ep. 07 - Nando Parrado: Survivor, Hero, Businessman, and NYT Best-Selling Author

nando parrado


From the time the plane crashed on October 13, 1972 until their rescue on December 22, Nando Parrado and his fellow Uruguayan rugby teammates were forced to cross both physical and mental boundaries. After waking from a concussion only to learn that his mother had died on impact and his sister was near death, Nando became obsessed with surviving and emerged a hero after he and teammate Roberto Canessa walked for 10 days to find their salvation. Their story of courage, teamwork, determination and leadership, experienced at a level few have known, will leave you with a heightened awareness of the value of human life.

Soon after the rescue of the 16 survivors, Nando worked with Piers Paul Read, the author chosen by the survivors to pen the best-selling bookAlive, which was made into the film of the same name starring Ethan Hawke as Nando.

Nando is the author of the New York Times bestseller Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home. In 2010, Nando was featured in the History Channel documentary I AM ALIVE: Surviving the Andes Plane Crash, which continues to air around the globe.

In the 40 years since the crash, Nando has become a successful businessman and television producer. He is the CEO of four companies and hosts several popular television programs in Uruguay.In his spare time, Nando races motorcycles, sports cars, stock cars and watercraft.



Gail Davis: [00:01:30] Welcome to a very special edition of GDA podcast. This is our first in-studio interview and we're thrilled to have Nando Parrado here. Nando is really the reason that GDA speakers exist. Many of you know Nando, many of you certainly know the story. Nando is a survivor, a hero of the 1972 plane crash in the Andes Mountains. He's also a New York Times best-selling author, and probably one of the absolute best keynote speakers. He was in town speaking to one of our clients, and we asked him to stop by. So welcome, Nando.

Nando Parrado: [00:02:00]

Hello, Gail. It's a great honor and pleasure to be here at GDA Speakers. It's been a long, long road and a long history since we first met so many years ago. I'm amazed at everything that you have made in this year's end. Especially because of our friendship, I think that it was all worthwhile.

Gail Davis: [00:02:30] Well, thank you. I really appreciate that. I know people sometimes when they have a chance, when Nando and I are on-site, they are like, "How did you meet him?" I think it would be fun for us to share the story because I always loved it when Nando interrupts and gives his version. I won't tell the long version but the quick version is that I used to work for a company called EDS, the company that Ross Perot founded. And I used to manage their corporate incentive events department.

One year the chairman issued me a challenge to find a speaker that was new and different, and someone that everyone would like to hear but no one had heard, and someone that was global in their appeal. I happened to watch the movie Alive, and back in 1994 there was no Google so I set out to find Nando. I'll say to you all the iterations of all the effort that I went through to find him, but maybe Nando you could pick up on when that phone rang one day and we connected.

Nando Parrado: [00:04:00]

Yeah, suddenly one day at midday I was working on my hardware store in Montevideo in Uruguay, my secretary, Sandra, she's still with me after 25 years working with me, she had gone out to lunch and then this phone rings and this American voice from a lady trying to speak some Spanish, [foreign language 00:03:46]. Okay, okay. You speak English, let's keep on going, in your own language. I'm actually I'm not a speaker, I'm a businessman. I work on hardware stores, on cable TV, television production, real estate. That's what I do. When that phone rang this lady asked me a few questions, and asked me if I wanted to speak for their annual meeting for a big company in the US.

I was totally surprised because it had been 26 years since the accident happened and people always ask me, "Why didn't you speak before? Were you traumatized or worried or suffering the consequences of a traumatic experience?" I said, "No, no. I never spoke because nobody asked me to speak." I was very busy with my businesses, my family, my sports, my friends, my dogs, my life. And then this lady comes into my life and she invites me to speak in Hawaii, in Maui. This was March, I think, and the event was in December. She kept calling and calling a few times and finally she convinced me to go. Actually, my wife decided that we should go because it was in Maui, Hawaii. She said, "Nando, why don't we go to Hawaii. These people are paying the plane tickets. Everything was ... We'll spend a nice week in Hawaii, and then we come back and keep on going on with our lives." Twenty-something years later here I am at GDA Speakers, probably the best speakers bureau in the world.

