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NEWSROOM for April 30, 2001

Aired April 30, 2001 - 04:30   ET


RUDI BAKHTIAR, CO-HOST: From the CNN Center in Atlanta, this is CNN NEWSROOM. Welcome. I'm Rudi Bakhtiar.

SHELLEY WALCOTT, CO-HOST: And I'm Shelley Walcott. Let's take a quick look at what's coming up.

BAKHTIAR: In today's "Top Story": Dennis Tito lifts off. It's one giant step for space tourism.

WALCOTT: Next in "Environment Desk," we'll tell you who's making a splash off the Atlantic coast.

BAKHTIAR: Then "Worldview" takes us to South America, where commercial projects are threatening swamps and marshlands in southwest Brazil.

WALCOTT: And finally, we "Chronicle" the life of one teenager making all the difference she Can Can.

BAKHTIAR: The space shuttle Endeavour is homeward bound. The shuttle pulled away from the international space station on Sunday and began its journey back to earth following a mission plagued by computer problems. The seven man crew did manage to accomplish its main purpose, to hook up a robotic arm to the space station capable of lifting more than 116 tons. That will help astronauts take yet another bold leap into space exploration.

The work on board Alpha, the international space station, is grounded in man's unrelenting quest to unlock the mysteries of the heavens. First, though, all the necessary hardware must be installed. During the shuttle Endeavour's recent trip to the space station, astronauts conducted two space walks to install a 3,600 pound robotic arm. This billion dollar robot will act as a high tech construction crane. It'll help add pieces to the station as the astronauts' free floating living quarters continue to expand. Ultimately, the robot will also decrease the need for astronauts to do outside work during space walks. And in June, the new arm will hook up a pressure chamber to Alpha.

The chamber allows station personnel to perform space walks without the aid of a space shuttle. Right now two Russian cosmonauts and one U.S. astronaut live on Alpha, exploring the mysteries of space. And dockings by U.S. shuttles and Russian spacecraft should become even more routine as man's efforts to probe the deep of space is made easier by sophisticated technology.

The space shuttle Endeavour left the international space station just in time for the arrival of the Russian Soyuz vessel. Aboard that spacecraft is U.S. multi-millionaire Dennis Tito. Tito paid the Russians millions for a ticket to ride.

CNN's Jill Dougherty has more on the world's first tourist in space.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Finally, the only thing holding back Dennis Tito was gravity. After 10 years of trying to realize his dream of flying into space, the giant Soyuz rocket lifted off, and the first space tourist waved goodbye to the world.

Tito paid $20 million for a seat on the flight to the international space station, and he could end up sleeping in that seat for his 10-day round trip. It doesn't faze him.

DENNIS TITO, SPACE TOURIST: There's a liner that has been molded specifically to your body, and, you know, I just hope I don't fall asleep on the way up, it's so comfortable.

DOUGHERTY: The 60-year-old head of an investment consulting company trained for nine months with Russian cosmonauts, including a wilderness survival course. The only thing he's not looking forward to, he says, is the food.

TITO: Probably mashed potatoes is probably the best thing that I'm going to have up there.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): But food was the least of Dennis Tito's problems. First the Russians sold him a ticket to the Mir space station, but then they ditched the Mir. Then they offered him one of their seats on the ISS, but NASA objected, claiming it's too early and too dangerous for an amateur in space.

(voice-over): Tito says he's not worried. His Russian trainers, he says, have prepared him well.

TITO: They have that wild West attitude, and I say that in a positive sense, that they're -- you know, they're free spirits. So they're a different culture than we are. But as far as their -- the safety aspects of their space program, they're very serious about, you know, not putting any of their cosmonauts at risk.

DOUGHERTY: Tito is bringing along a video camera to record his adventure and a CD player with music tapes, mostly opera. It should help make the space station feel a little more like home and give Dennis Tito a chance to prove what he believes, that space is for everyone.

Jill Dougherty, CNN, Moscow.


BAKHTIAR: The launch of Dennis Tito into space has others now viewing space as a possible new frontier for tourists.

CNN's Matthew Chance reports from Moscow on would be passengers to the stars.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the footsteps of Dennis Tito, these tourists are visiting Russia's space agency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, this is the base module.

