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Diplomacy Failing in Syria; US Embargo of Cuba

Aired June 5, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

There is a new kind of casualty list from Syria tonight. At least 137 people have been killed in the last few days. But this is not another civilian massacre. These are now Syrian soldiers loyal to Bashar al-Assad, killed by rebel fighters.

My brief tonight is stating the obvious or quoting the 19th century Prussian General Clausewitz, that "War is diplomacy by other means." In other words, diplomacy seems to be failing. The Syrian rebel fighters are now taking matters and arms into their own hands.

Since announcing over the weekend that they will no longer commit to the Annan cease-fire plan. How did it comes to this? It comes down to this moment perhaps with the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon here on this program. You may have seen it before, but it does bear repeating.


AMANPOUR: What is the plan B?

BAN KI-MOON, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: At this time, we don't have any plan B.


AMANPOUR: And so when diplomats fail to come up with a plan B, that's when matters really fall apart and processes become self-fulfilling. The civil war the world said it feared that if it did intervene is now gathering steam because it has not intervened. In the words of this graffiti written on a U.N. vehicle by a Syrian rebel, "Game over, U.N."

Today the Assad regime said it would allow at least limited access for relief workers. Will it really? In a moment, I'll ask the official heading that effort, Valerie Amos, the U.N. Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs. But first, a look at what's coming up later in the program.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): There's been a U.S. embargo on Cuba for more than half a century. But it's failed if its aim was to dislodge the Castros. I'll ask Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, about that in part two of our exclusive interview and about when will change come to Cuba.

And then as millions cheer, I'll offer a very personal tip of the hat to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who, for 60 years, has proudly worn the crown and many colorful hats of her own.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit, but first my guest, the lady, the official in charge of the U.N.'s humanitarian efforts, Valerie Amos. She's been on the ground in Syria to evaluate the humanitarian crisis and she joins me now. Thank you for coming in.


AMANPOUR: You heard and you've seen how the dynamic has changed, the Annan cease-fire despite everybody's best efforts seems not to be working and the rebels have said forget it. How difficult is it now to get humanitarian aid to those who most desperately need it?

AMOS: Well, my concern is that it's taken us too long to do this. I was there in early March. At the end of March, we had an assessment. We were very clear that about 1 million people need help. Our progress since then -- and we have made modest progress -- has been very slow.

By the end of this work, the World Food Program is hoping that, through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, they will have scaled up so that we're reaching 500,000 people with food. Other parts of the U.N. system with partners have managed to get, for example, blankets and other things, medical supplies that people need. But it's not nearly enough when you look at the situation across the country as a whole.

AMANPOUR: I have to say this, it does sound like a drop in the ocean, despite your best efforts. And you say that in March you estimated a million in need. Now several months have passed. Is that still only a million, or do you think it's even more?

AMOS: Well, I'm sure the numbers have gone up. But we haven't done that kind of assessment since then. We want to get to those million people and see who else needs our support. But it's very hard to do. The security situation is difficult. But it's not only that. We've had painstaking negotiations with the Syrian authorities.

They want us to work through a finite number of organizations, the kind of effort we're talking about needs a lot more people on the ground. So we've been trying to work with them to say let's get the visas agreed. Let's get people in. Let's support the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, who've been doing a magnificent job. But, again, their resources are finite.

AMANPOUR: So we've -- we talked about how the authorities are allowing you to perhaps set up offices in some four areas around. Well, that's good news. But given your experience, will you see it when you believe it? I mean, do you think you're going to get that access?

AMOS: We're making progress. I mean, I think the important thing is that there is modest progress. The key thing that I keep saying to the Syrian authorities is that we need it deeper and faster.

AMANPOUR: And what is the holdup? I mean, how difficult can it be for them to realize that their own people need help?

AMOS: Well, I think the key thing for Syrian authorities and perhaps this is a question that you should ask them --

AMANPOUR: We've tried. We can't get anywhere near the Syrian authorities.

AMOS: Well, they are very keen on putting in place quite complex bureaucratic procedures, getting clearance every single step of the way. Our experience, when you're dealing with these urgent humanitarian issues, is that you have to get in there, you have to help people immediately. It's what people are looking for.

AMANPOUR: Let me read you this. The Houla Media Center -- and obviously we all know what happened in Houla --

AMOS: And we're all very distressed by it.

AMANPOUR: They said, "We call on relief and human rights organizations to help and to open humanitarian corridors for basic items so that you do not become collaborators in the regime's massacres."

That's heavy.