Gail Davis: [00:06:00]

Thank you, Nando, that's sweet. Actually, there's one other tiny part of the story, and that is Nando told me that he had only given one speech. I asked him, "Well, who was that speech for?" He said YPO, the Young President's Organization. I had known for many years the quality of YPO and that they only hire the best speakers. I called out to the headquarters and the girl said to me, "You'll never get him to speak at EDS. But if you do, it'll be the coup of your career." Not only was it the coup of my career but it ended up changing my career.

Nando Parrado: [00:07:00]

Yeah, I remember Gail exactly after that keynote in Hawaii I was surprised, I was amazed that the amount of people there for me, 700 or 800 people were a lot of people, and I had never done something like that before. Then you came to me and you said, "Can we have a word together afterwards?" You said, "Look, what I've seen in that ballroom I've never seen it before happening in the world. So I think I'm going to quit my work at EDS and I'll become your agent." I said you're crazy because I'm going back home to Montevideo in Uruguay to do my own things. And well, life changes everything, and if you want to know what happens tomorrow you'll never know. Things just evolve, and like I said before, 20-something years afterwards here we are sitting in Dallas on this beautiful building and beautiful office. I just gave one of the nicest keynotes I've ever done to Equinix .

Gail Davis: [00:07:30]

Yes, it was ... The standing ovation was truly something to behold. I've now own this company for almost 18 years, and I mean I've seen the standing ovation where people stand up and clap. But this was so heartfelt and you could tell that the people were so moved, and their standing was more of an act of respect, I think, and they just continue to clap and continue to clap and Nando was like, "It's okay," and they just continued to clap so it was a beautiful thing. You know, Nando I can't imagine that there are many people listening to this that don't know the story. Would you mind just ... I mean not the keynote version but would you mind just telling them a very abbreviated version of the story?

Nando Parrado: [00:09:00]

Well, I'll try. I would need about three or four hours but I think we only have a few minutes. Many years ago when I was a member of our Rugby team in Uruguay. We took a charter plane to fly to Santiago in Chile to play a match against the Chilean Rugby champion. We never arrived, the plane crashed in the middle of the Andes. I had flown with the whole team and I had invited my mother and my sister to fly with me to see the game. To make the story short we had to survive for 72 days on the summit of the Andes mountains. Over the 45 people onboard that airplane 29 survived the initial impact, 16 survived at the end. My mother, my sister, my three best friends died on the crash. I just didn't want to die. I wanted to go back to my father. I didn't want those mountains to steal away from me my life.

Even though all the survivor experts we have spoken to they tell us that the most that we could have survive was 48 hours. We survived two and a half months without water on the coldest temperatures you can imagine. Very ill-equipped we were dressed to go to summer place within ... We only had sweaters, some of the guys had sweaters, and just the way that we had to survive depending on another it's one of the most fascinating survival stories in history. Sometimes I look back and I say, "I can't believe I just did that, that I was part of the ordeal." Because when you're doing something you're not making history, history develops afterwards, after people see what happened. The only thing I wanted to was to survive and come back to see my friend, to embrace him, and tell him that not all the family had been lost.

Gail Davis: Right. I know so often when I'm talking to people about Nando they ask me the question, "What is the message?" I always say there's a strong story about teamwork, there's a strong story about leadership, and there's a strong story about the power of the human spirit. I tell you it's a story that never gets old. The timeline, for those of you who may not be familiar with it, the plane crash occurred in 1972, and then Piers Paul Read wrote a book called Alive that came out in 1973. Then in 1992, a film was released called Alive where Ethan Hawke portrayed Nando. Nando wrote his own story, Miracle in the Andes, and it debuted as number 10 on the New York Times bestseller list. That's unheard of especially for a first-time author.

Nando Parrado: [00:12:00]

Yeah. Really, when something happens and you see people write books immediately, they write books I don't know if they want to do some strange things in their minds to recover from that traumatic experience, or they want to cash on the experience, or whatever. I write it 30 years to write the book, 30 years, 30 years. People say, "Why 30 years?" Even then I didn't want to write a book just for the sake of writing a book, but I wanted to give to my father something for his 90th birthday. So three years before that I thought, "What can I give him after everything that we have gone through?" He has a house, he has a nice car, he has clothes, he has art, he already traveled all over. What can I give him? So I spent three years writing a book, and the day that he got to be 90 I gave him the printed book with an embrace. I think that for a person, for a father that was fantastic. That was the only reason I wrote a book. I never thought it was going to be a bestseller.