CHANCE: It could be the cosmonaut training center's next, paying guests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this the launch position?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the launch position, yes.

CHANCE: They may be further objections from NASA, but Russian officials say there could be more flights to space for those willing to pay. $20 million, the current price for a seat to the stars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have been interested in space flight my entire life. And this is just fantastic, because seeing Star City, seeing Baikonur, places that, well, I thought I would never have the opportunity to do it.

CHANCE: Already, it is possible for tourists in Russia to experience the extremes. For less than $13,000, you can fly a supersonic Russian fighter to the edge of space. Or for $5,000, this trip across aboard a cosmonaut training flight. Experience zero gravity as these massive aircraft make gut-wrenchingly steep descents to Earth.

ERIC ANDERSON, SPACE ADVENTURES, INC.: We've done market studies that have shown there is a multi-billion-dollar potential for space tourism. And that's not just orbital flights, for which there is only one or two opportunities a year. That's a huge market for what we call sub-orbital flights, where you go up and you are up maybe an hour or so, and do zero G's, see the Earth from space and come back down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Close that hatch...

CHANCE: More than ever, there is a fascination with space tourism, but the prospect of eight months of intensive training in Russia and the astronomical price tag means despite Dennis Tito's giant leap, a new era of mass space travel is not with us yet.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


WALCOTT: Back on terra firma, we have a tale of another kind. A couple dozen 100 ton mothers and their 2,000 pound newborns are making a splash off the Atlantic coast. The animals in question are among the rarest large mammals on earth.

Natalie Pawelski has their story.


NATALIE PAWELSKI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A baby boom for the world's most endangered great whale. In the northern right whale's only known calving ground off the Florida-Georgia coast, researchers have counted 25 newborns this year. One died of unknown causes, but the 24 survivors make this a record year.

CHRIS SLAY, NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM: This is an exciting year, witnessing a population on the brink of extinction exhibit signs that it might actually make it, that it might have a fighting chance.

PAWELSKI: Researchers like Chris Slay of the New England Aquarium figure there are fewer than 350 northern right whales left on Earth.

SLAY: This population of right whales is one of the most endangered populations of large mammals anywhere in the world. I mean, this is our white rhino. This is our giant panda.

PAWELSKI (on camera): Right whales got their name from whalers, who considered them the right whale to hunt. They were relatively easy to catch because they are slow moving and stay close to shore.

(voice-over): Today, right whales are protected, although still hunted, in a way, by researchers, who say a modify bow and arrow offer the best way to gather genetic samples without hurting the animals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a very tiny piece of right whale calf skin.

PAWELSKI: Scientists are trying to explain why so many whales are suddenly having calves. The leading theory ties birth rates to summer plankton production and prenatal nutrition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The calf's upside-down on mama's back, not a care in the world. Here comes another one.

PAWELSKI: Each day from December through March, weather and funding permitting, teams of researchers crisscross the sky above the calving grounds, looking for mother-calf pairs. Last year, they saw only one. This year, with so many sightings, they're flying a lot of extra hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The calf's nursing right now.

PAWELSKI: This is a dangerous calving ground. Submarines, container ships, and military vessels crowd the shipping lanes and new mothers and their calves spend a lot of time in harm's way, at the water's surface, nursing. Ship collisions are the No. 1 cause of death for right whales. If you look closely at this mother, you can see the tracks left by a boat that ran over her back.

In an effort to keep boats from running into whales, the Coast Guard and the Navy run an early warning system, broadcasting all right whale sightings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A northern right whale has been sighted inside the critical habitat area within the coastal waters between Altamaha Sound, Georgia and Sebastian Inlet, Florida. Mariners are urged to maintain a sharp lookout and use caution around right whales.

PAWELSKI: In the wake of these efforts, it's been years since there was a confirmed case of a ship killing a right whale and now, with the record number of births, this may be the first year in a while the Earth's rarest big whale actually increases its numbers.

I'm Natalie Pawelski.


WALCOTT: It's time to spin the globe for "Worldview." Today, we take you to Cuba and a new sports school. And on to Brazil, where wildlife is facing threats of its own. We'll examine a controversial project which could impact this fragile environment. We'll also touch down in the United States to check out urban America, what threats do the nation's cities face?