AMOS: It's heavy, Christiane, but I think there's also a misunderstanding here. If you're going to have a humanitarian corridor, people need to feel safe and secure. So not only do you have to get the agreement of everyone who's fighting to have the corridor, you have to have a way of policing that corridor in a neutral way so people feel safe.

The worst thing would be to say to people here's a corridor. They come and then somebody fires at them. So how are we going to get a corridor that's safe and secure in the current environment?

AMANPOUR: Well, you and I have been there before. We've seen it in Bosnia. We've seen it in other places. It does mean putting people on the ground. Do you think the international community -- the U.N., the peacekeeping effort, is ready to do that now?

AMOS: Well, a couple of things. It's a monitoring effort. It's an observer mission to monitor the cease-fire --


AMOS: It is not -- it's not a peacekeeping mission.

AMANPOUR: I know. But I'm wondering if it might be.

AMOS: Well, the Security Council will discuss this on Thursday. The United Nations, as you know, is made up of its member states. We are bound by the decisions taken by our member states. They've been able to agree on the need for humanitarian access. They've really pushed the Syrian authorities very, very hard on this.

They've agreed the Annan plan, but you know, with respect to getting a clear Security Council resolution on anything else that the security members have not been able to agree that.

AMANPOUR: Do you think, like many now on the ground are taking that - - I mean, they've just declared it by not abiding by the cease-fire anymore, that the Annan plan is dead?

AMOS: Well, the only thing that I can say to people who are taking up arms is that there is nowhere where we see the taking up of arms, the killing of people on the ground. It's the billions who are bearing the brunt of this. That is not the thing that leads to the solution. It's the negotiation, it's the discussions.

And in many of these situations, and you have seen it over the years, the fighting, the conflict actually perpetuates the situation, makes it worse and worse before you can come to some kind of solution. I very much hope that what they're saying about the Annan plan is not right, it has six elements.

All of those elements have to be respected. The key element of political discussions across the parties, that is absolutely key. The people of Syria want this. They want safety. They want security.

AMANPOUR: Certainly they do. And I know the international community is banking on this happening, this kind of political reform, although I'm not sure how many of you believe in it anymore, and I would like to know from you, how do you force that issue? How do you force even the political dialogue between the two sides?

AMOS: Well, the people on the ground have to want it. I mean, this is about the future for Syria and the future for Syrians themselves. The international community has to push, it has to cajole, it has to try.

People have said so far very clearly that moving in with an international force is not the answer. We've seen individual countries say, well, if the Security Council mandates it, then that's a different thing. But the Security Council have not agreed this. So at the moment, diplomacy is the thing that we have to continue to hope is going to generate some change on the ground.

AMANPOUR: So there's a lot of hoping that's going on and --

AMOS: Hey, look, there's a lot of hoping, I think, on the political side. There's a lot of activity in the sense of a lot of conversations. We all know that that's partly what diplomacy and negotiation is. There has been some movement.

I think we've all been able to see that on the humanitarian side. Slow, but modest progress, and there has been some movement with having these observers on the ground, certainly in the early days. We saw very clearly that some of the violence, some of it stopped in some places, and it receded in others.

AMANPOUR: And then it picked up again, and we saw what happened in Houla.

AMOS: And it picked up again, which is the huge concern. And we have to hold those people who have the weapons, who are perpetuating this violence, we have to hold them to account.

AMANPOUR: And certainly we've seen that the dynamic is shifting and that the rebels are fighting back. But the U.N. held the state to account. The U.N. observers there said that the preponderance of the violence in Houla was committed by the state.

And I want to ask you to react to this. This is what the Europe's humanitarian chief is saying about the humanitarian situation, that, "We have the feeling that we're running behind a train of increasing speed, the train of humanitarian suffering."

Are you ever going to catch up?

AMOS: It's going to be very hard to catch up. We've identified a million people. I think the numbers are greater than that. If we don't get significant numbers of people in on the ground, supporting the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, supporting those small NGOs that are doing what they can, we are not going to be able to (inaudible) this.

AMANPOUR: Tell me what you saw, because you did go to Homs and Baba Amr, at the height of the shelling there. And a lot of infrastructure around the country has been ruined. What is the infrastructure and how is that leading to deaths as well?

AMOS: I was shocked by what I saw in Baba Amr. It was a neighborhood that I'd been told housed 50,000 to 60,000 people. It was completely destroyed. There wasn't a single building that was left untouched. Very clear evidence of tanks rolling over pavements, you know, of large mortar shells having been used.

You know, a few people scrabbling around, trying to collect their possessions. It was the most terrible thing. I was the first person to go in after there had been fighting consecutively for about 26 days. There was no one. There was no one left. You know, there was no one for us to go in and support and help.

