Return to Transcripts main page


Venezuela Political and Economic Crisis; Trump Retreats but Vows Will Build Wall; Hundreds Still Missing after Brazil Dam Collapse; History to Be Made at Australian Open. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired January 27, 2019 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): "An illegitimate mafia state." The U.S. secretary of state turns up the pressure on Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and calls on all nations to support the opposition.

The U.S. shutdown is over but the showdown continues. After reopening the U.S. government, President Trump promises he will still build a border wall.

And dozens killed and hundreds still missing in Brazil after deadly sludge covers an entire city when a dam collapses.

We are live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier, great to have you with us.


VANIER: In a blow to Venezuela's sitting president, Nicolas Maduro, the country's attache in Washington is saying he will back opposition leader Juan Guaido. Colonel Jose Luis Silva Silva said Saturday he supports Guaido's road map, which he says includes transparent elections.

The defense ministry responded by calling Silva a traitor. After Guaido declared himself the interim leader last Wednesday, the country's military reiterated their support for President Maduro. But Guaido is encouraging them to defect.

Meanwhile, Venezuela and the U.S. announced Saturday that they agreed to let some diplomats stay in each other's embassies for 30 days while they try to establish so-called interest offices. Venezuela had demanded U.S. diplomats leave the nation this weekend.

The diplomatic standoff was an issue at Saturday's U.N. Security Council meeting. The U.S. called on other nations to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as president. E.U. members gave Maduro an ultimatum: either call elections by next week or we will recognize Guaido as well.

CNN's Michelle Kosinski has more. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: We heard some tough messages on the floor of the U.N. Security Council. This was a special session on Venezuela, called by the United States.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo went there to try to get other countries on board to supporting the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. He said, at the very least, he would like to see some kind of presidential statement come out of the Security Council, at least supporting the people of Venezuela, supporting democracy.

But he said even that could not happen because Russia and China blocked it. And that was indicative of the kinds of statements we heard. While Pompeo was saying the time for games is over, either you're on our side and supporting democracy, or you're on Maduro's side and supporting mayhem, while Russia and Venezuela accuse the U.S. of orchestrating a coup in Venezuela.

Now on the ground there, the U.S. has kept its embassy open but pulled out all but essential staffers. And Pompeo warned Venezuela that it needs to keep those diplomats safe. Listen.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And I want to be 100 percent clear. President Trump and I fully expect that our diplomats will continue to receive protections provided under the Vienna Convention.

Do not test the United States on our resolve to protect our own people. We hope that the international community will support the people of Venezuela and the transitional government led by Juan Guaido.


KOSINSKI: So now you have the United States and a number of other countries supporting Guaido. And the United States has flat-out said that Maduro has no legitimate power.

But then there are several European countries, including the U.K., France, Germany and Spain, who have given Venezuela eight days to hold free and fair elections. And if that doesn't happen, they say they will also view Guaido as the legitimate leader.

One hopeful sign, perhaps, is that there was word that some of Maduro's team were talking to Guaido. We'll just have to see where that leads -- Michelle Kosinski, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: Venezuela's political and economic turmoil didn't happen overnight. It's been years in the making. CNN's Rafael Romo explains how the country got to this point.



RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): He shouted at the top of his lungs...

MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMO (voice-over): -- embattled Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro broke political and diplomatic ties with the United States. His furious reaction happened only hours after secretary of state Mike Pompeo recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim --


ROMO (voice-over): -- president of Venezuela.

POMPEO: The regime of former president Nicolas Maduro is illegitimate, his regime is morally bankrupt. It's economically incompetent.

ROMO (voice-over): Venezuela has seen violence and instability for years. The country is bankrupt and shortages of basic necessities, such as medicine for children and food are widespread, as we have reported for years.

ROMO: There's no rice; rice should be here or milk or baby products. And everything is empty. Now you can find some other non-essential products like, for example, this is a sweetener for milk. The problem is that, even if you buy it, there's no milk.

