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South Korea's Woman President; Growing Scandal in Army Childcare; New Australian TV Station Highlighting Aboriginal Affairs; Cashing in on the End of the World

Aired December 20, 2012 - 12:30   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the people of South Korea made a choice for the history books yesterday. They elected a woman to be president for the next five years.

Park Geun-hye will be the first-ever female president of South Korea, but there is something else that she brings into the highest office of the country and that is her name. It is synonymous with what many Koreans consider a dark time in their history.

I want bring in Christiane Amanpour, ABC's global affairs anchor, and, Christiane, tell us what the significance is because you've got someone before women elected as president of Asian countries, but this has a legacy that is dividing the Korean people. What is this about?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Her legacy is very decisive and she's pledged now to try to be a conciliator.

That name, Park, raises a huge number of memories and many of them dark for South Koreans. Her father had been South Korea's long-time dictator. He was assassinated in 1979. He had really succeeded in pushing the country towards economic growth and economic liberalization, but he also had a very dark record on human rights and that was a very bad time in South Korea's history.

So, this is obviously many, many years later. You know, she had to leave that palace after her father was assassinated. Now, she's won her right to enter the presidential palace again and she's making all the right noises, trying to reach out.

She also, obviously, is going to reaffirm South Korea's close ties with the United States and, of course, what South Korea does with North Korea is going to be of vital importance and of vital interest not just to the region, but also to the U.S.

MALVEAUX: And, Christiane, on another subject and really a fascinating story, I understand you met a man, a very well-respected scientist who says he has evidence to back up a story from the Bible. Tell us about this guy and how you met him and your ventures.

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, kind of whiplash, editorially, but I'm -- I have a wonderful special this weekend on ABC News. It's on Friday. It's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, and it's called "Back to the Beginning."

And, as part of that, tracing the historical roots of the Old Testament where we see, you know, the Bible and also elements of the Koran coming together, a common faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims. We try to see not just the impact of those Old Testament stories, even today, in their resonance, but could we also trace historical archaeological proof?

Well, as you can imagine, there is precious little. There are very few rocks or bones that tie these biblical stories to reality, except the notion of a biblical flood.

And we interviewed and visited with Dr. Robert Ballard, who is extraordinarily famous. He's the world's leading underwater discoverer, adventurer, archaeologist. He found the shipwreck of the Titanic back in '85 and he thinks he can find evidence of a civilization of 7,000 years ago that would have been washed away by an monumental flood, and that would have been at the time of Noah.

So, while he doesn't think we're going to find the ark, 7,000 years later, he does think that there is a great possibility to find evidence of a civilization. And that is a sort of illustration of why these stories are being passed down and handed down and resonate today because there were events that caused the stories to be told, to be written and to be passed down.

So, I describe it as a great detective story. It's a great adventure story. It's for believers, non-believers, grown-ups and children.

MALVEAUX: It's pretty awesome. We're going to be watching and, yeah, you don't get Noah's ark, but you do come pretty close.

Thank you, Christiane. Good to see you as always.

AMANPOUR: Thanks, Suzanne.


Two months after Superstorm Sandy devastated New York's Staten Island, people are still digging out. As you can see, it has now become, really, a study in how neighbor-helping-neighbor is not only rebuilding the city, rebuilding long-lasting relationships. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought we were going to lose our lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In an instant, it's gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to lose my mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was nothing you could do.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't understand. We need help. NICK CAMERADA, STATEN ISLAND RESIDENT: This is one of the toughest times that I ever faced in my life.

The people really don't know the devastation that actually occurred on Staten Island, firsthand, because you really need to be here to really see it with your eyes.

You needed to be down seeing people's lives destroyed.

If I just sit back and make like this didn't happen, I'd be lying and fooling myself.

I will be there for my community. There's thousands and thousands, millions, of people just like me that are out there looking to, you know, help and rebuild.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you like some food? You want this one?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I gave them a promise I would stay until they didn't need me anymore.

DONNA GRACIANO, VOLUNTEER: They come for their hot food, supplies. We go out and make sure they're clean. You know, they're -- if they need any help cleaning, demolition.

Seeing the people, seeing the tears, holding them while they were crying, it really touched home and I could see they really needed somebody, somebody to see every day knowing that if it was one person, that one person was there for them and wasn't going to leave and back out on them.

CAMERADA: In these hard times it touches your heart deep down inside knowing that there's people out there that care.