But our first destination is south of America's borders. It's the nation of Mexico, where today is Kids Day, a time set aside for recognizing the generation that is that country's future. In celebration, parents often give gifts to their kids. But for the millions of Mexican kids who live in poverty, it's just another day spent struggling to survive.

CNN's Pablo Monzalvo reports on Kids Day for the have-nots in Mexico.


PABLO MONZALVO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Millet Castellanos is 13 years old and used to be a street kid. A month ago, he was rescued by a police patrol and sent to this children's shelter. He is a football fan. He wants to be a doctor to help people and he has a goal in life like another 140,000 children living on the Mexican streets who also have dreams.

MILLET CASTELLANOS, AGE 13: I do receive here love and affection, all you need to get your way in life.

MONZALVO: This year, the Mexican children's day is a good opportunity to talk about the reality. The government Family Development Agency says around 70,000 kids are victims of sexual exploitation in this country and many times they become involved in drug trafficking to survive. Most of these cases are based in tourist areas like Cancun, Acapulco or the frontier cities like the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Juarez. ANA TERESA ARANDA, GENERAL DIRECTOR, FAMILY DEVELOPMENT AGENCY: The government cannot solve all these problems by itself. It's very important to work hand in hand with all the people who already have a lot of experience in this field.

MONZALVO: The exploitation of children who are forced to work instead of going to school is another serious problem for this government. That's why local officials are analyzing possible changes to the kids protection code to increase to 20 years prison sentences for people who violate children's rights. The last several years, malnutrition of children was reduced by 20 percent, but that's not enough, officials say. There's still 35 million kids, most of them from Indian areas, who don't have their basic food every day. UNICEF, the United Nations Children Fund says they have a lot of work ahead of them and the key is working together with public and private organizations.

DANIEL CAMAZON, PROGRAMS COORDINATOR, UNICEF MEXICO: Our job is to give children foundations technical and financial assistance. In this way, we will help them to develop programs and allow the children to reintegrate into society, but basically to allow them to be back in school.

MONZALVO: The children's death rate has gone up this last decade. The 40 percent rate of child poverty is to blame, say experts. There's still a lot of things to do. There's still a lot of dreams, like the ones Millet has. I don't want to see anymore sick kids, he says. That is his wish. It's a great challenge, but not an impossible dream.

(on camera): In all of Latin America, there are 25 million children in risk situations. They range in age from five to 17. The United Nations says that to change their reality, they will need international investment and the concern of people from the Western countries.

Pablo Monzalvo, CNN NEWSROOM, Mexico City, Mexico.


TOM HAYNES, CO-HOST: The Pantanal wetlands of southwest Brazil are more than a rare ecosystem. They've become a battleground of sorts, where plans are in the works to fund and execute the Hidrovia Project. The purpose of the Hidrovia Project is to expand navigation in two of Brazil's rivers, the Paraguay and the Parana. By deepening the channel, removing rocks, straightening curves and building new ports, planners hope to increase exports, thereby boosting the region's economy.

The plan is costly, however, an estimated $100 million to $1 billion U.S. But the real debate here is over the plans' effects on the environment. Gary Strieker has more.


GARY STRIEKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's nothing like the Amazon rain forest, the lush green carpet in the north of Brazil. The Pantanal wetlands in the southwest are wide open, extending into neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. Mostly grasslands, swamps, rivers and lakes, an enormous fresh water ecosystem that does not hide its wildlife. It displays it in a dazzling panorama. But like the Amazon, the Pantanal faces serious threats that could destroy it, starting with its delicate balance between dry seasons and floods.

(on camera): The Pantanal works like a vast sponge, during the rainy season collecting water from a much larger area around it then storing the water for months, releasing it slowly into the Paraguay River.

(voice-over): The biggest threat to this water cycle is the massive Hidrovia Project, a plan to re-engineer major sections of the Pantanal's rivers, straightening curves and dredging channels to improve navigation by huge barges.

Conservationists say the Hidrovia would accelerate the draining of the Pantanal, turning large areas into deserts.

LAURENZ PINDER, THE NATURE CONSERVANCY: A place like this may disappear as it is because the fish won't reproduce, the birds that survive on the fish will also disappear from this area and so forth.

REINALDO LOURIVAL, CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL: If you affect the river dynamic, you affect the Paraguay River, everything goes away.