ROMO (voice-over): The U.N. says more than 3 million people have fled Venezuela since at least 2014.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLA.: You may not just have a humanitarian catastrophe in Venezuela, we may soon have a growing economic catastrophe in Brazil and Peru and Ecuador and in Colombia.

ROMO (voice-over): In 2017, President Trump said he wouldn't rule out the military intervention to help restore democracy to the country and he doubled down last week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering a military option for Venezuela?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not considering anything but all options are on the table.

ROMO (voice-over): A warning from Russia was swift.

SERGEI RYABKOV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: The resort to military power would be catastrophic. We face now a scenario that may lead to further bloodshed in Venezuela.

ROMO (voice-over): Russia and China are siding with Maduro. Both have invested billions of dollars in Venezuela, which has some of the largest oil reserves in the world. And like other totalitarian regimes, its government has quashed the opposition, silenced critics and the censored the press.

When we investigated an alleged fraudulent sale of passports, getting reaction took months.

ROMO (through translator): Foreign Minister, what can you say about the allegations that Venezuelan passports are being sold at the embassy in Baghdad?

What do you say about it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (from captions): How crazy.

ROMO (from captions): What can you tell us about it?

As foreign minister, do you have any knowledge?



ROMO (voice-over): And now Venezuela is the country with two men calling themselves president: opposition leader Juan Guaido, who swore himself in on Wednesday, and Nicolas Maduro, who is beginning a second six-year term after a May election many in the international community call a farce because the opposition was not allowed to participate.

Meanwhile, people have come out to the streets again. Clashes between security forces and protesters left more than 120 dead in 2017. And many fear history may repeat again.


VANIER: CNN correspondent Rafael Romo joins us now.

We just watched your report. The military is absolutely key in this situation. They could be the deciding factor one way or the other.

ROMO: Yes. As a matter of fact, Venezuelans feel, if the armed forces weren't supporting Maduro, he wouldn't be in power anymore. But over the years, he's made sure to keep them happy, giving them promotions, promoting them to whatever rank, colonel to general, making sure that they and their families are taken care of. So not only the army --


VANIER: -- they're not feeling this crisis the way ordinary Venezuelans are, the top brass. ROMO: That's right. They're not at all; as a matter of fact, a number of them have been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department for alleged acts of corruption. That gives you an idea of how things are running in Venezuela.

VANIER: And Juan Guaido has pretty much recognized the military's key here. He's trying to peel away the military from Maduro.

How's that working?

ROMO: It's very interesting, because, in the past, the opposition has denounced the military and has spoken harshly about the armed forces. This time around, since Wednesday, when he first declared himself the new president of Venezuela, at least three times that I've heard, he's invited the armed forces to join the movement and to jump to the other side, so to speak.

And he's also promoted a law that they will sign in the next few days; it's an amnesty law, saying if you committed any crimes under Maduro but you want to be loyal to us now, we will forget everything you did in the past and assume that nothing happened.

So it remains to be seen how this is going to work. We have just heard about a member of the national guard, who is a military attache in Washington, who may have defected. And so it is sometimes easier for somebody who's in the military and abroad --


ROMO: -- to do that. We haven't seen anything like that, with the exception of a small uprising last Monday in Caracas that didn't go anywhere.

VANIER: Tell me about the diplomatic strategy that the West is using here. The U.S. is spearheading this; the E.U. may be getting in on the action. The whole idea is to recognize Guaido as legitimate, say he's the president and we're not dealing with Maduro anymore.

ROMO: That's right. And the first thing that comes to mind is what U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo has told the world, essentially the debate is over; it's time that countries, individual countries, choose sides, saying that you're either with a tyrant who has ruled Venezuela as a dictator or you're on the side of democracy.