GRACIANO: When I go home at night, I can put my head on the pillow and go to sleep, knowing that I helped a whole bunch of people feel better about their situation maybe just a little bit.

CAMERADA: Just don't forget us. Keep us in your heart and in your prayers and thoughts.

If you could help the people out of Staten Island in any way, please do.



MALVEAUX: President Obama has called the Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, to press him on how people are hired at Army daycare centers. This move is pretty unusual for the president.

I want to bring our Barbara Starr from the Pentagon to talk about this. Why -- first of all, why did he do this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is extraordinary, Suzanne. You know, in a week when the country is so focused on the safety of small children, the Army is getting a failing grade, big- time.

The president having to pick up the phone and call the Secretary of the Army on Tuesday night to express his personal concern right from the White House about a number of arrests and a growing scandal at an Army childcare facility here in Washington, D.C.

Here's what happened. Back in September, two workers arrested, charged with some assault against small children at the facility, pinching them, slapping them, dragging them across the floor This sparked a look at the background checks on all the workers there and it wound up, last Friday, 30 childcare workers of 130 that worked at the facility, 30 workers over all dismissed.

They have things in their background checks like assault, drug use, abuse of minors, things like this. Many more had some minor charges, but generally things that certainly would have disqualified them from working in this type of facility.


MALVEAUX: When was the president notified about all this taking place?

STARR: Well, this is one of the big issues. The arrest happened in September. They start doing the background checks. The Secretary of the Army, the Army says he didn't find out how widespread this was until last Friday night when these people were dismissed from their jobs. Some of the parents had been informed along the way, but the Army leadership doesn't know until last Friday. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is finally told on Tuesday. The president is told on Tuesday.

There is now a review of all child care facilities, all the background check procedures across the country. Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: And, Barbara, real quickly here, because I know we don't have a lot of time, but do they think this is one particular facility or do they think this is endemic. They've got a much larger problem on their hands.

STARR: Yeah, absolutely. Terrific question. The answer is they don't know yet. They're checking everything one more time.

MALVEAUX: All right, thank you, Barbara. Appreciate it.

An ancient culture fighting for its rights in Australia, we're going to take you to the battle of the airwaves on a new television station. We're actually going to look at aboriginal TV.


MALVEAUX: Imagine this: a native population seeking land ownership and equality hundreds of years after wave of European settlers arrived on their shores. Might sound like it is the Native American history, but it is the same story on the other side of the world in Australia. Aborigines there are looking for a new government-funded TV station as a new frontier in their fight for acceptance.

Amy La Porte has that story.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to burn it!


AMY LA PORTE, CNN WRITER/PRODUCER: Australia's indigenous population has long struggled to find an identity in modern Australian culture. For decades, aborigines have sought land rights, recognition and an apology for atrocities committed against them from the violent colonization of Australia to what's known as the Stolen Generation -- white Australians taking aboriginal children from their mother's arms, removed with the belief indigenous families were not able to care for their own children.

This is the indigenous population most Australians think they know. Now a new TV station is hoping it to make history. NITV, National Indigenous Television, is dedicated to the coverage of aboriginal affairs. Its goal -- to show another side of indigenous life to a mainstream Australian audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via text): Welcome to our Country. We will tell you a good story. Telling stories straight.

JULIA GILLARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: To have NITV there (INAUDIBLE) with basically all Australians, almost all Australians, able to turn on the TV and turn on the station and watch and absorb and learn and interact, I think is a really special thing.

LA PORTE: It first hit the airwaves in 2007, but its audience of small, broadcasting on subscription TV. Fast forward five years, NITV switches on across the nation, seen by the international community as a major leap forward.

BAN KI-MOON, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: The establishment of NITV will challenge stereotypes of indigenous peoples. It will play an important role in promoting the rights of indigenous peoples and safeguarding indigenous culture and language for years to come.

LA PORTE: One of the few television stations available without a fee, broadcasting from the iconic (INAUDIBLE), an indigenous treasure, and with the help of some high profile aborigines, this TV station is writing a new chapter in Australian history.


MALVEAUX: Wow. Our own Amy LaPorte joining us. Amy, that's really - it's just a fascinating story. Tell us specifically here who is this TV station? Who's the audience that they're aiming for, that they'd like to communicate? Who do they want to attract?

