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U.S. Military Use of Drones; Cuba and Human Rights; Effectiveness of Cuban Embargo; New Havana Sound

Aired November 29, 2009 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: On the eve of a critical decision for President Obama, we have a dramatic debate over one of the U.S. Military's most valuable but most controversial weapons.

I'm Christiane Amanpour and welcome to our program. High stakes for President Barack Obama this week with a decision on troop strength that could determine the fate of the war in Afghanistan.

But we focus on one of the defining but little debated tactics. The controversial use of unmanned remote control weapons, drones target insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan without risking U.S. lives. But they have killed hundreds of civilians on the ground. We talk with a former top CIA official, a former Pakistani general, and one of the foremost experts on the drone program.

We also take a new look at an old war, the cold war between the United States and Cuba. A Key Congressional Committee is discussing lifting the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba. Could the embargo fall next? We talk to the committee chairman and to a leading human rights advocate with a scathing report on Cuba. Plus, differing viewpoints from two officials who have just returned from there.

But first, CNN's Nick Robertson reports on the new robotic warfare over Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's conducted from thousands of miles away in suburban America.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look around this room. It's been hit by a missile fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle, a UAV, more commonly known as a drone. The family living here says children were killed in this U.S. attack. The children were never the target, but in Pakistan's tribal border region, the death spelled trouble for U.S. foreign policy. Where many believe that fighting with drones is cowardly.

PETER SINGER, AUTHOR, "WIRED FOR WAR": Last year, one of the most popular songs in Pakistani pop culture was a song whose lyrics talking about how America fights without honor.

ROBERTSON: Launched from just over the border in Afghanistan, the pilotless predator and reaper drones are the answer to so many of the U.S. military's problems. Credited with killing more than a dozen al Qaeda leaders.

GENERAL DAVID DEPTULA, USAF: The real advantage of unmanned aerial systems is they allow you to project power without projecting vulnerability.

ROBERTSON: This is what the view looks like from a drone. And this is how effective they can be. Those men on the corner are firing guns. The enemy, eliminated. No service personnel put in harm's way. Why? Because the pilots who fly the drones never have to leave home. They control them from thousands of miles away, in suburban America. Major Morgan Andrews drives to work from his Las Vegas house. I asked whether it's like a video game. No, he says. It's often all too real, helping comrades in harm's way.

MAJOR MORGAN ANDREWS, USAF PREDATOR PILOT: It's very easy, I guess, when something like that is happening to project yourself there.

ROBERTSON: For the top brass, the potential of these remote systems getting their hearts racing too.

DEPTULA: The future with respect to how you use these unmanned systems or remotely piloted systems, is really unlimited. And we need to open our minds and think more about capability and impact that we can use them to achieve as opposed to how we've done business in the past.

ROBERTSON: The U.S. military calls the deaths of children in Pakistan's border area regrettable, an acknowledgement that the awesome power of these machines can sometimes backfire.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


AMANPOUR: Joining me now to discuss this, from Islamabad, Talat Masood, a Former Lieutenant General in the Pakistani Army. From Washington, CNN's National Security Analyst, Peter Bergen, who co-authored a new study of U.S. drone attacks. And right here in the studio, Vicki Divoll, Former Assistant General Council for the CIA. Welcome to you all.

I want to start with you, Vicki, because this is a CIA program we're talking about. Apparently, some dozen or so top-wanted militant terrorist leaders have been killed. Some half of the CIA's most wanted. Are there any rules governing this? Is the CIA accountable?

VICKI DIVOLL, U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY: Well, first, let me just say that what we know about this, what we know about the activities in the war zone of Afghanistan performed by the military and what we know or think we know about CIA's activities or other government agency's activities outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan and elsewhere are based on news accounts. And we don't know for sure whether that's in fact occurring. I don't know whether that's occurring. And I just want to make that as a disclaimer. But we can work off what the press accounts have put forth to have a discussion.

AMANPOUR: So is this happening, sort of, in the dark, and is anybody accountable to this? What are the rules?