And that's the rhetoric that we've heard. You add to that the ultimatum that the E.U. gave Venezuela. You either call for elections in the next eight days or we will no longer recognize Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

And you have a good number of countries in Latin America, most of the countries in Latin America, siding with Guaido, very few exceptions, including Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador and, to a degree, Mexico has come out as neutral, that don't fully support Guaido.

VANIER: How is that supposed to play out?

In the meantime, Maduro still has the official title; he still has the military's backing.

How does that strategy work in terms of getting Guaido in power and getting him to replace Maduro?

ROMO: There are many things that the international community as a whole can do in terms of economic sanctions. There is a report by Bloomberg saying that England, responding to a request from the U.S., has blocked Venezuela from withdrawing $1.2 billion in gold reserves that they had in the U.K.

So things like that can really hurt, not immediately but over the long term, the government of Nicolas Maduro.

How many countries are willing to go that far?

It's unclear at this point.

VANIER: Yes. And multiple countries have been activating these various levers they have. The U.S. hasn't done so, by the way, in terms of the oil that they could stop buying from Venezuela. They haven't pressed that button yet.

But the president did say all options were on the table. Rafael Romo, thank you for joining us.

ROMO: Thank you.

VANIER: The shutdown of the U.S. government may be over for now but the impact will be felt for a long time. Thousands of federal workers had to take handouts to feed their families. Personal finances took big hits.

Repairing the damage could take years and President Trump is threatening to do it again if he doesn't get his wall on the Mexican border. CNN's Boris Sanchez is at the White House.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There were a number of factors that led to President Trump signing off on reopening the federal government this weekend. For one, he started to see his poll numbers slip and his disapproval rating go up as a result of the federal government shutdown.

Most notably, on Thursday, the president received a call from Senator Mitch McConnell, with the Senate majority leader telling Trump he was not sure how much longer he could keep Republican senators in line and in agreement over the issue of immigration, according to one source.

McConnell apparently told the president that GOP senators were frustrated at what they felt was a lack of a clear strategy from the White House on how to reopen the federal government.

And then on Friday, we saw real serious effects of the shutdown after many delays at airports throughout the country, where air traffic controllers were effectively calling in sick because they weren't being paid over the shutdown.

So ultimately President Trump reopened the federal government and did exactly what Democrats asked and not getting a cent for his long- promised border wall. But the president is maintaining he did not concede to Democrats; he is playing cleanup. Take a look at this tweet from President Trump Saturday.

Quote, "21 days goes very quickly. Negotiations with Democrats will start immediately, will not be easy to make a deal. Both parties very dug in. The case for national security has been greatly enhanced by what has been happening at the border and through dialogue. We will build the wall."

At this point, it's unclear exactly how negotiations will move forward for the president, with Democrats emboldened and Republicans apparently split on this issue. Privately, we are told that aides have talked about this as a humiliating loss for a president who does not often lose -- Boris Sanchez, CNN, at the White House.


VANIER: Alice Stewart, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, joins me now.

Alice, as a conservative, do you think the president did the right thing by finally reopening the government, despite the fact that he didn't get his wall?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it was important to open the government. Unfortunately, I wish we had never gotten to that point in the first place because this was his number one campaign issue and it should have been his number one priority as president --


STEWART: -- when he had Republicans in control in the House and Senate. Now, unfortunately, it's a much more difficult row to hoe that we have Democrats in control in the House.

But it was important to do that. But, overall, this entire process, there's three different camps of Republicans. You have the hardcore base and those on the Left who feel the president caved on this.

And many Republicans, like myself included, who feel this was a smart compromise with the Democrats.

Then you have the president and this administration who say this is an opportunity, an opportunity to reach out to Democrats and really test their desire, really, to try and secure our border. So they are going into these talks this week until February 15th with that in mind.

VANIER: Wait, hold on.

You don't think the president caved?

STEWART: I think it was -- I never thought Mexico was going to pay for this wall. I knew he was going to put national security and securing our border as a top priority, so that was never an issue for me.

