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Talking to Congress about Gun Control; Candidate for Venezuelan President Speaks Out

Aired April 11, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


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

Today was do or die for gun control in the U.S. Senate. And tonight we can report one hard fought victory in that battle, thanks to the passion and deep commitment of the families of children and teachers who died in that horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): They've spent this week doing the seemingly impossible, moving Congress out of its gridlock by literally grabbing the lapels of reluctant lawmakers on Capitol Hill, telling each one about their tragic loss.

So powerful, though, is the U.S. gun lobby that even getting Congress to debate a change in the laws, even after Newtown, has been a tough uphill battle. But that piece of the battle was finally voted on and won today in the Senate and one reason for the victory is Erica Lafferty. She's the daughter of the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, Dawn Hocksprung.

She died while running towards the gunfire that day, desperate to protect the children in her care. On behalf of her mother, Erica has waged a fierce fight to move the gun debate forward by taking to Twitter and targeting pro-gun senators with powerful messages, like this one she sent to Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

She said, "I'll never see my mom again because she was gunned down in Sandy Hook. I don't deserve to be heard?"

Erica is my guest tonight and I'll speak to her in a moment. But fighting alongside her and the other Newtown families are several senators with powerful ties to the gun lobby. One is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has an A rating from the NRA. After Newtown, he felt he had to stand up for common-sense gun laws as he told me just days after the massacre.


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN, D-W.V.: ... who would have ever thought in America or anywhere in the world that children would be slaughtered? You know, that -- it's changed me. But with that being said, people are afraid to talk about some things that just basically should be talked about.


AMANPOUR: And now they are talking. And in a moment, I'll have more on the fight over guns in America.

But first, a look at the other stories we're covering tonight.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): It's David versus Goliath in Venezuela. Can a young opposition leader defeat the ghost of Hugo Chavez?

LEOPOLDO LOPEZ, VENEZUELA POLITICIAN AND ECONOMIST: The day is coming, and it will be this Sunday.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And the breakthrough that turned a test tube into a living miracle, remembering a true pioneer.


AMANPOUR: We'll get to that in a bit, but first to Erica Lafferty, who lost her mother in the Sandy Hook massacre. Today she stood before television cameras in the nation's capital and she simply stated her mission.


ERICA LAFFERTY, DAUGHTER OF DAWN HOCKSPRUNG: We came here today to ask the Senate to vote. We are standing here because her sister and my mom can't be. And their voices need to be heard and they're going to carry through us.


AMANPOUR: Erica, welcome. Thank you for coming in.

LAFFERTY: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And you literally have just come in from there, from Washington.

LAFFERTY: A couple of hours ago.

AMANPOUR: You were taken down there to try to push them over that last line. What was it like? What was it like addressing them?

LAFFERTY: A pure adrenalin rush. I just wanted to be heard. I wanted them to at least vote, you know, vote for Vicky (ph), vote for my mom, vote for the kids and everyone who isn't here to do it for themselves anymore.

AMANPOUR: And they did.

LAFFERTY: And they did.

AMANPOUR: How does that make you feel?

LAFFERTY: It's a first step. It's a victory -- a small one, but a victory.

AMANPOUR: So let's just be clear. They have voted to move it onto a general debate. And it's about background checks.


AMANPOUR: Now you had to do something quite extreme, frankly. You couldn't get anybody to move and you took to Twitter.


AMANPOUR: We've shown already one of the tweets that you sent out. But you tweeted about a dozen U.S. senators, who promised to block that vote. Remember when all this filibuster talk was going on?

Here's one to Senator Pat Roberts.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): "My mom was gunned down at Sandy Hook. Alyson will never know her grandma. We don't deserve to be heard?" And that's a picture of your mother with her grandchild, the daughter of your sister.

LAFFERTY (voice-over): Yes.


AMANPOUR: Only one of the senators changed their mind. How does -- and that's big, that's big. But how does it make you feel that only one?

LAFFERTY: I'm not going to let myself feel defeated, because I'm not. They're voting and that's a win. I wish it was more, but...

AMANPOUR: And how did you start to tweet? Why did you decide to take that in-your-face confrontation?

LAFFERTY: I had called all 14 senators and didn't hear anything back. So I waited a couple of hours and sent out some emails and didn't hear anything.

So you know, I just started talking to them on Twitter because if, you know, people in their state agreed with me or people in my state agreed with me, they're just going to, you know, keep sending it out there. And I was just hoping eventually got the attention that it did.

