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NEWSROOM for August 15, 2001

Aired August 15, 2001 - 04:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Seen in classrooms the world over, this is CNN NEWSROOM.

TOM HAYNES, CO-HOST: Welcome to NEWSROOM for Wednesday, everyone. I'm Tom Haynes. And looks who's here, a familiar face to many of you -- Holly Firfer.

Hey, Holly.

HOLLY FIRFER, CO-HOST: Hi, it's good to be here. Thanks for having me.

HAYNES: Yes, it's good to have you.

FIRFER: Well, we've got lots to cover on today's show. We'll begin with a quick look at the rundown.

HAYNES: First up, Cuba's president turns 75, a look at Fidel Castro's tenure as communist leader and where the country might be headed.

FIRFER: Families putting those big vacation plans on hold aren't letting a softer U.S. economy get in the way, they're finding cheaper fun elsewhere. This story in "Business Desk."

HAYNES: A lesson in Chinese history in "Worldview," but what's missing from this museum about China's communist revolution?

FIRFER: Then in "Chronicle," a human side to the conflict in the Middle East. How the next generation is feeling the impact.

Seventy-five and still going strong, Cuban President Fidel Castro gives no indication that he's ready to relinquish power anytime soon. The Cuban leader celebrated his birthday in Venezuela, Monday, with President Hugo Chavez, a friend and political ally.

It's been 42 years since Mr. Castro's epic-making revolution brought him to power. In 1956, he launched a successful gorilla war, which forced then Cuban President Batista to flee in 1959. That cleared the way for Mr. Castro's rise to power.

In Cuba, Monday, thousands of people paid tribute to their leader. One group of Cuban youngsters marched to his birthplace. What's next for this nation once their leader does call it quits? Well, Lucia Newman looks at that question.


LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When President Fidel Castro handed the Cuban flag over to the head of the Communist Youth Organization on the eve of his 75th birthday, he was doing more than fulfilling a ceremonial obligation. He was enacting, metaphorically, what he calls his most powerful dream: that Cuba's younger generations take over from him to keep his revolution alive once he's gone.

It's a notion that's become almost an obsession as mortality becomes less of a distant possibility for the world's longest ruling head of state.

President Castro's recent and unprecedented fainting spell at a public rally was a wake-up call for friends and foes alike, forcing them to reflect on a Cuba without the man who's ruled it for 42 years.

HECTOR PALACIOS, DISSIDENT (through translator): I was alarmed, because Cuba is not prepared for a quick change. A quick change could be very traumatic.

NEWMAN: Many government opponents here argue that democratic change is inevitable and that Castro himself is the best person to initiate it to avoid a power vacuum and the kind of social turmoil that occurred in the former Soviet republics.

Castro and his designated successor, younger brother Raul Castro, laugh off the suggestion that communism in Cuba is destined to collapse.

(on camera): The fact that the majority of western governments consider him as a dictator clinging on to an outdated political model is simply proof, in Castro's eyes, that everyone else is wrong.

(voice-over): Capitalism, he insists, is on its deathbed.

FIDEL CASTRO, PRESIDENT OF CUBA (through translator): It can't last much longer. The conditions are being created. Otherwise, the human species cannot survive.

NEWMAN: His voice is no longer as fiery as it once was, nor his beard as thick, but Castro continues to show impressive stamina, still speaking for four or five hours nonstop, and still getting by on only a few hours of sleep.

RICARDO ALARCON, PRES. CUBAN NATL' ASSEMBLY: Fidel is a person that is completely committed to the revolutionary struggles since he was very, very young. That may explain the energy, the vital energy that he's capable of developing.

NEWMAN: An energy that he seems determined to use to keep Cuba on its current course as long as he lives. (END VIDEOTAPE)

FIRFER: During his 42 years in power, Cuban President Fidel Castro has survived what Havana estimates as 638 assassination attempts. There have been numerous attempts worldwide to overthrow the Castro regime; even the United States has tried. In 1961 during what became known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the U.S. launched an attack against Cuba. The goal: to overthrow the government. That attempt failed and in the long run led to increased support among Cubans for their leader.

Well here's Lucia Newman, once again, with a look at some of the failed attempts to take his life and his power.