I think what he did put out there on the table, with regard to some fence, some border security, humanitarian aid, extending protections for DREAMers as well as TPS recipients and putting more boots on the ground and drones in the air, that is, I think, an important and a wise move.

I think he should have done that from the very beginning. Unfortunately, we got to this point. So I don't see it as a cave by any means.

But then again --


STEWART: -- I wasn't one of those hardcore Trump supporters from the very beginning.

VANIER: Now he caused -- I wonder what you think about his handling of the shutdown, his strategy for it, because he's the dealmaker, right?

And he caused this big showdown. He wanted it, apparently, over his signature campaign promise, the border wall. And, in the end, five weeks into the shutdown, it seems like he didn't really have a plan to win this fight that he started.

Does that give you pause?

STEWART: It does. Look, the problem is, we had this shutdown showdown and nothing to show for it. And I would imagine that's probably not a chapter in his book, "The Art of The Deal."

I really expected him to be a better negotiator. But when we got down toward the end of last week and we had TSA workers walking out, problems with national security and homeland security, we had people standing in line for food stamps and needing government assistance because they why going without pay and, in addition, Cyril, his approval ratings have dropped since the shutdown started.

He's around 37 percent, 38 percent in some polls. So he really had to --


VANIER: -- I want to put those numbers up. The approval ratings for Trump are bad; 57 percent of Americans disapprove of how he handled the situation. Only 37 percent approve.

Do you think that will stick?

Do you think voters will still hold this against him come election time 2020? STEWART: Well, look, I worked for Ted Cruz, who was really responsible for a big shutdown back in 2013 and he ran for president and, in 2016, and he came in second place.

So I think if we're able to come out of this in a positive light and we're able to make progress, I do think voters have some short-term memory and they will forget about this. But that's going to be very difficult. I'm talking with some Republicans who are worried that we're going to be right back here on February 15th, in the same boat that we are right now.

So Democrats really need to get off being so hell-bent on no and, keep in mind, back in 2006, Democrats were in favor of what was called the Secure Fence Act. Many Democrats supported that.

The only difference was, that was called a fence and this is called a wall and it has Trump's name on it. So they need to realize they're being really hypocritical to be so opposed to this wall when they're getting things that 70 percent of Americans want, which is protections for DREAMers and TPS recipients.

VANIER: Alice Stewart, thank you very much.

The government is open for another three weeks. We'll find out whether Trump and the Democrats can reach some kind of deal before February 15th. Thank you.

STEWART: Thanks, Cyril.

VANIER: And we're also tracking developments in the Philippines. A military official says at least 17 people are dead and dozens wounded after twin blasts at a cathedral. They happened in Jolo in the southern Sulu province. The first blast reportedly happened inside the cathedral; the second targeted soldiers nearby.

Sulu province is in the Mindanao region. On Monday, millions took part in a referendum that could lead to self-administration for the region's Muslim majority areas. Most people voted yes but the town of Jolo rejected that plan.

And rescue workers in Brazil have a long road ahead of them. They're still trying to find hundreds of people believed buried after a dam collapsed. We'll have an update next.





VANIER: There are signs of progress in U.S. talks with the Taliban but officials warn there's still a lot of work to be done. On Saturday, the U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted he's heading to Afghanistan after six days of negotiations in Qatar. A source tells CNN the U.S. and Taliban are discussing a cease-fire. That could lead to a U.S. withdrawal.

Rescue efforts in Brazil are set to resume anytime now after heavy rain forced them to stop overnight. Hundreds of people are still missing and at least 34 people are confirmed dead after a dam collapsed on Friday. Patrick Oppmann has the latest.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Surveying the damage. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro flies over the muddy aftermath of Friday's deadly dam collapse. Search efforts have doubled since the previous day.

Rescuers trolling through the mud and water, looking for anyone who may still be alive. So far civil authorities say around 300 people have been rescued. A spokesman for the Vale mine near the dam say all the missing people work for the company.

Police say they are trying to find a cafeteria they think is buried in the sludge. Local residents say the search could be delayed because of the landscape.