STRIEKER: The Brazilian government has declared it will not allow any improvements in the waterway that might endanger the Pantanal, but there are powerful commercial interests behind the project not only in Brazil, but also in Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, interests that have so far shown little concern for the environmental risk.

ISRAEL KLABIN, BRAZILIAN FOUNDATION FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: I fear most a political situation that might catalyze private interests and produce the Hidrovia and that will have tremendous consequences.

STRIEKER: Beyond the Hidrovia, there's another threat on the borders of the Pantanal, intensive development of soybean farms and cattle ranches, causing pollution and siltation of rivers flowing into the wetlands. And on the Pantanal's cattle ranches, new threats arising from division of land.

MARCIO AYRES, WILDLIFE CONSERVATION SOCIETY: From generation to generation land is becoming smaller for the farmers and thus not profitable as it was before.

STRIEKER: To increase profits, they try new varieties of exotic grasses and more intensive livestock production, practices that could also damage this fragile natural balance in an area now recognized as one of the world's richest wildlife habitats, but which is not yet out of danger.

Gary Striker, CNN, on the Paraguay River, Brazil. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BAKHTIAR: Now to the third most populous country, the United States of America. China and India are the only countries with more people. Economically, the U.S. ranks as one of the world's most highly developed and productive nations. When it comes to productions of goods and services, no other country equals the U.S. And its people enjoy one of the world's highest standards of living.

Just take a walk down Fifth Avenue of the city that never sleeps, New York, to see the wealth or the Hollywood hills of Los Angeles in California to check out the glamour. And there's always the state capital of Washington, D.C. and its beautiful architecture.

But unfortunately, according to some officials, the nation's cities still need help. In a new report, the National League of Cities cites six threats that are jeopardizing the future of urban America.

Kathleen Koch has the story.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are the urban areas left behind. The National League of Cities insists that while most metropolitan areas have seen tremendous improvements over the last decade, clear threats remain. Poverty, deteriorating neighborhoods, aging infrastructure, youth violence, economic burden, like lack of inner-city investment, and racism still plague too many urban landscapes.

The nation's capital has seen its unemployment and crime rates drop, but it still wrestles with a crumbling infrastructure and too many people on welfare.

ANTHONY WILLIAMS (D), MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: Think about it. How are we going to really make progress in welfare to work if 40 percent of the adults in our city are challenged with literacy? They can't read the classifieds to get a job. That's what we're talking about. That's the challenge we're facing.

KOCH: Infrastructure decay, says one expert, is the easiest to tackle.

RICHARD ROSAN, URBAN LAND INSTITUTE PRESIDENT: That's just bricks and mortar, and it takes energy and dollars to fix it up. The others are really more difficult problems: racism, some of those issues that, you know, we've been wrestling with for years and years.

KOCH: Though pleased so far with what they have heard from the White House, Williams and Detroit's Mayor Dennis Archer, both Democrats, were not pleased with how their areas fared under the previous two GOP administrations. Archer hopes the report sends a message to Congress and President Bush.

DENNIS ARCHER (D), MAYOR OF DETROIT: There are very pressing needs where the overwhelming number of people live that should be attended to, and that should be the tax cuts and the other issues in terms of defense spending and the like, should be balanced.

I remain optimistic that they're prepared to work with America's cities, towns and villages.

KOCH (on camera): And mayors are happy that unlike previous Republicans, President Bush is not considering eliminating the Department of Education and has instead appointed strong secretaries there and at Housing and Urban Development. So some believe that this conservative president may be a compassionate ally for the nation's cities.

Kathleen Koch, for CNN, Washington.


BAKHTIAR: Cubans are fanatical about sports. The island nation's love affair with baseball, of course, is well known. But it doesn't stop there. Cubans are proud of their Olympic record. Though home to only about 11 million people, the country finished eighth in the medal count last year during the summer games in Sydney. Cuba beat out much more populous countries like Great Britain, Japan, Brazil and Mexico. So it's not surprising that sports aren't just a pastime, they're also a college curriculum.

Lucia Newman explains.


LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're off, huffing and puffing through this grueling physical education training under a blazing sun that's far away from home. They're from all over Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa, receiving a free university education at the newly inaugurated International School of Physical Education and Sports in Cuba.