Gail Davis: That's incredible. I tell you it's a story that never tires. Kyle, I known you've grown up. Nando's just pretty much always been a part of our lives, and our family. I've just be curious from a young millenial's perspective how this story has impact you. You're in an age of navigation systems and high tech world. I mean can you even wrap your head around what it would be like to be stranded with no electronics?

Kyle Davis: [00:13:30]

I mean it's funny because 30 minutes ago Nando walked into the office, and I'm complaining about being tired. I worked late last night, and I'm tired today. And then it just puts everything to perspective like I can't do that. What a load of crap. Every single time ... What's interesting to me, and this is I'll tell two brief side stories about it but a few years ago I was working on a morning job, MSNBC. Ethan Hawke was coming on that day, on one of the days that I was working. I had no idea, they never tell anybody who the guest is prior to the show because they don't want ... I had no clue he was coming.

I was told, "Hey, go grab him. Bring him up into the green room." I'm walking him in there and I just said to him, "You don't know me, you really don't. But there's something that you did about 20 years ago that just changed my life forever. You did this movie called Alive, and you played Nando, and it's because of Nando that I'm able to do these things and everything else. My mom is his agent and does all his bookings and everything else." He was really nice and he was very heartfelt. The jacket that he was wearing was the same parka jacket that he was wearing when he was shooting it, and he turned around and it said Nando on the back of it. Isn't that crazy?

Nando Parrado: [00:15:00]

Yeah, that's crazy and it was for me a very interesting experience to work with all these movie people, and with Ethan living with him for almost three months during the filming. He's a great actor, has a great talent, but he never wanted to be Nando. He only previously to every scene that he was shooting he said, "I don't want to walk like you, look like you. I just want to feel what you felt in that moment." So he only asked me about feelings, about how I felt about that part of the film, the avalanche or the walk, and on dialogues with all the people that ... He was very good at that. He didn't want to imitate me, he just wanted to feel like I've felt.

Kyle Davis: [00:15:30]

I think the other ... I say it's a story but really it's a series of stories that always happen to me. The story of the 1972 Andes plane crash in general has just been reproduced so many times. There's a History Channel documentary that was done a few years ago. Every so often there's some survivor show on Discovery or TLC or something like that, and they make make reference to it. I'm sitting there with a friend or we're reading an article and someone goes, "Man, did you hear about this thing that happened?" I go, "You're talking about Nando? I know Nando. Let me tell you the whole story. Let me you how cool he is. Have you ever been to Punta del Este, Uruguay? Have you ever had dulce de leche? That is the most important thing. I want to talk about Belgian waffles. I don't want to talk about ..." I'm like, go here and speak. I'll let Nando tell the story. Yeah, I mean, it's mentioned so many times.

I remember we did this event. What's the production company? AMS or whatever? They had this production company with the guy who was the climber and he ...

Gail Davis: Ricardo.

Kyle Davis: Yeah, Ricardo.

Gail Davis: [00:16:30] Peña?

Nando Parrado: Ricardo Peña, yeah, he's a climber.

Kyle Davis: To circle back to the tech and all that stuff I remember him grabbing me and saying ... We were just having a side bar conversation. He was mentioning that he has all these technical climbing gears. He has crampons, he has the hammer with the ... I don't even know what they're called. He has gloves, he has all these material, a GPS, a satellite phone, everything.

Gail Davis: And training.

Kyle Davis: And training.

Gail Davis: [00:17:00]

Yeah, I mean he has prepared and trained to be a climber.

Kyle Davis: What was interesting about him is I think the words that he said, to paraphrase him, I don't want to quote him but to paraphrase him was it was one of the most challenging climbs that he's ever done. It's the same time of year that you were up there or maybe it was even more of the summer months. He just said how challenging it was because I believe they, correct me if I'm wrong, they did the climb from ...

