves, how the international economic environment is affecting Nicaragua….

Acosta: The classic thing is that if you increase the interest rate, you have to make efforts from the production side to keep the markets supplied. In our case, in addition to keeping our market supplied and working hard for food security, we have to produce enough surpluses so we can look for food markets.

We produce a lot of food, so it is very important to produce when it is being said that there could be an international food shortage. In that case we will be able to sell more beans, more dairy products, more meat, more coffee, more sugar. It is very important to work on that in order to have enough supply for our [domestic] market and also to support our exports….

So from the point of view of ensuring that the economy is not negatively impacted, we must promote greater investment to create the necessary conditions for investment to continue. What are the basic conditions for investment to take place? Working hard for macroeconomic stability and fiscal discipline; that is to say, low deficits and monetary stability. These are a great attraction to investment and we have seen that investment continues to come, which is important.

Schwartz: In addition, there is great recognition of Nicaragua in this regard.

Acosta: There is another important issue, namely maintaining what we call debt stability. For example, there are countries here in Central America that have accumulated debt of 75% or 80% of GDP, while we are around 52% or 54%; so that is very important. There are publications with these figures, so this is public information that can be verified. These are essential indicators for investment and, when investment comes, it generates employment to counteract the threats of recession and economic decline, above all.

That is why I was telling you that there are important positive economic indicators: employment is growing, 20,000 jobs in the first four or five months of the year. That is very important. Exports are growing; production is growing. Not only exports in terms of price, but also the volume of exports is increasing.

Schwartz: Iván Acosta, Minister of Finance and Public Credit, thank you for your visit. We hope to see you soon here again. Be well.

Acosta: Thank you very much, Dennis.


Briefs
By Nan McCurdy

June 26 Webinar with Sofia Clark
Please join this fascinating webinar: Nicaragua’s Mastery of International Law: Resisting Domination, Promoting Peaceful Progress at 12 noon Pacific / 1 PM Nicaragua / 3 PM Eastern / 8 PM Greenwich UK.  Register here.

 “One of the most enduring legacies of the Sandinista People’s Revolution is Nicaragua’s commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes and to honoring the rulings of the International Court of Justice. This commitment has acquired a truly national character.” – Sofia M. Clark

Sofia Clark is a Nicaraguan political researcher and analyst, currently at the Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann Center in Managua.  She was Deputy Chief of Staff for her uncle, Fr. Miguel d’Escoto, when he presided over the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly.  She also served in three UN field missions and three OAS conflict resolution programs. She will explain how Nicaragua uses its legal expertise to challenge the hegemonic designs of both a world superpower (the US) and a regional power (Colombia).  And she will describe Nicaragua’s contributions in various fields of international law, including:

  • Peaceful defense in cases against the US, Costa Rica, and Colombia
  • Participation in the Sixth (Legal) Committee of the UN General Assembly
  • Active involvement in UN Climate Change negotiations – arguing for binding measures, working to establish the Green Fund
  • Father Miguel d’Escoto’s proposal for reinventing the United Nations

Join the NicaNet Google Group
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Government Measures to Keep Inflation Down and Fight Poverty
The Minister of Industry, Development and Commerce, José de Jesús Bermúdez, stated that the government is implementing the National Plan to Fight Poverty 2022-2026 and the Production, Consumption and Commerce Plan, “the main guidelines of which are increasing the productivity, training and technification of the rural labor force.”…. “We also foresee the expansion of international markets for the sale of exports and for the addition of value to our production, which is essential for the growth of our production and our diversification of export products.” Bermúdez highlighted that the government is taking actions so that the basic food basket does not increase in cost due to the prices of imported raw materials. “We issued a ministerial agreement extending a safeguard which we have had for many years which is aimed at lowering import duties on some basic food products like wheat flour–0% tariff. Crude oil does not pay a tariff; refined soybean oil does not pay a tariff; palm oil is also exempted and refined palm oil pays 5%,” he explained. Three thousand metric tons of chicken will continue to be brought from the US to supply the popular markets and its price will be maintained at C$26.50 Córdobas per pound (US$.75 cents a pound). (Informe Pastran, 9 June, 2022)