LA PORTE: OK, well, this is mainstream Australia. I mean, it's important to note that Australia really only has five major television networks so the significance of having one of these dedicated only to indigenous coverage has huge significance. And I think it's important to know they're really struggling for a modern identity. They're torn between these stereotypes of a tribal, primitive culture, you know, groups in remote parts of Australia carrying spears and hunting kangaroos. And then because of affirmative action, similar to native- Americans here, then you have this well-fed dependency stereotypes.

So this is really helping them get over this systemic racism that's really prevalent in Australian culture.

MALVEAUX: And Amy, remind us a little of the history, because you had this National Apology Day, National Sorry Day, where people were saying, look, we acknowledge that there were atrocities that were done. Are there still -- is there still violence against the aborigine people?

LA PORTE: They were disenfranchised for a very long time. They were fighting alongside white Australians in our world wars, but they weren't given the right to vote until the 1960s, you know, after the violent colonization and then of course the Stolen Generation.

The National Sorry Day -- that was our prime minister apologizing for taking aboriginal children out of their homes and giving them to -- adopting them into white families. Now you've got this generation of middle-aged aborigines who are trying to find their heritage, and they can't because the adoption records, the birth records, gone.

And then more recently, in 2007, we had this very controversial what's known as the Northern Territory Intervention. Northern Territory is in the north of Australia. The government, acting on reports of child abuse, sent military and police into these remote communities and began patrolling the streets, setting up curfews, and that was really salt in the wounds for a population who felt like, once again, white Australia was telling them we know what's best for you. That really didn't help.

MALVEAUX: So this TV station really a huge leap forward?

LA PORTE: Oh, massive leap forward.

MALVEAUX: All right. Amy, our resident Aussie. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

In New Zealand, it is already Friday, and if you buy the way some people read the Mayan calendar, it means the end of the world should've already hit that part of the world by now. We're going to take a closer look at the hysteria.


MALVEAUX: All right, last chance to take advantage of a once-in-a- lifetime tourism deal. Some people believe the Mayan calendar points to the end of the world tomorrow, being 12/21/12. Mexcian tourism industry, they are cashing in, even though some Mayans say the frenzy is exploiting their culture.

Here's Nick Parker.


NICK PARKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Surging crowds of tourists, calendar memorabilia, and countdown clocks in airports around the country. All part of an international marketing campaign geared around one date.

This is one of the most iconic sites in Mayan culture. Chichen Itza was built more than 1,000 years ago but today has helped attract more than 50 million tourists to southeast Mexico in the last year alone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're here near to a date that's going to be huge deal for a lot of people, so it's I think it's very interesting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before we came, we thought at that according to the Mayans that it is the end of the world.

PARKER: Films like "2012" have helped to spread the idea of an apocalypse. Mexico launched a teaser campaign to capitalize on global speculation. It was the brainchild of Gloria GuevAra that left office as Tourism Minister.

GLORIA GUEVARA, FORMER MEXICAN TOURISM MINISTER: We say some people believe it's the end of the world, 21/12/12. We believe, and the Mayans believe, it's the beginning of a new era. You have to come to Mexico to discover what is it.

PAKER: Mel Gonzalez also saw the calendar as an opportunity. He opened a boutique hotel in Merida, the closest city to Chichen Itza.

MEL GONZALEZ, OWNER, JULAMIS HOTEL: Judging by the number of hotels being built in town and tour operators being created, we can tell there's a lot of expectation. A few hotels in town are giving discounts because it's the end of the world.

PARKER: Some Mayans have complained about the exploitation about their culture, but Guevara says they're in the minority.

GUEVARA: What I have seen is that they're very happy. They see the benefit, because the nice thing about the tourism is that they shares -- it shares the benefit with everyone.

PARKER: Others disagree. Alfredo Escobedo runs tourists to Mayan communities and say the tourist dollars are going elsewhere.

ALFREDO ESCOBEDO, ECOTOURISM YUCATAN: Most of the money is spent in transportation and they don't own taxis, hotels, restaurants and here they don't have those services yet.

PARKER: "Yet" may be the word. Hotels across the five Mayan states are nearly sold out ahead of the big date. The hope is that interest in the culture is long-term, assuming everybody survives December the 21st.

Nick Parker, CNN, Yucatan, Mexico.


MALVEAUX: It should serve as some comfort if you're nervous about tomorrow's doomsday predictions. It's already Friday in some parts of the world and so far we seem to be hanging on.