Nando Parrado: [00:17:30]

Yeah, they tried ... Ricardo Peña and some of his friends they tried to recreate the route that Roberto Canessa and myself did so many years back. We just did one of the ... We didn't know that, and I still don't believe that we did that, but one of the most intense and most dangerous mountain traverse is in the history of mountain climbing. I can relate to that because we crossed the pole and it's ranging 10 days and a half without any equipment, no gloves, no crampons, no ropes, nothing whatsoever. Once I was in Aspen with my family and a gentleman comes to me and he says, "Look, my name is Glen [Por-sec 00:18:15]. I'm belong to the United States Climbers Club and we would like to invite you to come to the club."

So they invited me for a dinner there, and there were a lot of climbers there at dinner. Eight or nine on the table and I went there with my wife. We spoke so much about mountain climbing and all the risks and everything that you need to climb. At the end of the dinner they stood up and they made a toast and they said, "We want to make a toast to the best climber in the world, the man who has achieved what we dream of achieving, mountain climbing and traversing without anything, Alpine style to the most." That's when I ... My wife told me, we're on exit, "See, Nando I think that you did something that was quite strange and quite difficult." So those are the moments that you realize that something strong happened there.

Kyle Davis: [00:19:30]

Just to provide just some context for people listening to this as to what made the climb so difficult. Nando has already mentioned it but they had no gear. They're going from ... It was summertime ...

Nando Parrado: We had never seen mountains before.

Kyle Davis: They've never seen snow.

Nando Parrado: We'd come from the flattest country in the world, from the beach.

Kyle Davis: Yeah, he's from the beach, this beautiful place in Uruguay. You got to go, they have hotdogs, they got ... What are those little hamburger things, Nando?

Nando Parrado: Chivitos.

Kyle Davis: [00:20:00]

Get some chivitos or whatever they are. We'll put a place. But they're going from a warm, temperate climate to a warm, temperate climate, and they don't really bring anything with them. Maybe jeans, maybe a light sweater. They climbing gear that you wore was just piecemeal together, it was pulled together, parts of the plane, parts of fuselage, made into your sunglasses and what-not. I think another interesting thing is that I believe, you've said this, too, is that you believed you were further west than you really were? In fact, the quickest, if we want to say this, the quickest way out would have been to go east.

Nando Parrado: 00:20:30]

Yeah. The mountain range is wide and according to all the information that we had then the map that we had we thought that we were further west than where we were, but actually we were in Argentina not in Chile. All the mountains looked the same, and we thought we were five miles away from a town while we were some 70, 75 miles away. Brains, we knew we had to wait for the summer to attempt an escape but summer took a long time to arrive, two and a half months. A lot of things happened in between.

Kyle Davis: [00:21:30]

That's the fascinating thing is like you do what you can with the best knowledge that you have, and it's just a struggle bus. I hate the struggle bus, it's not even appropriate for this term. But it's a struggle all the way there, and I think that's just the true thing. One of the things that I most like about your story, Nando, is the element of being a team and how you keep bringing team work and everything back into it.

Nando Parrado: [00:22:00]

Yeah. You know that word teamwork is so widely used all over the world especially in the US. There's teamwork, one team, we are one, teamwork. It's a fantastic word, and it only works when it's really a team. You can try to be a team but then it's not a team. The teamwork really saved us because we were a team years before we crashed. We knew each other very well since we were in school, then in high school, then playing Rugby on the [inaudible 00:22:05] Rugby team. Ten minutes after the plane crash we were a team and we had a captain.

Marcelo, the captain, he was already a captain even under that stress of a plane crash. Where I feel that flying commercially and nobody would have known each other it would have been very, very difficult to survive because we had to survive on the first three, four, five, six hours where they find all the rest of the survivors. So the decisions taken by Marcelo and the guys were okay on the first hours of the crash were absolutely fundamental to the outcome. On a commercial airplane maybe by the time they get to know each other it would have been too late.

Kyle Davis: [00:23:00]

Yeah. I just think that's the most important takeaway is that the ability to be able to create a team quickly if you could, but the reality is you had a team already in place and that helped with your survival.

Gail Davis: [00:23:30]

I think it's an important takeaway but I think there is something else. I often say to meeting planners I can pretty much assure you there will be no one in the audience who has ever survived a plane crash at cruising altitude. Maybe on takeoff, maybe on landing, but not at cruising altitude. I can pretty much assure you there will be no one who's survived in the Andes for 72 days, but what I can tell you is that everybody will relate. One of the things that Nando told me a long time ago, he was after a book signing and he heard some powerful stories. He said, "You know, Gail we all have our own Andes," and so for me the real takeaway is that this story is just a metaphor for no matter what situation you're in, what obstacle you're overcoming. I think that's what it resonates.