DIVOLL: Well, the rules at the Central Intelligence Agency is the United States law. And any other directives from the President of the United States.

AMANPOUR: Which is, in this case?

DIVOLL: In this case, one could look to the assassination ban in the executive order. One could look to the laws passed by Congress barring certain types of killings overseas.

AMANPOUR: So what you're saying, as general counsel, that this is potentially illegal?

DIVOLL: No, I'm not saying that. Because in the sense of the assassination ban, that's a presidential order, and any president is free at any time to ignore, waive, or secretly waive an order such as that. It's not a law. In terms of the laws passed by Congress, I don't think any of them would apply here. So I don't think there is any legal bar under United States law to prevent this from happening.

AMANPOUR: Is there any concern, any ethical concern that you have?

DIVOLL: Oh, quite, yes. The ethical concerns have to do with the fact that the United States is abandoning the law enforcement model, which was much-ridiculed as having been the only model before 9/11 and is taking on the war model. But in taking on the war model, you have to follow the rule -- the ethical and moral just rule ethics of war. You can't blend them, you can't jump back and forth from one to the other. If you're going to go outside the war zone and target people, that is not war and you need follow other rules. The rules would be, in my opinion, the rule of law. And you need to pursue those people and bring them to justice.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me go to General Talat Masood in Islamabad where a lot of these drone strikes are happening. Is this having a good or a bad effect in Pakistan?

GEN. Talat Masood, FMR. PAKISTANI MINISTRY OF DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I think there is both a plus and a minus to this in the sense that there is a moral dimension to it and also it is arousing a lot of political opposition to it in the sense that it is also ripping up a lot of anti- Americanism and people think that it's a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty. And at the same time, there is also a belief that if the United States is an ally, then how is it that it is, you know, targeting in our country?

On the other hand, it has undoubtedly some very good tactical advantage in the sense that it has put the Taliban and the al Qaeda on the defensive. And there have been some very good targets taken out by the predators and the one is the most prominent was Baitullah Mehsud. So, I think on balance, one can say that it has tactical advantages, but in the long run, if you really want that there should be no opposition and you should win the hearts and minds of people, then it becomes questionable whether in the long-term, will it really, in the cost-benefit ratio, will it really help the United States.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask Peter Bergen, CNN's National Security Adviser here, so to speak, and also the co-author of a report with the new America foundation. Peter you're for these attacks. Why is that?

PETER BERGEN, CNN'S NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I wouldn't say necessarily for. I mean, I think in the study we did, I said that they're the least bad option that exists. Because, obviously, United States military can't invade the tribal areas of Pakistan where many of these militants are based. When U.S. Special Forces went over under Bush, there was tremendous pushback from the Pakistanis and both the Bush administration and the Obama administration pretty follow the same policy, which is to continue these drone attacks as really the only tool in the tool kit that really makes -- that's really possible.

And, you know as General Masood said, there is increasingly an alignment between Pakistani strategic interests and American strategic interests when it comes to the Pakistani Taliban. And U.S. drone strike killed Baitullah Mehsud, I was there in Pakistan when it happened and Pakistani newspapers were basically pretty celebratory, having been previously somewhat critical.

AMANPOUR: Right. But you know and everybody at this table knows that the likelihood in General Masood alluded to it to a sort of a cycle of revenge and Jihadism and willing recruits from the civilian casualties, which is the fallout. I mean, what is the potential negative down the road?

Well, there are, you know, quite a lot of negatives. I mean, only nine percent of Pakistanis have a favorable view of these drone strikes as General Masood said. The feeling of Pakistani sovereignty in the United States is disliked by most Pakistanis, you know, et cetera, et cetera. On the other hand, Pakistani politicians who used to criticize these strikes quite openly are really saying very little because the strikes are really, you know, attacking the enemies of the Pakistani state, who after all, have killed thousands of Pakistani civilians in the last few years, and these drone strikes, while they kill civilians, have not killed anything like the number of the Pakistani Taliban who are the subject of these strikes have killed just a couple of several months in Pakistan.