First Quarter Gross Domestic Product Shows 5.8% Growth
The Central Bank published its “First Quarter Gross Domestic Product Report” on June 10 which states that GDP registered 5.8% growth during the first quarter of 2022. The economic sectors with the greatest contribution to GDP growth were hotels and restaurants (20.9%), mining (13%), electricity (11.7%), commerce (9.6%), fishery and aquaculture (6.5%), and manufacturing (6.2%). (Nicaragua News, 13 June 2022)

Entry of Foreign Military Personnel for Humanitarian Purposes Approved
The National Assembly on June 14 approved the entry and transit of military personnel, ships, and aircrafts of the Conference of Armed Forces of the Central American Region, the Russian Federation, Venezuela, and Cuba for exchange and humanitarian aid purposes during the second half of 2022.

The Presidency sent to the National Assembly for approval a legislative decree that allows the Nicaraguan Army to carry out exchanges with other armed forces in order to promote practical exercises and strengthen professionalization. Among the countries authorized for exchange of personnel and humanitarian assistance are Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Dominican Republic, United States of America, Russian Federation, Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba.

This decree is effective from July 1 to December 31, 2022; after that date it must be approved again for the following semester. Deputy Filiberto Rodriguez expressed his rejection of the manipulation campaign that has been developed by several national and international media outlets questioning this measure. He assured the Assembly that this interchange is already a tradition and that it includes several countries with which Nicaragua has military relations. It is not new and is approved every six months.

“They will be able to exchange ideas, they will be able to train, they will be able to test their technical and scientific capabilities, improving them, so that our Army, which always makes us proud, will be at the forefront of resolving the difficulties of our people,” stated Rodriguez.

For his part, Deputy Wálmaro Gutiérrez, president of the Economic Commission, pointed out that since 2007, 40 decrees of this type have been approved, for the exchange between the Nicaraguan military and other armed forces for humanitarian purposes. (Radio La Primerisima 14 June 2022)

Advances in Roads
The Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Oscar Mojica, explained that the Cosiguina-Potosí road project in Chinandega is moving forward. “This is an area that has been declared by the presidents of Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador as a zone of peace and sustainable development. We started this project on July 8, 2021, and it will be finished in September 2022. It is 15 km. of hydraulic concrete road, a fundamental link from the Gulf of Fonseca to the rest of the country. The Ochomogo-Las Salinas road project in the Department of Rivas is a 29 km.-long project. “This road will link the Mesoamerican corridor with the main tourist zone of the South Pacific in Tola with 13 bridges under construction which will have a big impact on the tourist development, fishing production and aquaculture,” he said. (Informe Pastran, 9 June 2022)

OPEC Loan for Limay-Pueblo Nuevo Road
A loan was approved from the OPEC Fund for International Development for a 22 km. road project in the department of Estelí that will connect the municipalities of Pueblo Nuevo and San Juan de Limay. The Empalme Tranquera – Pueblo Nuevo Road Project, will cost US$26.6 million; the OPEC Fund will finance US$23 million and the rest will come from the national treasury. “This will improve the economy in this productive area,” said National Assembly Deputy Jilma Rosales. This loan agreement with OPEC is part of the effort that the government has been making over the last 16 years to strengthen road interconnection. In 2007, 56% of the municipalities had no interconnection with the rest of the country’s highways. “In 2007, we had only 2007 km. of asphalt, concrete or paved road in the entire national territory. By the end of the year 2021, we had 3,108 new km of paved, hydraulic concrete roads built by the government for a total of 5,117 km. of roads that we have today,” said Assembly Deputy José Santos Figueroa. (TN8, 14 June 2022)

940 New Officers, One Third Women, Graduate from Police Course
Some 940 new officers including 331 women graduated on June 9 from the First Basic Police Course 2022 at the Walter Mendoza Martínez Police Academy in Managua. They swore to defend the peace, tranquility and security of the people. The graduation ceremony was in honor of the memory of the Hero of Peace and Security, Lieutenant Marlon José Requene López, who was killed on July 12, 2018, along with four other officers and a school teacher, when a group of well-armed terrorists attacked the Morrito police station in Río San Juan. The attackers then kidnapped nine policemen and women, all of whom were wounded. (Radio La Primerisima, 9 June 2022)