NEWMAN (voice-over): The last time Fidel Castro was in New York to attend a U.N. summit, he told people who wanted to wish him a happy birthday to wish him good luck instead.

FIDEL CASTRO, PRESIDENT OF CUBA (through translator): I've managed to reach this age by a pure miracle.

NEWMAN: Many of his worst enemies couldn't agree more. They've been trying, without success, to assassinate Cuba's communist leader for the last 42 years. So many times, in fact, that at Havana's Interior Ministry Museum the foiled plots are the theme of the main exhibit. It includes a bazooka and other weapons allegedly used by the CIA and Cuban-American exile groups in what Cuban officials estimate as 638 assassination plans. Many of them worthy of the quirkiest spy novels.

Take, for instance, the poisoned aspirins which museum officials explain were hidden in this cupboard at the Havana Libre Hotel to be put in Castro's favorite milkshake in the early 1960s. Or the plot to have him lose his popularity by making him lose his beard by spiking his cigar.

JOSE ANGEL SALIVA, MUSEUM DIRECTOR (through translator): It was meant to provoke a chemical reaction to make his beard fall off.

NEWMAN: Another plan called for throwing a grenade at Castro when he stood up to cheer at a popular baseball game.

(on camera): Not to mention the poisoned diving suit, the exploding seashell while Castro went scuba diving or the laughing gas that was supposed to be pumped into a TV station while the Cuban leader addressed the nation. A figment of the imagination, not according to some declassified CIA documents.

(voice-over): One of them signed by the CIA chief for the Western Hemispheric division in 1959 clearly states the desire to eliminate Castro and his younger brother, Raul.

While some would-be assassins got cold feet at the last minute, most of the plots either never made it off the drawing board or was thwarted by Cuban intelligence agents. The latest plot was denounced late last year at the Ibero- American Summit in Panama where one of Castro's staunchest foes is now under arrest.

CASTRO (through translator): These people have come here to carry out an assassination against this modest person.

NEWMAN: Castro, who is protected by a sophisticated intelligence network, recently boasted he stays fit just to mortify his enemies. This, from a man who acknowledges that as long as he lives, they won't stop trying to do him in.

Lucia Newman, CNN, Havana.


HAYNES: Well, we are in the midst of summer, which usually means lots of sun, swimming and vacations, of course. This year a slow economy is forcing more and more families to stay home and look for fun locally. It's been a boom to the smaller amusement parks dotting the U.S. In fact, between 1990 and 2000, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions reports a 64 million person increase in attendance.

CNN's Lisa Leiter traveled to Indiana and found out the economy isn't the only thing on a roller coaster ride.


LISA LEITER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mickey Mouse is feeling the pain of a slowing economy. Admissions at Disney World are down 5 percent from a year ago, but at regional parks like Holiday World, business is much better.

WILL KOCH, PRESIDENT, HOLIDAY WORLD: The fact that in a down economy we are able to grow is attributable to the fact that we are getting more of this local crowd because of the down economy.

LEITER: A local crowd enticed by free drinks and free parking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just got laid off from work, and we brought all of our great nieces and a granddaughter down here because it's so much cheaper. It's close to home.

LEITER (on camera): Admissions at Holiday World here in southern Indiana are up 15 percent from a year ago, and while that growth is not unusual for this park, it comes at a time when other bigger parks are suffering.

(voice-over): Six Flags, the largest regional theme park chain, says attendance rose more than 3 percent year to date. Knott`s Berry Farm in Anaheim, California is trying to lure more visitors with discount tickets sold at grocery stores.

SUSAN TIERNEY, KNOTT'S BERRY FARM: So far this season we've done well, and we are going into peak season. July and August is always peak theme park attendance months. So we are looking forward to a good July and August.

LEITER: The O'Neils (ph) drove 800 miles from Oregon and are staying with family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By driving and staying with family, as opposed to flying and staying in hotels and resorts, we thought we'd plan that way so we knew we were saving money.

LEITER: Others are bypassing hotels for the great outdoors. In Ohio, Cedar Point's cabins are booked solid. And Holiday World's campground business jumped 60 percent this year.

When people spend less on travel and lodging, they tend to spend more once they're inside the park, where their only fears...