AMANPOUR: And yet they are killing lots of civilians to this drone attacks. Can I turn to you again Vicki Divoll, on the whole legal aspect of this, so the ethical, moral aspect, who chooses the targets? Why is there no public debate on this?

DIVOLL: Well, we don't know who's choosing the target. And we know that there's no public debate on this because it's a covert action operation. It's a clandestine operation, approved presumably, it better be, approved by the president, because the law requires that. So, no, we're not going to know who the targets are, we're not going to know how those targets is selected. We probably will never know.

AMANPOUR: Isn't that, in itself, a slippery slope? I've read that they're giving a lot more jurisdiction to the Pakistani government and, I mean, who knows? Are they militant leaders? Are they al Qaeda leaders? Are they people that the Pakistani government doesn't like?

DIVOLL: Well, putting aside the role of the Pakistani government or lack therefore, just in terms of what CIA does, you know, historically, they collect intelligence. They go around and steal secrets around the world. Historically, they haven't used those secrets to form hit lists. They haven't used them as means of targeting people for death. CIA has never been a killing machine.

AMANPOUR: But now it is?

DIVOLL: According to these news reports, yes. I don't know that they are for sure.

AMANPOUR: So does the United States -- does this say that the United States now has an official policy of targeted assassinations?

DIVOLL: The word "assassination" is a difficult one and a tricky one. I think "targeted killing" is more accurate because assassination brings back memories of world leaders being targeted, et cetera. I consider a targeted killing to be any time you put a tack out against a specific named person. And if you take out people around them, then I presume, if this is happening, that there's some balancing done in each case of how bad is the bad person, how many people are with them? This kind of decision making is likely happening if this is what's going on.

AMANPOUR: General Masood, quickly, before we go to a break, they're saying now that some of these drones are actually taking off from bases inside Pakistan. They're not coming from outside. And that, in fact, the Pakistani government does have a deal with the U.S. to deny it publicly, but to agree with it. Is that your understanding?

MASOOD: Well, I think to a great extent, you are right, in the sense that there is today, a sort of a tacit understanding, especially between the military as well as between the civilian leadership. You know, they think that they are useful and they are taking out targets, but at the same time, they think that they are politically very explosive. In that sense, they are denying and they are protesting.

AMANPOUR: OK. I want to come back and talk to Peter Bergen about Baitullah Mehsud. But that will be off for a break, stay with us and we'll be back in a moment.



QUESTION: How about those drones? Tell me about that.

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Yes. Do you have any other questions?

OUESTION: Do you want to talk about how well those are working for you?

MULLEN: Well, I actually won't talk about any operational details.

QUESTION: OK. We'll go back to strategy then.


AMANPOUR: That was the U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman, Admiral Michael Mullen, showing just how sensitive this issue is. And joining me again, Talat Masood, Peter Bergen, and Vicki Divoll.

Peter, I want to go back to the Baitullah Mehsud killing. The leader of the Pakistani Taliban who was killed over the summer. By all accounts, it took some 16 attempts over 14 months and then scores of people were killed around him, civilians as well, and we're looking at the debris here. I mean, at what point is the cost/benefit ratio sustainable?

BERGEN: Well, you know, one way to answer that Christiane is to look at what the cost have actually been. And we did a pretty careful examination of all the different drone strikes that have looking at the best reporting out there on these strikes.

And we found that as opposed to some estimates, which were as high as 98 percent civilian casualties and some estimates that were as low as10 percent, we found it over since 2006, about a third of the casualties have been civilians, which means that two-thirds that been militants. That number has dropped to about a quarter under President Obama.

Some people will say that number is too high and some people will say, that's the cost of doing business. We just wanted to put out some numbers out there because this has been a very inflamed debate and we thought it would be helpful to what he say, what is the actual civilian casualty death rate here and all these.