Nando Parrado: [00:24:00]

I think that's very nice and also very romantic. Everybody relates to some things sometimes, even they relate to a sports figure, a sportsman, or a celebrity or an actor, or they want to be that actor, they relate. But life is simpler than that. Life is very simple and things happen. Things happen. A lot of people would like to know how they would have reacted if they were in a situation like that. How they have reacted no one knows. Nobody knows. When I speak to them I don't try to give a lecture or a lesson on anything, I just share what I felt over there, and what I have learned over there.

We learned at that tender age, remember that the average age was 19 on that airplane, we learned what people learn when they are 85 or 90 and they look back and they say, "I wish I could have live my life in another way." We went through very difficult situations more than anybody can think. I can rephrase some writer that once wrote that no animal would have done what I have did to survive on a strange and difficult situation. That happened to us, too. We learnt, we live, and we live our present which is the most important part of our lives. I never look back.

Gail Davis: Nando, I've been in your audience so many times and I know people always want to know, are you still in touch with the other survivors?

Nando Parrado: Obviously, yes. Of the 16 survivors 15 are still alive. Last year Javier Methol passed away. He was the oldest one. When we were 20 he was about 38, 40 older in the airplane, so biologically ...

Gail Davis: It's time to go.

Nando Parrado: [00:27:00]

It's time to go sometimes. 15 of us we see each other quite often because Montevideo is the only big city in Uruguay. 14 of us we live in Montevideo, Juan Pedro lives in Buenos Aires. On December 22nd every year, which is the date that we were rescued or let's say we found rescue because we rescued ourselves, which is very different, and we celebrate on that day. We have a party, we celebrate life, and we also celebrate the friends that are not with us anymore, our friends who died on the plane crash, members of our Rugby club. Of the 17 elite players in that trip, it was the first division Rugby team, 12 died on the plane crash. We celebrate, on the first year there were 16 survivors, and two girlfriends. Last December more than 150 persons were there. We got married, sons, grandchildren, and the family's keep growing and growing. It's a story of love and life.

Gail Davis: Yeah. Nando ended his presentation yesterday with a new slide where he talked about the legacy, and it's a beautiful photograph of him holding his beautiful grandchildren. I can assure you there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Kyle Davis: [00:27:30]

Before we wrap up though, because I know we're heading towards that time, I do want to talk about what Nando does in this free time.

Gail Davis: That's a good thing. Nando the person.

Kyle Davis: [00:28:00]

Nando the person. One of my favorite things in the world is cars and car racing. I have one person and one person to blame for that. That is Nando Parrado. He's made me addicted to everything. He sends me car magazines in Spanish that I don't know how to read but I learned it. What's going on? What are you doing? What businesses? What TV shows? I mean you've got so much going on.

Nando Parrado: [00:28:30]

Actually the good thing about my life is that I'm not a speaker. I'm not pressed by the conditions that all speakers look up. I don't want to speak unless the conditions are met, and the place is nice, and I meet interesting people, and go to beautiful places because I'm not a speaker. I just take it as a new and nice experience in my life that has allowed me to meet fantastic people, get some knowledge on different things, see different places of the world that I won't have seen. My life is I'm a businessman. I already work a lot in my life, I already worked a lot. I worked on the family hardware business, I had the most important television ... We produce TV shows in Uruguay, we produce five different TV shows every week for the local channels. Then I went into cable TV and some real estate. I raced cars for many years, I raced cars.

First, I race motorcycles, Motocross. I won the South American Motocross Championship in 1975. Then I went to race cars. I went to race in South America, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay. And then I went to race in Europe. In Europe I met a beautiful girl, I married her in Belgium in Zolder when I was racing. We have been married for 37 years now. She gave me two beautiful daughters and I have these grandchildren. But one of the TV programs that I produce is the Real Top Gear because it was in the year before Top Gear so what I do usually is I drive fantastic and beautiful cars in the way that nobody can drive when you buy them for the street. So we test cars, we really, really, really lived those brakes, red hot, and no [inaudible 00:30:09] tires. I produce TV shows which had a lot to do with cars.