People had gone where they could, and I kept asking the question, where have the people gone? Some I was told, had gone to other parts of Homs. Some had left Homs altogether. Some were refugees in neighboring countries. But we're seeing this repeated in city after city in Syria. And this is the horrible things, that it is civilians. It's children.

About half the people who have left as refugees are children and adolescents. Their education is disrupted. The trauma that they are going through and that their parents are going through, it's something that we all feel very strongly. And the government and the rebels have got to recognize this. They hold the responsibility.

AMANPOUR: Valerie Amos, thank you very much for coming in.

AMOS: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And meantime, while the diplomats debate and the killing goes on, when we return, we'll take another look at Castro's Cuba in the second part of my exclusive interview with Mariela Castro. But first, one more image from Syria.

Take a look at this picture. It shows what we've been talking about, Syrian rebels making a pipe bomb, now that the Free Syrian Army has abandoned the cease-fire, these rebels are going on the offensive. We'll be right back.


AMANPOUR: And now to Cuba and a rare opportunity to actually interview a Castro, Mariela, the daughter of the Cuban president, Raul Castro.

Yesterday I asked her about activism on behalf of gay rights, which brought her here to the United States and also the possibility of political awakenings inside Cuba.

Today I asked whether she thinks the half-century old embargo against her country will ever be lifted and what she sees for the future of U.S.- Cuba relations.


AMANPOUR: Mariela Castro, thank you for being with us.


AMANPOUR: Let me get to some of the reaction that your visit here has caused. Were you surprised that the U.S. government gave you a visa?

ESPIN (through translator): Even though I had obtained a visa under Bush in 2002, I was surprised this time. I didn't think that I would be granted a visa. But I'm grateful. I was able to have a very rich exchange with professionals and activists in San Francisco and in New York as well.

AMANPOUR: You don't need me to tell you what the Cuban-American community thinks. Florida Senator Marco Rubio accused you of bringing a campaign of anti-Americanism to the United States. Is that what you're doing here?

ESPIN (through translator): In the first place, that senator doesn't represent the Cuban-American people in the United States, just a very small interest group that has dedicated itself to manipulating policies in the United States towards Cuba affecting the civil rights of the Cuban-American people to travel freely and as often as they want, to be able to go back and see their families in Cuba.

So their leaders have always asked that we normalize relations based on respect towards our sovereignties and our social and economic projects. And I think that we can achieve this. I think it's easy. It's unfortunate that a small group of people are really limiting this process. I felt the friendship and the affection of the people of the United States.

I felt very well here. I've met wonderful people and I see that we share many points in common, Cuba and the United States. Right now in Cuba, there are many Americans because of the flexibility that Obama has. And it's wonderful. They may feel very well there. And we're ready. We're ready to meet in friendship with any type of conditioning or political (inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Did you expect more from President Obama or has he gone as far as you expected him to go on the Cuban issue?

ESPIN (through translator): I think that the whole world and the American people have placed great hopes on President Obama and I personally understand that that is his position and that his public mandate limits him a great deal.

But I believe that President Obama needs another opportunity. And he needs greater support to move forward with this project and with his ideas, which I believe come from the bottom of his heart. He wants to do much more than what he's done. That's the way I interpret it personally. I don't know if I'm being subjective.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that he wants to lift the embargo, and that there could be proper relations between Cuba and the United States under a second Obama term?

ESPIN (through translator): I believe that Obama is a fair man. And Obama needs greater support to be able to take this decision.

AMANPOUR: Do you want Obama to win the next election?

ESPIN (through translator): As a citizen of the world, I would like him to win. Seeing the candidates, I prefer Obama.

AMANPOUR: Now, as you know, there are many issues that cause problems between Cuba and the United States. One of the issues right now is Alan Gross. I want to play you something that he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.


ALAN GROSS, AMERICAN HELD PRISONER IN CUBA: I have a 90-year-old mother who has inoperable lung cancer and she's not getting any younger. And she's not getting any healthier. I would return to Cuba, you know, you can quote me on that. I'm saying it live. I would return to Cuba if they let me visit my mother before she dies. And we've gotten no response.


AMANPOUR: So my question to you is why should Alan Gross not be allowed to visit his sick mother?

ESPIN (through translator): The Cuban government has publicly requested that they want to negotiate based on human considerations, Alan Gross' situation as well as the situation of the five Cubans who have been in prison for 15 years in the United States. And the Cuban people who are participating in this process is to seek a satisfactory solution for the six families, the five Cubans and for Alan Gross.