KENYA BARROS, BRAZIL: Here in Cuba, sports are far more developed and the teaching of it is broader and of a higher standard than in Brazil.

NEWMAN: Most of the students say that Cuba's reputation as one of the world's top 10 sporting nations convinced them that undergoing the five year course could help them contribute to their own nations.

TESMA TETA, LESOTHO: To be like Cuba, to participate in many sports in the Olympics, to bring a lot of medals at home.

LUIS ALBERTO ALVARAD, VENEZUELA: We all want to become great trainers. I personally want to give the best I have in me.

NEWMAN: The idea is for these students to develop a top quality sports education system in their developing nations, where similar courses don't exist.

(on camera): Once upon a time, Cuba used to train leftist guerrillas from Latin America and Africa. Now, just like the Latin American School of Medicine, which opened up here about two years ago, this sports school is part of a new effort by Cuba to spread its influence, if not its ideology.

(voice-over): The school is the brainchild of President Fidel Castro, who hopes to gain allies in what he calls the battle against a money oriented sports mentality promoted by rich nations.

PRES. FIDEL CASTRO, CUBA: Cuba is fighting almost alone against this repugnant merchandising of sports, which has nothing to do with amateur competitions, even in the Olympics.

NEWMAN: Cash starved Cuba is investing millions in promoting its sporting philosophy and while many Cubans may question so much generosity at their expense, for the guest students here who don't pay a penny, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Lucia Newman, CNN, Havana.


WALCOTT: It's a sad but familiar sight for anyone who lives in a big city, the homeless. Folks down on their luck forced to live in shelters, or worse, on the street.

BAKHTIAR: But people living on the streets aren't necessarily the only ones feeling the pinch of hard times.

CNN's Christopher Swaggart (ph) profiles a student trying to help needy people in her own neighborhood.


CHRISTOPHER SWAGGART (ph), CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's dark outside, not nighttime dark, predawn darkness.

TYLER DAVENPORT, HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR: I come in the mornings and it's about six o'clock in the morning.

SWAGGART: So what motivates Tyler Davenport, a high school senior from Duluth, Georgia, to get up that early and keep going all day? A strong cup of coffee? Not quite.

DAVENPORT: I began working through the idea of starting a food bank after seeing several newspaper articles that were published about needy people in my area.

SWAGGART: To help those needy people, twice a week she picks up two grocery carts full of donated food from a local store on her way to school and delivers it after school to a local food center, which distributes the bread, sweets and staples to needy families. It's an effort she calls Project Can Can, which she started and runs on her own, a project that is making a real difference in her home town. It began with a desire to help those in need and a phone call to a local ministry. MARY ROBERTS, DIRECTOR, HANDS OF CHRIST MINISTRY: They were saying hey, can we assist you in any way? And I said yes, you know, we need donations of bread and sweets or whatever, you know, on Mondays and we don't have anyone doing that.

SWAGGART: Tyler saw the opportunity to help and ran with it.

DAVENPORT: Do you want to put all of this out here?

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER: Put some on the top shelf if you want to.


SWAGGART: Scheduling pickup and drop-off times between morning swim practice as well as tutoring elementary school children, all while keeping up with her own school work. Needless to say, she has impressed many of her friends and teachers.

FELIX TOSCANO, AGE 17: I honestly was amazed by everything she's accomplished this year.

JIM REASON, HISTORY TEACHER, DULUTH HIGH SCHOOL: It's like everything she does, whether it be in academics or athletics, it seems to be geared towards somebody else.

SWAGGART: Tyler graduates in May. She hopes the Key Club at her school will continue Project Can Can. Maybe then she can squeeze in a little time for herself.

Christopher Swaggart for CNN NEWSROOM, Atlanta.


BAKHTIAR: It's so good to see kids out there making a difference in their communities on their own time.

WALCOTT: Yeah, that's truly admirable.

BAKHTIAR: Great job, Chris.

WALCOTT: Well, that wraps up today's show.

BAKHTIAR: And we'll see you back here tomorrow, same place, same time.

WALCOTT: Bye-bye.


ANNOUNCER: CNN NEWSROOM is part of Cable in the Classroom, a service of the cable television industry and your local cable company.



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