Kyle Davis: [00:30:30]

Nando is single-handedly responsible for two clat replacements in my first car which was a 1990 Nissan 300ZX. He taught me how to heel toe. Yes, I don't know, there's a lot of fun stuff there. If anything, the other day I think so many people ... The funny thing about Nando is some people will see him and they'll just be like, "Oh, my God, it's Nando." I know Gail has a funny story that she can share in a moment, but for me it's just Nando and I want to talk cars. I want to talk about ... Let's talk about the future, let's talk about Teslas, let's talk about these things. That's always fun and exciting. I know your, to speak about your family, I think your daughter is getting married in a week or so?

Nando Parrado: [00:31:00]

Yeah, it's going to married in about two weeks.

Kyle Davis: Two weeks?

Nando Parrado: Yeah, two weeks.

Kyle Davis: That should be fun. I think we'll wrap it up there.

Nando Parrado: [00:31:30]

I'm getting worried speaking about cars. I'm getting worried not because these self-driving cars are arriving, and will arrive definitely, and it would be a good thing, it will be safer. But it will take the pleasure out of driving. 10 years from now, 20 years from now people won't even know about the pleasure of driving because they will not experience it. Drifting heel and toe, downshifting, everything. The sound of when internal combustion engine and not an electric car. I'm lucky that I have lived that era.

Kyle Davis: Okay, so here's what we'll do then before we wrap up. Best car you've ever driven? Or how about this, your top [crosstalk 00:31:56]

Nando Parrado: Best car I've ever driven?

Kyle Davis: Yeah, top three or four maybe.

Nando Parrado: [00:32:00]

McLaren F1, the 301, the signed and created by Gordon Murray. That was the best car I've ever driven in my life.

Kyle Davis: Best car. I think if you're going to buy one of those today in the US it's a three-million dollar car?

Nando Parrado: 12 million [USD].

Kyle Davis: Okay. So put a 4x [crosstalk 00:32:17]

Nando Parrado: 12 million. The last one was auctioned at 12 million dollars, yes.

Kyle Davis: Yes, he keeps up with the auto [crosstalk 00:32:23]

Nando Parrado: [00:32:30]

It was a fantastic car. For the era it was a fantastic car, light, powerful, nothing extra. The best design Gordon Murray have ever done. And he designed a lot of Formula 1 cars that were world champions.

Kyle Davis: What would you say is the best starter car for kids? I know you had a lot of recommendations for me. But now it's 2017, what's a good one for the kids to go by?

Nando Parrado: [00:33:00]

Because it depends on the country and the knowledge. Here in the US cars are very cheap compared to South America where the import taxes are 120% for example. Cars are very expensive, and you have access here when you are very young to cars that we do not have the opportunity to have when you are very young in South America. For a young kid, and you will kill me, I would say a Subaru.

Kyle Davis: Which one? I know Subarus.

Nando Parrado: [00:33:30]

Well, it's strong, doesn't brake, it's safe. Maybe it doesn't have the ...

Kyle Davis: The WRX?

Nando Parrado: I would choose the WRX STI with a pro-drive kit and brembo brakes. You know a Subaru Outback?

Kyle Davis: Yes, I like the Subaru Outback.

Nando Parrado: [00:34:00]

That will be good for young people, a four-wheel drive. If you have snow or rain or something it doesn't break, you don't have to take it to a service every once in a while. That's a good car.

Kyle Davis: There should be another podcast called Nando on Cars.

Gail Davis: That's right, we might have to do that next [crosstalk 00:34:07]

Kyle Davis: [00:34:30]

We might have to do that. All right, cool. Again, to put this, to wrap this up, thanks again, Nando for dropping by and jumpin on the GDA podcast. I really appreciate it. If you want to learn more about Nando feel free to pick up his book, Miracle on the Andes. I will have it linked for and you can buy it for sale. It would be in Amazon on gdapodcast.com. If you're interested in booking Nando visit gdaspeakers.com or call 214-420-1999. Thanks, Nando.

Nando Parrado: Thank you very much.

Gail Davis: thank you, Nando.

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ep. 07 - Nando Parrado: Survivor, Hero, Businessman, and NYT Best-Selling Author by GDA Podcast is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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