AMANPOUR: And you know not everybody agrees with that. Because there are still people in your community, the counterinsurgency, counterterrorism community who think it's sort of the opposite, that there are actually many more civilians killed.

BERGEN: Yes. But, I mean, I think our study is probably the most authoritative. It's probably the most detailed. And so, you know, again, it's a matter of -- you have to weigh .


AMANPOUR: Uncomfortable.

BERGEN: Yes. Baitullah, you know, probably killed several hundred American soldiers in the last couple of years, since he was the main source of suicide attacks in Afghanistan. He probably killed literally thousands of Pakistani civilians. And this is a very difficult question. As the former general council points out, these are tricky issues, because, you know, how many people might Baitullah would have continued to have killed if he were still alive today. These are the ethical and legal issues you have to weigh.

AMANPOUR: But again, it is so interesting that this is happening. I mean, the U.S. people have been outraged at targeting killings, you know, for instance in the Palestinian territories and right now there's almost nothing said publicly about this, obviously, because U.S. lives are at risk. But let me ask General Masood in Islamabad. These aerial killings, does it not affect the amount of intelligence that maybe you could benefit and you could reap from people if you were able to capture them or if you were able to capture their allies. If you were able to capture their diaries, their cell phones, who knows what?

MASOOD: There's no doubt about it, that if you were able to capture these people instead of sort of killing them, you would be able to get very valuable intelligence. There is no doubt. But the problem is that it's very difficult and inaccessible to, you know, sort of get hold of them and capture them. Because the way that they are operating and the terrain, and that is why in some cases, you know, the Pakistan army has been using in fact artillery and aircraft missiles.

AMANPOUR: That's a very interesting shift. I want to play this piece of interview that the U.N. Special Rapporteur has just put out.


PHILIP ALSTON, U.N. RAPPORTEUR: And what set of laws is the CIA actually operating. This is the CIA. This is not the Department of Defense. Normally wars are fought by a Defense Department, not by an intelligence agency. The fears of the international community that the U.S. is operating, perhaps, a targeted assassination program that's not constrained by the appropriate rules will simply be increased.

AMANPOUR: So, Vicki, I'm going to turn to you. Because he also said that when he tried to get information from the CIA, he was, quote, blown off. When he tried to talk to U.S. officials at the U.N., they wouldn't return his calls about this issue. What can the U.S. establishment do to assuage some of these concerns or not?

DIVOLL: I think, or not. I mean, I think if there is such a program done clandestinely, done under covert action authority, issued by the President of the United States, they're not going to talk about it. They're not going to be able to talk about it, perhaps, ever.

AMANPOUR: Is there something strange about the U.S. doing this in Pakistan, a country with which it is not at war?

DIVOLL: Yes. That when you talk about taking it out of the war zone into other sovereign country, that's when the question of doing it, a, clandestinely, b, not by the military, c, where does it end? Once you go to Pakistan or Yemen, do you go to Saudi Arabia? Do you go to Kenya? Do you go to Berlin? Do you go to Detroit? I don't know. I don't know where it ends once you've broken the war zone model and moved from killing with military efforts versus killing with civilian clandestine efforts.

AMANPOUR: And lastly, to you, General Masood, do you think the Pakistani military with the U.S. drones are going to be successful against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan?

MASOOD: Well, I'm sure the Pakistan army will be successful irrespective of the use of drones or not. Although, the drones would be helpful in some ways and they are helpful, but at the same time, I think this time the Pakistan army and the people of Pakistan are truly determined to fight this war and win it. Because under no circumstances I think that there is any future for Pakistan, unless this succeeds. So they are fighting for their future, rather than for anything else.

AMANPOUR: All right. All of you, thank you so much. And coming up, from a revolutionary form of warfare to a revolutionary form of art. We want to bid farewell to an artist who transformed our way of seeing our world.