Cinco Pinos Has Women’s Police Station
The National Police inaugurated a Women’s Police Station in the police station of the municipality of Cinco Pinos, in the Department of Chinandega. Commissioner Johana Plata, national head of the police stations, stated that this will serve 10,000 women living in Cinco Pinos who will be able to file a formal complaint if they are victims of violence against women. (Radio La Primerisima, 9 June 2022)

92% of Population with at Least One Covid Vaccine
Vice President Rosario Murillo reported that vaccination against COVID-19 has reached 92% of the population who have at least one dose of the vaccine. Eighty-one percent of people over two years of age have had two shots, and 27% have had additional doses. Murillo announced that health fairs and mobile clinics are preparing to attend to 100,000 people beginning the week of June 13 in 980 health fairs reaching 1,200 communities, with the participation of 7,500 health workers and volunteers to provide more than 75,000 consultations, including 12,000 with specialists. There will also be dentistry, natural medicine, ultrasound, HIV tests, electrocardiograms, and PAP tests, among others. (Informe Pastran, 9 June 2022)

Big Investment in Managua’s Markets
The Managua mayor’s office will invest more than US$2 million in the eight markets of the capital this year, said vice mayor Enrique Armas. The official indicated that, in Eastern Market [where there are now more than 11,000 permanent stores], some 36 blocks of streets were completely repaired, an investment of nearly US$1 million. In addition, new pipes were installed for water and for sewage as well as storm drainage. “We have been working on repairing and changing the roofs of the market galleries. Recently the seafood shed was inaugurated in the Israel Lewites Market. Now the buyers enjoy greater comfort to acquire their products,” stated Armas. He also mentioned that the municipality built a solid waste collection center in the Virgen de Candelaria Market, located in the Monseñor Lezcano neighborhood. (Radio La Primerisima, 13 June 2022)

393 Fisher Families Receive Support
The Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture delivered 393 Fishery Production Packages to families in Desembocadura del Río Grande municipality in the Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region. The Packages include materials to make nets, thermoses, as well as tools to make shrimp pots. The purpose is to increase yield in artisanal fishing, strengthen food security and improve nutrition for families. The donation is part of the Zero Hunger Program. (Nicaragua News, 13 June 2022)

Five Schools Rebuilt
This week the Ministry of Education will inaugurate the rebuilding of five schools in the departments of Chinandega, Río San Juan, Matagalpa, and in the North Caribbean, reported Salvador Vanegas, presidential advisor on educational issues. He said that this includes schools in the community of El Rincón de García in the municipality of Villanueva, in Chinandega, the Víctor Manuel Soto National Institute in the community of Modesto Ramón Palma in the municipality of Chichigalpa, the San Bartolo School Center in the municipality of Morrito, the Instituto Nacional 4 de Abril in the Koom Río Coco community in Waspam and the Yahoska Number Two School in Rancho Grande, Matagalpa. (Radio La Primerisima, 13 June 2022)

Board Member Exposes Illegalities at an NGO
Scholar Jorge Eduardo Arellano, one of the directors of the Academia Nicaragüense de la Lengua (ANL), listed each of the reasons that led to the cancellation of the legal personality of this non-governmental organization by the National Assembly at the request of the Ministry of Government (MINGOB). He says that there was total administrative disorder, the treasurer never performed their duties and the scholarship holders were not given their money in full. Arellano said that a board member was using the organization’s Facebook account for partisan purposes. The foreign currency accounts were frozen. He recalled that, in view of the socio-political crisis, one of ANL’s members was interviewed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and could not explain the destination of the money received by his Luisa Mercado Foundation from the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation. Meanwhile, Sergio Ramirez, from the Royal Spanish Academy, protested the government’s action, alleging repression of freedom of thought. Arellano said there was no such thing. Throughout 14 years (January, 2007-September, 2021), Ramírez published freely in the newspaper La Prensa, on a biweekly basis, articles that mostly attacked the government. Arellano pointed out that the MINGOB demanded that the ANL get its papers in order and update its financial reports, objectives that it was unable to meet. To read more: https://radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias-generales/destacado/directivo-desnuda-a-sinverguenzas-y-mentirosos-de-una-ong/ (Radio La Primerisima, 14 Junio 2020)

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