LEITER: ... are of the roller coasters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When people come to the park, they're not worried about the economy.


LEITER: Lisa Leiter, CNN Financial News, Santa Claus, Indiana.


HAYNES: Well, theme parks aren't the only ones feeling the pinch of the economic downturn, big name music acts also are being caught in the crossfire. But is a slowing economy the only thing keeping concert goers at home?

Susan Lisovicz sorts it out in this next report.


SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Madonna is a sell out, even with face value tickets at $250. U2 grossed $69 million on its recently concluded North American tour. Dave Matthews is averaging $2 million at each concert.

But the concert business is not all right this summer. Rod Stewart has played to half empty houses. Janet Jackson sales are spotty. The Backstreet Boys are playing to smaller venues and not always selling out.

Pollstar, a company that tracks concert attendance says ticket sales in dollars for the top 50 acts were down 12 percent in the first six months of the year. The total number of tickets sold was down even more, 15 percent.

GARY BONGIOVANNI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, POLLSTAR: It's a combination of factors, but probably the biggest one is the general downturn in the economy. Concert tickets are something that people buy out of their discretionary income. And there's less of it around these days. And that's coupled with the fact that overall ticket prices are higher.

LISOVICZ: Much higher. Ticket prices which averaged $21 in 1991 have more than doubled since. The average price now is nearly $47. Aerosmith, Eric Clapton and Radiohead are among House of Blues acts this summer. Jay Marciano says their sales have not declined from last year.

JAY MARCIANO, PRESIDENT, HOB CONCERTS: We're being careful about how we price our shows. We like to have a ticket price point for every concert buyer. Everyone seems to be focused on the high priced tickets, but the fact of the matter is, is we usually have four to five different prices for every concert we offer.

LISOVICZ: Ray Charles, Natalie Cole and Diana Crawl are among the marquee names at this year's Newport Jazz Festival, which is seeing ticket sales off about 13 percent from its 15 year average.

(on camera): Concerts used to be immune to downturns in the economy. But with the average ticket price approaching $50, even some of the biggest names in the business are beginning to feel a consumer backlash.

Susan Lisovicz, CNN Financial News, Newport, Road Island.


FIRFER: Well, we took you to concerts and to the amusement park in our "Business Desk" today. In "Worldview," we take you to a museum and on an African safari. In China, we relive history at the Museum of the Chinese Revolution but don't expect a complete account. In this museum something's missing but not much is missing in Africa where we spot hyenas, look at lions and marvel at mighty elephants.

SHELLEY WALCOTT, CO-HOST: On to Africa, the second largest continent in the world, often referred to as the dark continent. Africa is surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean and Red Seas. The Kalahari Desert is located in southern Africa. This huge sandy basin covers about 190,000 square miles. That's about 500,000 square kilometers.

Despite its impressive span, some scientists say the Kalahari isn't a real desert. They say real deserts receive less than 10 inches or 25 centimeters of rain a year and many parts of the Kalahari receive much more moisture than that annually. In fact, one area within the Kalahari is a testament to the amount of rainfall that area of the world receives.

Jonathan Mann tells us more about the Okavango Delta.


JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sunrise in the Okavango Delta. Africa shimmers in the morning light as herds of elephants, buffalo and hippos make their way across the watery landscape. Nine thousand miles of wetlands make Okavango the world's largest inland delta. CHERRI BRIGGS, EXPLORE, INC.: It's a verdant green area in the middle of a fantastically huge desert such as the Kalahari. So it's a place of incredible contrasts and stunning visual scenery.

MANN: In the midst of it all, Ran's Camp. Here you find the comforts of home despite the fact that you're living in the middle of 500,000 acres of wilderness.

UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: It's incredibly comfortable. I mean you come out to the middle of nowhere and you've got a private bathroom on the back of your tent so you can shower, you have warm water, a sink, toilet. It's very, very private and very secure and then you get to lie down at night and listen to this entire world around you.

MANN: In addition to the eight wooden cottages, there's an open air dining room, a full bar and a constant feast of fresh food. And where else can you lounge at a swimming pool and have wild elephants join you?

MIKE PATENFUS, RAN'S CAMP: They're doing what elephants do best. Elephants will feed for 75, 80 percent of their day.