AMANPOUR: From aerial warfare to a bird's eye view of beauty. We want to remember now someone who brought us light and color and just plain wow on a grand scale. The artist Jean Claude, the wife and longtime collaborator of Christo, died last week of a brain aneurysm. Here in New York, the couple was best known for the Gates shrouding Central Park in over 7,000 sheets of brilliant orange. In other massive projects, Jean Claude and Christo wrapped up world monuments, such as the Pont-Neuf in Paris to look almost like gifts. They covered the German Reichstag in white of to the fall of the Berlin Wall. And they stretched pink fabric around 11 islands in Biscayne Bay near Miami. Jean Claude and Christo's art was ephemeral, but it lasted in the imagination. The pieces would come down after a few days or a few weeks, but for those brief moments that they were up, Jean Claude and Christo gave us a breath of view and a way to expand our vision of the world.

And when we come back, Cuba. Pro-Castro supporters protect a human rights activist there. Have 50 years of U.S. sanctions done anything to stop this kind of oppression or is it time for a new approach? Please, stay with us.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, again. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. The Florida highway patrol says, Tiger Woods has canceled today's planned interview with investigators about his mysterious car crash. That makes three unsuccessful attempts to talk to the golfer. Investigators say they plan to release a 911 call made by a neighbor about the early Friday morning accident.

Woods was treated for minor injuries when he crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant and then a tree outside his Orlando area home.

And the White House is reacting to the latest show of defiance from Iran. Iran's state news agency says the Iranian cabinet today authorized the construction of 10 new uranium enrichment plants, a dramatic expansion of the country's nuclear program. The White House says the move would seriously violate UN resolutions and further isolate Iran from the international community.

And back here in the US, four police officers in Washington State have been shot dead in what investigators are calling a targeted ambush. It happened this morning at a coffee shop near Tacoma. Investigators say the officers were working on their computers before the start of their shift. Other people in the coffee shop were unharmed.

Police are looking for one man and possibly a second person in that attack.

And that's a look at this hour's top stories. More "AMANPOUR" in a minute.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back.

Fifty years after Fidel Castro declared Cuba a communist state, the US embargo remains. But the Castro brothers retain their iron grip.

It's been a fraught history between the two nations, from the Bay of Pigs invasion to the Cuban missile crisis. But for the first time now, a US president has been elected without making concessions to the powerful Cuban-American lobby.

In a moment, we'll talk to a US congressman who's trying to change American policy on Cuba - Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.


We asked the Cuban government representatives to join us, but they all told us they were not available at this time. We hope that they will in the future.

But right now we're joined here in our studio by Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director of Human Rights Watch Americas Division, which just published a highly critical report on Cuba. And from Washington, US Congressman Howard Berman, who joined us from Capitol Hill and who's been holding those hearings.

Welcome both gentlemen to our program.

Congressman Berman, if I could ask you, what precisely is the point of your hearings? What can you achieve?

REP. HOWARD BERMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: I'd like the Congress to re-examine the ban on travel. Americans can go to a country, Iran, that is developing a nuclear weapon that is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. During the Cold War, we never restricted the ability of Americans to go to the Soviet Union or other Soviet block countries.

I think our current policy interferes with what I consider a fundamental American right, the right of American citizens to travel.

AMANPOUR: And just to be clear, Congressman, if you lift the ban on Americans traveling, in a sense, de facto, the embargo collapses, correct?

BERMAN: No. I think the embargo and the travel ban are two very separate issues. There are all kinds of items - we have an embargo on Iran right now. We don't have a travel ban on Americans going to Iran.


BERMAN: And they're - they're are two separable (ph) issues.

AMANPOUR: All right. Let me turn to Jose Miguel Vivanco who's just come back from Cuba. You've written a highly critical report for Human Rights Watch called "New Castro, Same Cuba." What did you find there?

JOSE MIGUEL VIVANCO, DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, AMERICAS: Well, the conclusion is that under Raul Castro, essentially is the same type of repression that has been ongoing in Cuba for 50 years under Fidel Castro is - is very much in place.

AMANPOUR: More specifically?