ALTHAIR GONCALVES, RESIDENT (through translator): The recovery of the area will be difficult, because the whole area was full, with the river and vegetation. Now the vegetation is all gone.

OPPMANN (voice-over): Officials say they are bringing in rescue dogs and Israel says it is sending a rescue team and equipment to the scene. President Bolsonaro says he will do everything possible to find the missing and comfort those waiting for answers.

JAIR BOLSONARO, BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The government is taking immediate steps to help minimize the pain of family members. From now on, the work is basically searching for missing people. Unfortunately, the death toll can greatly increase.

OPPMANN (voice-over): -- Patrick Oppmann, CNN.


VANIER: "Life is not in the cloud waiting to be downloaded."

That's the message Pope Francis brought to thousands of young people in Panama. During an event celebrating World Youth Day, the pope added, it's not enough to be connected online. You must get involved.

During the service, he also called all those who abuse children, including clergy members, "unscrupulous."

Before the hit TV series "Game of Thrones," George R. R. Martin created the fantasy world in a series of novels called "A Song of Ice and Fire." And while the show brings much of the Seven Kingdoms to life, readers of the books could only imagine what other parts of Westeros were like -- until now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) VANIER (voice-over): If you are growing impatient waiting for the

eighth and final season of "Game of Thrones," this may help fill the void, paintings showing George R. R. Martin's imaginary world of Westeros are on display in the suburb of Berlin, created by a team of 40 artists who worked on painting sets for the HBO series. These paintings show --


VANIER (voice-over): -- locations described in the books but not seen on the show.

The artist who organized the exhibit says he was inspired after reading "The World of Ice & Fire," a companion book, which provides a backstory for the fantasy series.

SVEN SAUER, EXHIBITION CO-ORGANIZER (through translator): I read it several times and thought, wow, this will definitely be a prequel. And because I knew the other artists, I got on the phone and drummed up artists worldwide to ask if they wanted to show this work visually.

VANIER (voice-over): Now visitors can enjoy a series of original paintings, each digitally composed by dozens of artists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so wide, the creation of different lands, different sceneries, different characters that you see so many artists coming together and creating something so impressive. It's marvelous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What George R. R. Martin has done is given us all a universe to play in, not just with the words, the images, but also with our own minds. And an exhibition like this truly shows that off to the best extent possible. it's an incredible achievement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The quality, you're looking at fans of "Game of Thrones" for the fans of George R. R. Martin work, coming here, seeing this kind of exposition is simply a dream come true.

VANIER (voice-over): The exhibition also gets another impressive endorsement.

ELIO M. GARCIA JR., CO-AUTHOR, "THE WORLD OF ICE & FIRE": When we first heard about it, we were just amazed, like who are these mad people in Germany who come together to do this?

But we're happy that there are mad people, talented people like this, who are so inspired by our work. It's a great honor.

VANIER (voice-over): And remember, winter is coming.


VANIER: All right, a word of sports. History will be made at the Australian Open men's finals over the coming hours.

Novak Djokovic is hoping to clench a record seventh title in Melbourne while Rafael Nadal is trying to become the first man in the Open era to win each major at least twice. On Saturday, Japan's Naomi Osaka won the women's title, her second back-to-back grand slam, beating Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic. The win is expected to give Osaka the top spot in the world when the new rankings come out on Monday.

Also next Sunday, fans of American pro football will have their eyes right here on Atlanta, Georgia. It's the site of Super Bowl LIII, next to our NEWSROOM, the biggest U.S. sports event of the year. This is a live view of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium just next door to us at CNN, it's where the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots will battle for supremacy.

The coveted Vince Lombardi trophy just arrived in Atlanta and who better to bring it than the Hall of Fame running back known as The Bus, aka Jerome Bettis. Bettis was a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team who won Super Bowl XL. That was back in 2006.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. We'll have the headlines for you in just a moment.