MANN: Outside the camp, the wildlife is even more spectacular. More elephants walk through the forest to drink from the delta waters. There are breeding herds, mothers and babies, each patiently taking a turn. Jeeps take you into the more desert like section of Okavango. In the distance, a rare sight, a hyena den. Two young pups raise their heads while the mother stands guard. On that same drive, jackals, a bat-eared fox and two exhausted male lions with scratched faces fresh from a fight. You can get really close to the lions because they rarely attack vehicles.

JEFF GISH, GUIDE: They sort of tend to see the vehicle as a solid whole whereas if you're walking outside of the car or say, for instance, if you're sleeping out alone on the ground at night, they see you as a completely different entity. So that's a lot more dangerous.

MANN: Later, travel across the delta waters in canoe-like boats called mokoros. Every year, 90 percent of the water evaporates, transforming the delta into a desert.

BRIGGS: The Okavango is a unique ecosystem. It's virtually untouched. You can drink the water out of the Okavango Delta, which most people would never believe. It's a fantastic area. Everybody says that it must be the last piece of Eden left on earth.

MANN: Appropriately enough, the next camp is called Eden. Even in this remote spot, dinner is a five course meal. Eden has all the basics, two beds and a nightstand. But here you sleep on a platform in the trees.

GISH: Not having anybody else around you, living sort of out in the bush itself is a much more authentic experience rather than going to some really, really hyper-managed game reserve or game lodge where you don't really get the feeling of the wilderness. MANN: On safari, something as simple as a walk before dinner brings you incredibly close to a herd of giraffes.

GISH: They're very inquisitive and if you stay in one place, occasionally they'll even come from there and they'll start walking closer to you so you can have a closer look.


RUDI BAKHTIAR, CO-HOST: For more on deserts, check your NEWSROOM archives for July 26. And for more on Africa, be sure to tune in in the fall for our NEWSROOM series "The Other Side of Africa." I'll be sharing the amazing sights and sounds from my recent trip to this magnificent continent.

First, to South Africa, they fought for the end of apartheid, but is it any better now? Then to Rwanda, a country struggling to reinvent itself as it heals the wounds from years of ethnic conflict. And it used to be the trade center for the continent, what is it now? Find out when we visit the mysterious city of Timbuktu in Mali. Finally, we'll take you back thousands of years as we tread the treasure troves of Ethiopia.

Where is the best place to get complete and accurate information about the history of communism in China -- perhaps your textbook or maybe an encyclopedia. You can also find some information at a new museum that opened recently in the country's capital city of Beijing. Through words and pictures, it attempts to chronicle the course of communism in China from the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party 80 years ago through its rise to power in 1949 all the way through today. However, as history reflects, sometimes the government only gives the people part of a story. This new museum is a case in point.


MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fronting on to Beijing's Tiananmen Square is the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the site of a huge exhibition hailing the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party. The thousands of photos and other items highlight the achievements of party founder Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, Deng Xiaoping who pioneered China's market-style reforms and current president Jiang Zemin. But the history on display has some significant omissions that underscore the fact that the party's record is hardly one of unblemished triumph.

PROFESSOR DAVID ZWEIG, HONG KONG UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: There is a phenomena in communist societies that we forget about now but there's sort of this idea of non-events, that things that happened all of a sudden never happened and they're just written out of history.

CHINOY: For example, there's almost no mention of the anti- rightist campaign of the mid-1950s in which Deng Xiaoping played a key role in purging tens of thousands of intellectuals. Or of the tens of millions who starved to death when Chairman Mao's great leap forward went disastrously wrong in the late 1950s.

Mao's role in the cultural revolution plunged China into anarchy in the '60s is glossed over too. There's no explanation for the mysterious death of Mao's anointed heir Lin Biao after a coup attempt in 1971. And two one-time party general secretaries, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, both chosen by Deng Xiaoping, both later purged for their reformist views, don't appear at all.

FRANK LU, CHINA HUMAN RIGHTS MONITOR (through translator): The Communist Party's account of history is full of lies. Zhao Ziyang and Hu Yaobang were both general secretaries yet there's not a single word about them. The party's like a sick person who won't go and see the doctor.