VIVANCO: Specifically going after anybody who disagrees with the system. You know, in other words, you have a system - a totalitarian system that negates the exercise of fundamental freedoms and rights. No - no free speech, no right to association, no right to, you know, to create a union, labor rights, no political rights to elect, you know, anybody who is not endorsed or official candidate of a.

AMANPOUR: So do you - do you believe that the travel ban should be lifted, for instance, as Congressman Berman says?

VIVANCO: Absolutely. And we submitted, actually, a - a letter to the committee of Chairman Berman, requesting and supporting to - to release the travel ban.

Essentially, our position is human rights conditions are still extremely poor. You know, Raul Castro's record is characterized by massive and gross violations of human rights. The best way to address this problem is by not only lifting the travel ban, but also replacing the embargo with effective pressure that could be exercised essentially multilaterally.

AMANPOUR: Let me play this sound bite from Yoani Sanchez, the notorious now blogger there.


YOANI SANCHEZ, CUBAN BLOGGER (through translator): They threw me in the backseat of the car, upside down. Then a very strong man placed his knee on my chest and I couldn't breathe.

The man in the front seat was hitting me in my back and pulling my hair. He said, "Yoani, this is it," and, at that moment, I thought I was going to die.


AMANPOUR: Congressman Berman, does that kind of - of testimony from inside Cuba, what you've just heard about the Human Rights Watch's rather scathing report, does that make it more difficult for you as you're holding these hearings?

BERMAN: I think it makes our case more compelling.

AMANPOUR: How's that?

BERMAN: Because the Cuban dissidence, the people - the brave people in Cuba who are standing up to this despotic regime, they want more contact with Americans. They want Americans coming to Cuba. They believe this will help bring down the wall that separates the government from its own people.

Our whole history with Eastern Europe and - and Russia, Americans traveling there meant American contact with dissidents, promoting American values, bringing to the people of these countries, as they would to the Cuban people, the story of what - of what freedom and liberty are really like.

AMANPOUR: Congressman Berman, as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, what do you see happening in your committee in Congress regarding the Cuban issue? Is sentiment shifting away from this - this embargo?

Certainly, Cuban Americans, by a vast majority, want the embargo lifted and certainly the travel ban lifted.

BERMAN: Well, you make a very good point. The - there is a change of position going on within the Cuban-American community. More and more of them realize the futility of the travel ban in terms of achieving our shared goals, and in addition we now have something like 175, getting close to - getting close to half of the members of Congress co-sponsoring the legislation to repeal the travel ban.

There is no doubt that we are in a much better situation now than we were, even a few years ago, not because of anyone being enamored with Castro. We - we stand, I think, united in a bipartisan way against his repressive policies. But because we believe that the Cuban people and the American people will be better off.

AMANPOUR: The Cuban government often says that these repressive measures are in place to defend against a hostile United States. Do they have a point?

VIVANCO: Well, they have (ph) - using that, manipulating the US foreign policy of isolation. That's why - that is one of the reasons why we believe it's necessary to change the policy.

The policy of isolation that is essentially a policy of regime change, because that is what Washington has been trying for almost 50 years. Regime change is rejected by the - the rest of the world. Nobody in Europe agree with the US. Nobody in Latin America. No - no - there is not a single, you know, solid democracy in the world that is supporting regime change and isolation against the - the Cuban government.

So that's why it's important to build up a multilateral coalition that has the political power and the moral authority to exercise an effective pressure on the Cuban government.

AMANPOUR: Congressman Berman, again, to you also, the Cubans often justify whatever policy they have as standing against hostility from the United States. Do they have a point? And how can you promote change? It's obviously not going to come from outside, like regime change. How can you promote change there, if that's what you're seeking?

BERMAN: Well, I'm not - I'm not here to say that getting rid of the travel ban will meet the immediate change in - in the regime. But my - in my heart of hearts, I believe that Castro does not want the travel ban to be repealed. He loves using American policy as a scapegoat for his own repression and for the terrible economic conditions the Cubans now live under. We are serving his purposes by our current policy.