AMANPOUR: And the governor of your state retweeted -- and of course your state, it has to be said, did pass some very tough legislation, gun control legislation, Connecticut did.

You -- it was retweeted; he asked those senators to, please, answer your phone calls.

What happened next?

LAFFERTY: I did get a call from Senator Cruz on that day, the following day I talked to Senator Lee and then actually just after I landed in D.C. this morning I did talk to Senator Moran.

AMANPOUR: And you've had to tell them your story as if they didn't know your story. You've had to tell it to them over again, you and your -- and your -- and your fellow family members.

What has it been like for you, these few months since Sandy Hook?

LAFFERTY: Excruciating. It still feels very surreal. I don't know. I call my mom a lot without realizing that it's not going to get anywhere but voicemail. But some days it really hits hard and others it's, you know, (inaudible) not so bad, but I have some fight in me.

AMANPOUR: She's obviously with you, a constant presence, and you've even, I noticed, you've got -- you've got it tattooed on your hand.

Tell me about that.

LAFFERTY: This actually was traced off of a note that she wrote me about seven years ago, that I've kept in my wallet ever since.

AMANPOUR: And it says, "Mommy."

LAFFERTY: It says "Mommy." It's her actual signature, the smiley face and the heart. It was a note reminding me to stay safe.

AMANPOUR: And she would just write you these notes? She was a big presence in your life.

LAFFERTY: Yes, absolutely. She was my best friend my whole life.

AMANPOUR: Ninety percent of the American people say they want tougher background checks. They want this anomaly cleared up and tied up. And yet still some of these senators, some of these congresspeople don't get it.

What do you think when you think that, when you know that?

LAFFERTY: That they're scared. They're scared of losing money for their next campaign or they're scared of losing whatever percent of the 8 percent of their state, you know, is voting against it or, you know, is saying that that's not something that they want. I mean, they're just -- they're scared.

AMANPOUR: You or a lot of the families were flown to Washington, D.C., by President Obama. How much the difference -- how much of a sort of a cohesive sort of spirit did that-- did that sort of engender for you all?

LAFFERTY: I actually did not fly down with them. But, I mean, just from what I've seen on TV, the stories that, you know, I heard from Jillian (ph) when I was in D.C. with her this morning, she said that it made it real for a lot of people, you know, because (inaudible) to people, you know. If I'm out there saying it, it -- she's a person.

AMANPOUR: Tell me about your mother. I mean, you know, just amazed, I mean, just astounded that unlike the normal instinct to run away, she ran towards that gunfire. What -- is there anything about that that gives you any comfort?

LAFFERTY: It's who she was. I know that if she wasn't in the school that day or if she was at the other end of the building and she came out of it, she would never be the same person, you know, just the crazy mama bear, like don't hurt my kids, you know. Just who she was.

AMANPOUR: And there's another tweet that you sent to the Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, and you said, "Here is a picture of my mom and sister on her wedding day. I don't get one of these at my wedding this July."

So you're going to get married this July.

LAFFERTY: July 6th.

AMANPOUR: Are you committed to carrying this fight for as long as it takes, however hard it is?

LAFFERTY: Definitely.

AMANPOUR: Obviously the only thing that's in debate right now is the background checks. Many of you are very disappointed that there's been no movement on key issues like banning assault weapons, banning the size of magazine clips. Do you think that that still has some chance? Do you think that you guys have a chance to keep pushing that?

LAFFERTY: I know we're not going to stop so people are going to get really sick of us if they don't at least bring it to the table, because it absolutely is something that needs to be addressed.

AMANPOUR: And how do you want the world to remember your mother?

LAFFERTY: How I've always known her: my hero.

AMANPOUR: Erica, thank you very much for coming in and telling us your story -- and congratulations.

LAFFERTY: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Very, very brave -- and it shows how personal activism can actually move the ball forward.

And for a sense of how out of touch America's gun laws are, take a look at this. It's a video message from American born jihadi Adam Gadahn. He's urging Muslims in America to carry out one-man terrorist actions by exploiting these gaping holes that we've been talking about in the system.


ADAM GADAHN, AMERICAN-BORN AL QAEDA SPOKESMAN: In the West, you've got a lot at your disposal.

Let's take America as an example. America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle without a background check and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?