CHINOY: One reason, both Hu and Zhao supported political reforms the current Chinese leadership opposes.

ZWEIG: You keep those people off the agenda so that nobody can reach back into history and say, look, there's a legitimate view here that was held by a senior party official, if not the general secretary of the party, that says that these should be discussed.

CHINOY: And not surprisingly, the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 is referred to only as a period of -quote -- "difficult political troubles." The only picture of the time, a still photograph of this scene when Deng Xiaoping congratulated the military for crushing the student democracy protesters.

Mike Chinoy, CNN, Hong Kong.


ANNOUNCER: Teachers, make the most of CNN NEWSROOM with our free daily classroom guide to the program. There you'll find a rundown of each day's show so you choose just the program segment that fits your lesson plan. Plus, there are discussion questions and activities and the guide highlights key people, places and news terms. Each day, find hot links to other online resources and previews of upcoming "Desk" segments.

It's all at this Web address where you can also sign up to have the guide automatically e-mailed directly to you each day. It's easy. It's free. It's your curriculum connection to the news. After all, the news never stops and neither does learning.

HAYNES: The conflict in the Middle East has intensified in recent weeks, sporadic attacks and bombings have people of all ages living in constant fear.

Andrea Koppel puts a human face on the fallout by telling us a story of a few Middle East kids she met at a Seeds for Peace program here in the United States.


ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the past three-and-a-half weeks, these teenagers have been off at camp, they've made new friends. But what makes these friends so special is who they are: Israelis and Palestinians.

Before they came to the United States, they had to live with intense violence, hatred and mistrust between their people's and governments.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I haven't had Coke in over a year.

KOPPEL: But here, thanks to a unique program privately run by the Seeds of Peace International Camp for Conflict Resolution, they've learned not only to live with one another, but in many cases, to like or even love each other.

EDAN SPUND, ISRAELI: Almost everyone are the same. They are human beings. I'm playing with most of them frisbee. I'm having fun with them. That's what I care. I don't care if he's Palestinian, Palestinian, Israeli, Trinidadian, he is my friend.

KOPPEL: Already those new friendships have been put to the test. Last week in Jerusalem when a suicide bomber killed 15 Israelis, the campers were distraught.

NARDEEN SBAIT, PALESTINIAN-ISRAELI: We were sitting together, crying and trying to comfort each other together without blaming the other side.

KOPPEL: You were sitting with Israelis?

SBAIT: Yes, we were sitting together and crying together and like nobody said you're a Palestinian, it's your fault. And in that moment, I knew that actually our coexisting sessions are actually working because that's it.

KOPPEL Another difference this year: rather than identifying themselves as Arab-Israelis, campers like 17-year-old Emma say they are Palestinian-Israelis.

EMMA ABULBAKI, PALESTINIAN-ISRAELI: I figured out that I have roots and that I want to stick to those roots of being Palestinian, but it increased when the intifada started.


KOPPEL: And because of the intifada, this year's program almost didn't happen at all. For the first time in nearly 10 years, both governments threw up roadblocks. Eventually, the mayor of the Israeli city of Haifa agreed to help, sending 21 Israeli and Arab-Israeli teenagers. But only three Palestinians from the West Bank took part, among them, 17-year-old Faddi el-Salamine (ph), who made an emotional appeal Tuesday during a farewell ceremony at the State Department.

FADDI EL-SALAMINE, PALESTINIAN: Seeds of Peace is the only place in the -- in the world at this moment where Palestinians and Israelis are treating each other as human beings.

KOPPEL: The message seemed to resonate with Secretary of State Powell.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: You here present and your predecessors have helped us understand that peace is possible.


KOPPEL: First-time camper Nardeen, a Palestinian-Israeli, says she came because she didn't want to lose hope. Now she's an example of Seeds of Peace at work.

SBAIT: What I really want to go back home and do is be a messenger of peace because I think it's important that we share what we went through here in the past three weeks with all our friends, with all our family, with all our community, and I'm going to do that. I hope I will.

KOPPEL: Andrea Koppel, CNN, Washington.


FIRFER: Well that's CNN NEWSROOM for Wednesday.

HAYNES: Thanks for joining us. We'll see you back here tomorrow.


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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