AMANPOUR: And do you believe that this will get through Congress and get through the Senate? What do you believe?

BERMAN: I think it has a better chance than it's had since the policy was formulated.

AMANPOUR: All right. Thank you very much, indeed, Congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you very much, indeed. And Jose Maria (ph) Vivanco, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

And when we come back, we will speak to two who've just been there, including a European commissioner who met with the country's leader and also a former US State Department official who's also just returned from Cuba. That's when we return.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The worst impact of the embargo is on food and problems with medicine. There are things we simply can't get because of the embargo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I wish they would fix everything because I have family in the United States - my brother, cousins. Speaking for myself, I personally have more hope in Obama than in any other American president that there has been.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Cuban people don't have anything against the American people, if you know what I mean, and we need to have relationships with them, just like with the rest of the world.


AMANPOUR: That was the view from the streets of Havana just a few hours ago. And joining me now, two people who've just returned from Cuba, Karel de Gucht, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aide, and Lawrence Wilkerson, co-chairman of the US-Cuba Policy Initiative, now at the New American Foundation and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Both of you gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us.

Let me go to you, Mr. de Gucht. Can you just tell me - look, it's clear that the embargo has not worked, but also your policy of constructive engagement has not worked. What are you proposing now as a way to change what's happening in Cuba?

KAREL DE GUCHT, EU COMMISSIONER FOR DEVELOPMENT: First of all, the European Union does not support an embargo on Cuba. But you're right that also our policy of engagement up to now can show very little results.

We have come to the conclusion that most obviously pressure on this regime is not going to automatically change it. And that's why we have a policy to engage and also to engage in a way that we support directly the Cuban people.

For example the - after the hurricanes, we - we come in with help. We are helping to restructure the - the agricultural sector in - in Cuba, which is - this is primarily poorly managed (INAUDIBLE) with big state enterprises. We want to have subsistence agriculture.

So we try to engage with them and - and hope that over time the regime will change.

Now, the question is.

AMANPOUR: So, you're hoping.

DE GUCHT: . is there a way to make a change.

AMANPOUR: Basically you're hoping that it's going to collapse from within?

DE GUCHT: No, I've - I've never said that I - I hope that it collapses from within. I'm not talking about regime change. I think that should not be the purpose of our political actions.


DE GUCHT: But then, of course, we - we need the political courage to look at all the element of the discussion, and one of the elements that has not yet been mentioned in - in this program is the case of the Cuban Five.

It's obvious that if you want to negotiate on the liberating - the liberation of - of the all the political prisoners, then you have to talk also about all of the problems, included, I think, the Cuban Five.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let me ask.

DE GUCHT: . including the embargo and then I think we could come to a political result.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask Lawrence Wilkerson.

You've just come back from Cuba as well. Did you meet with any of the leaders there? What is your proposal for promoting change there? You also were talking about engagement, right, Mr. Wilkerson?

LAWRENCE WILKERSON, US-CUBA POLICY INITIATIVE: That's correct. And let me say first that I agree with Chairman Berman that this issue before us right now is full travel. And that's not an issue about Cuba, that's an issue about the rights of American citizens, and it's unconstitutional that we restrict them from traveling to Cuba.

Furthermore, we have a tyranny of the minority in this country right now. That is to say Cuban-Americans can visit Cuba, a very small minority, while the majority of Americans can't. That's unconstitutional. We need to change that.

AMANPOUR: Right. But the point is not about America's constitutional rights. It's about - it's about Cuba, right? I mean, it's about everybody except the United States thinking that the embargo has been ineffective.

Do you believe the embargo should be lifted?

WILKERSON: The embargo has been a colossal failure. The embargo has done nothing but isolate the United States of America.

AMANPOUR: Should it will lifted?

WILKERSON: There is a lot of Latin American leader. It should be. There is not a Latin American leader from Luis Inacio da Silva in Brazil to Stephen Harper in Canada who hasn't made it one of his talking points with the American president for some time now to lift the stupid, idiotic embargo.