AMANPOUR: And we might ask what are lawmakers waiting for? Something to bear in mind as we follow the debate over background checks and all the other issues. And after a break, imagine running for president against a ghost. The Venezuela elections when we come back.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Voters in Venezuela go to the polls this weekend to elect a new president with many asking the question, will the ghost of Hugo Chavez decide the election?

Nicolas Madura, Chavez's handpicked successor, brands himself as an extension of the last president, vowing to carry out the Socialist revolution that Chavez began. At campaign rallies, pictures of Chavez are as prominent as photos of Maduro himself, which sets up a tough battle for the opposition candidate, Enrique Capriles.

The young state governor is hoping to undo history. He lost to Chavez in the presidential election last year, granted by a smaller margin than in the past. But while Capriles has rallied hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic supporters in this race, he's still down by about 10 points in the polls.

My next guest, Leopoldo Lopez, knows exactly what it's like to take on the charismatic legacy of Hugo Chavez. He's one of the most influential opposition leaders in Venezuela, and he's a key member of Capriles' campaign team. He joined me from Caracas.


AMANPOUR: Mr. Lopez, welcome to the program. Good to see you again.


AMANPOUR: Three years ago, I talked to you and you were confident then that one day the opposition would break the Chavista stranglehold and you called it a David and Goliath situation.

So the question is, is now the time and do you have the right candidate to win, do you think?

LOPEZ: Well, certainly the day is coming, and it's very soon. And it will be this Sunday.

And it still is David against Goliath. And to put it in real terms, this is the people against the state. The people against the entire power of the state, PDVSA, the national oil industry, they -- all the powers of the state put on one side of the candidacy, the officialist candidacy; and the people, the emotion, the hope, the future on the other side.

They are very optimistic about what's going to happen this Sunday. And, of course, this is not a regular election. This is not candidate A versus candidate B. This is not Capriles versus Maduro. It's the people versus the state and the people have internalized that David-against- Goliath attitude, daily in the street, going out to get every vote.

AMANPOUR: Yes. But the people also are on a wave of sympathy for their late President Chavez. And I know that Capriles wants to run against Maduro, but Maduro wants to run with Chavez.

How does he get out of under the Chavez shadow, the ghost, if you like, of the late president?

How do you refocus the people's attention on Capriles?

LOPEZ: Well, certainly, this is an extraordinary election, because it takes place after the death of President Chavez.

But Maduro is no Chavez. And 2012 is not 2013. Venezuela is a different country. Venezuela now is in the middle of an economic crisis that is a consequence of what the government did last year in terms of government expenditure, in terms of manipulating the economy to create a sense of a booming economy 2012.

2013, it's different, much more pragmatic, much more down-to-earth issues and, of course, we have a nostalgic candidate, Maduro wanting to emulate President Chavez, wanting to ask the people of Venezuela to look to the past.

And we have a Capriles: outgoing; everywhere he goes, multitudes of people talking about what the people want to hear, the future, the economy, social security, public safety. These are the issues that people are putting in the balance. And we are sure that, at the end, the day, the movement of the vote, people will vote for themselves and voting for themselves is voting for the future.

AMANPOUR: We're looking at pictures of Capriles with so many of his supporters at the rallies. And he seems to have changed his tactics; whereas in previous elections, he didn't go really aggressively against the person of Chavez. But now he really is going against the personage of Maduro.

Certainly here in the United States, negative campaigning, negative advertising works.

Do you think it will in Venezuela?

LOPEZ: Yes, it's not an issue of negative campaigning. It's adapting a proposal, adapting the discourse to the reality of the country. 2012, as I said before, it's different than 2013. 2013, it's a much harder year, harder day-to-day. And it requires a much stronger, much confrontational discourse that is tied to the reality of the people.

So this is not about negative campaigning; it's not about going against anybody. It's going for the people and going against the problems that Maduro now is the basic emblem of all these problems that Venezuelans are facing.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Lopez, let me read you this, which is some bumper stickers and at negative campaigning from the Maduro camp, basically saying, "A vote for the opposition means you don't love your mother."

One campaign song says that if you vote for the opposition, quote, "you don't have a heart. You're like a dead man."

That's pretty fierce.

LOPEZ: Well, that's the discourse. That's the tone that the government has had for all these years. And now Maduro has even said that he damns -- he damns the Venezuelans that vote against them.

And this has created a huge reaction against Maduro, because one thing is telling people that they should vote for him, invite them to vote for him, but damning half of the country, even more than half of the country, has had serious consequences.