I think that it's fair. I'm hurt by any families suffering. I'm dedicated to helping people and making them happy, and it seems to me that independently of the fact that he's committed a crime and that he's only served a short period of his sentence, I think that it's fair that people can receive the benefit of flexibility in the world of law and justice, and that these negotiations go forward into the two governments. I think that as a people, we're going to be very happy the situation has been solved.

But we have the case of Gerardo Hernandez, who's in prison. His mother fell ill. He asked for permission to see his mother. His mother passed away, and Gerardo was not able to say goodbye to his mother. He also hasn't been able to see his wife this whole time.

Alan Gross has been granted everything that he's asked for. He's been able to see his wife. He's been able to have matrimonial conjugal visits and he has been treated with respect and dignity the way we always treat prisoners in Cuba.

We haven't received the same treatment on the other hand for our five prisoners who have very long sentences. They're not right. So what we want is the well-being of all of these families. That's what we (inaudible) the most. I think that the six must be released, both the five Cubans and Alan Gross.

AMANPOUR: You yourself have said in New York this week, our system is open and fair, as you've just told me. Many would disagree with you, but you have said that. But you've also said that it could be more democratic. What do you mean by that?

ESPIN (through translator): I meant to say that we need to establish permanent mechanisms for the people's participation when we make decisions, because this is the only way that all our people can participate.

AMANPOUR: We often wonder why it is that Cubans can't travel very easily. Cubans have to get permission from the government to travel and come back. They can't just leave. And it's quite difficult to get permission. I mean, people have told me that inside Cuba. Why? I mean, what's the point of that?

ESPIN (through translator): The subject of migration in Cuba was always managed politically from here and you know that there are many difficulties. And immigration law, even though the law in the United States is maintained, should change in Cuba.

So several years ago, there's been a great discussion regarding the subject about how to modify this law and I understand that the fear and new immigration law will be approved in Cuba, which opens up to everything that the Cuban people have requested in our ongoing debate.

AMANPOUR: So you foresee change in the travel laws?

ESPIN (through translator): Yes, and I believe it's going to come about very soon.

It's one of the things that we've asked for the most in all of these discussions.

AMANPOUR: I have to ask you about somebody who you're already having a bit of a verbal war with, and that is Yoani Sanchez, the dissident blogger inside Cuba. Why shouldn't she be allowed to blog? Why shouldn't she be allowed to say what she does?

ESPIN (through translator): The way I see it, Yoani Sanchez is allowed to express herself. She has a blog. She's on Twitter. She's on Facebook. She's not in prison, even though she's a mercenary. (Inaudible) she's received over half a million dollar in prizes (inaudible) form of payment and (inaudible) mercenary does exist in Cuba.

Even though she's done that, she's not in prison. Even though she is breaking the law, she's allowed to express herself and she's allowed to lie. She has time to lie in everything that she wants. She's free. She even has the most sophisticated technology which exists in Cuba to connect to Internet and to be able to publish her ideas.

AMANPOUR: In that regard, a couple of years ago, journalists came to Cuba, and they met with your uncle, Fidel Castro. And he gave an interview and he basically said the Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore. What do you think he meant by that?

ESPIN (through translator): He meant to say that in this new era, in Cuba's new reality, with the development of the political culture and functions (ph) in our country, it was time for a change. We had to change our strategy. And that's what we've been doing. He realized it. And as a leader, he was calling upon us to do that.

But those changes do not happen overnight. I repeat, they have to be worked on. We have to generate a debate, and I think that that is what we've been doing. And I'm very satisfied to see that the maximum leader of our revolution has identified our difficulties, because as a people we were also defining them.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much for coming in.

ESPIN (through translator): Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And if you missed the first part of my interview with Mariela Castro, you can watch it on, where you can see our entire program every day. And when we return, one final bow to the Queen.


AMANPOUR: Now our final thought. Imagine a world where leaders come and go, but a Queen, a constitutional monarch endures. As the world knows by now, after four days of pomp and circumstance and fireworks, Elizabeth II has sat on the throne for 60 tumultuous years, and seems never to been loved or more admired.

I had my own royal command performance at Buckingham Palace to receive a CBE, a civilian honor from the Queen, back in 2007. Yep, that's me in the funny hat, which was the height of fashion at the time, I might add.

And so to 60 years of royal and devoted service, and in the words of a future king, her grandson, Prince William, "The Queen is a true professional who shows the strength of women at the top and who have set the bar very high."

Very high indeed. And that's it for tonight's program. Thank you for watching. Goodbye from New York.