It makes no sense. We need to move towards normalized relations.

AMANPOUR: So how do you promote change, or do you not promote change? Do you just have relations with this - with this government and wait out the Castro brothers until the end of their natural lives?

WILKERSON: Well, it's - it's quite clear that Raul and Fidel are not going to live that much longer. Isolated the way we are now on our side of the Florida Strait, we will have zero influence over what replaces the Castros.

I do not think that 50 years of failure is testimony to the reason we should continue it. We need to adopt a new policy. That policy needs to be a policy of engagement, so that we can have more impact on raising the standards of living of the average 11.5 million Cubans and so that we can be around when the change does, inevitably, occur.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let me just put this sound bite up from Representative Connie Mack, who obviously opposes Chairman Berman's travel ban hearings here.


REP. CONNIE MACK (R), FLORIDA: This is a Castro bailout, Mr. Chairman, a bailout for beating, a bailout for oppression, a bailout for rape, a bailout for torture, a bailout for corruption, a bailout for tyranny.

Mr. Chairman, going sightseeing to view political prisoners will not bring democracy to Cuba.


AMANPOUR: OK. I want to go to you, Mr. de Gucht, because it looks like Europe and certainly this - the Spanish EU presidency that when they take over the leadership, you want to remove Cuban rights from the so-called "Common Position." Why would you do that? What effect would that have?

DE GUCHT: Well, simply because we think that the Cubans have a point. We have relations with a lot of oppressive regimes and - and we have a special regime for Cuba. It makes no sense singularizing them. I think we should stop the singularizing but also be much fervor (ph) on what we expect them to do in the future.

Another remark I would like to make, if - if you permit me to do so, is - is that the idea that if the Castros physically were to disappear, which is going to happen sooner or later with everybody of us, by the way, that all of a sudden the regime would change. I don't think that's true. I'm just (INAUDIBLE).

AMANPOUR: Mr. Wilkerson, last question to you. What do you think President Obama could do more than he's doing already? We've already established that he's not in hoc (ph), so to speak, to the Cuban-American lobby and the majority of Cuban-Americans want the embargo lifted.

What should the president of the United States be doing now?

WILKERSON: This may surprise you. I like what he's doing. He's moving very slowly, very incrementally. He's got a lot of other things that are far more important on his plate from Afghanistan to health care, and I like what he's doing. At low levels right now, we're having talks on immigration, on postal service and other matters like that, and I think he's moving as fast as he can.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much indeed. It looks like it is moving, certainly compared to what was going on over the last several years.

Both of you gentleman, thank you very much for joining us and we'll continue to look at this issue.

And we have something special for you from Cuba when we come back - a side of Havana and the rest of the island that you may not normally see.


AMANPOUR: Cuba is one of the most musical countries in the world, and that is the Buena Vista Social Club which helps send Cuban music global.

But listen to the new sound that our Morgan Neill found coming out of Havana these days, and meet the man who's making it.


MORGAN NEILL, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Aldo Rodriguez of Los Aldeanos - in English, The Villagers - is part of Cuba's underground hip hop movement. He lays down basic tracks in his bedroom on an old computer. He says distribution is hand to hand on homemade CDs, copied over and over.

His lyrics are direct, and they don't pull punches. For example, in the song "Ya Nos Cansamos" (ph), which translates roughly as "We're Fed Up," you'll find this verse...

ALDO RODRIGUEZ, CUBAN HIP-HOP ARTIST (through translator): They're always saying everyone is equal, but you tell me if the doorways are falling down in the generals' houses. Of course in Cuba all the hospitals are free. But who do they treat better, the officials or me?

NEILL: "It's not anything bad," he says, "It's just the truth, and the people aren't used to hearing it.


AMANPOUR: Aldo Rodriguez says that he's got nothing against his government, but he also says that he will not be silent. "I'm young and I've got a right to express myself," he says.

And that's our report for this week. Be sure to check out our daily program available on podcast. Go to

Thank you for joining us. Good-bye from New York.