So, yes, the government is doing all it is that they can to do negative campaigning, to go against Capriles and everything that Capriles represents in terms of the future with negative campaigning, using the manipulated media, using the power of the state in order to create that sensation of one candidate strong, from the government, and another candidate that's the receiving of this negative campaigning.

AMANPOUR: The polls right now show that Mr. Capriles is still considerably behind. I mean, they predict a Maduro win. Obviously you're hoping to be able to catch that up.

But how do you fight a love that so many people do have for Chavez?

He obviously was the hero of the downtrodden and he used state infrastructure and state finances to redistribute the wealth to so many people.

Who is Capriles trying to appeal to?

Is it the middle class?

How do you break that sense of loyalty that so many Venezuelans have had for Chavez?

LOPEZ: Well, first thing, it's undeniable that President Chavez had a huge leadership. But Maduro's no Chavez. And the love for Chavez may be for some represented in Maduro, but not for all, not for all.

There will be many people, many Venezuelans that voted for Chavez in October that will maybe not vote for Capriles, but they will stay in their homes because they don't get that closeness with Maduro.

Another thing that you said in your question is that what vote are we aiming to, the general vote of Venezuelans. It's a myth, an international myth that the government has created, that the poor are with the government and the rich are with the opposition. In Venezuela, 80 percent of the people are from their lower classes, very poor.

So we have the great support and Capriles has great support from the poorest classes. And that's what will make a difference.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask, if there is a Capriles presidency, what does that mean for the way Venezuela's economy will go in the future, for the way Venezuela uses its petro economy, both at home and abroad?

I mean, one of the issues has been that President Chavez did use a lot of that money to redistribute and also to pay for many outside leaders, let's say, propping up Cuba; let's say, tweaking the nose of the United States. I mean, that sort of petro diplomacy was all mixed up with the Chavez -- the Chavez legacy.

How will that be different?

LOPEZ: Well, there's one very concrete difference that will materialize. Venezuela, over these years, has become an economy addicted to imports. What we eat, what we dress, everything that we use comes from other countries. And of course, that has had a consequence.

Capriles has a compromise with Venezuela strengthening the Venezuelan economy, strengthening what we can produce, not only to consume inside our economy, but also to export.

And this is a great contrast because Maduro represents that vision of Venezuela using oil only in terms of petro diplomacy, importing needs (ph) from other countries, importing and exchanging for oil for other goods, but having a very negative consequence in our economy. And this is why we have great levels of inflation.

This is why we have great levels of scarcity of basic goods today in Venezuela. And we are sure that in short term -- and this is key -- in short term, there can be great changes seen, tangible changes for Venezuelans.

AMANPOUR: Leopoldo Lopez, thank you very much for joining me and, of course, along with much of the world, we will be looking at the results from your elections. Thanks a lot.

LOPEZ: Thank you. Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: We'd like to also note that we have a standing invitation out to Nicolas Maduro and other members of the current Venezuelan government. We'd always like to hear from them first-hand. And we will be back with a final thought in a moment.




AMANPOUR: And finally, imagine a world where a baby can be created outside of a woman's body. Of course, we take it for granted today. But four decades ago, few people knew the words in vitro, that is growing a baby in a lab and infertility was a heartbreaking diagnose with no recourse.

But a British scientist named Robert Geoffrey Edwards thought otherwise. And in 1969, he became the first to fertilize a human egg in a test tube. His breakthrough led him to believe that if such an egg could survive, divide and mature, it could then be reimplanted in a mother's body and brought to term.

Working alongside his fellow Briton, Patrick Steptoe, Edwards defied the doubters and persevered through nearly a decade of failed experiments. And in 1978, their first so-called test tube baby was born. At that time, the world waited with bated breath to see what would emerge.

But Louise Joy Brown, whose parents had tried for nine years to have a child, was an absolutely perfect 5-pound, 12-ounce baby girl. And today, she's a mother herself and far from unique, she started a revolution.

Four million children have since been born through in vitro fertilization. Still, the breakthrough that gave her life has also raised ethical questions about the limits of science and the nature of the human family itself. Robert Edwards is the father of all of that. He died on Sunday at the age of 87, survived by his wife, five children and 12 grandchildren.

And that's it for tonight's program. But before we go, on Sunday, CNN premieres a new program, "ANTHONY BOURDAIN PARTS UNKNOWN". I spoke with the renowned chef and author, whose love of food and food culture has given him entree to some extraordinary people and places. And we'll have that conversation tomorrow.

Meantime, you can always contact us at our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.