Return to Transcripts main page


Pope to Celebrate Second Mass in Cuba; Netanyahu Meets with Putin about Syria; VW CEO Apologizes for Breaking Customers' Trust; Tsipras' Syriza Party Wins Greek Election; Calls for Carson to Withdraw after Muslim Remarks; Birds of Orchard Street; Singapore Initiative Transforms Public Housing. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired September 21, 2015 - 10:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: Hi, there. Welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center.

Well, this hour, we're tracking Pope Francis as he is set to celebrate a second mass on his momentous trip across Cuba.


CURNOW (voice-over): He arrived just a short time ago at Holguin in Eastern Cuba and he'll speak in the city's Revolutionary Plaza.

These are live pictures you're looking at now.

Holguin is in the home region of Fidel and Raul Castro and it's also considered the cradle of Catholicism in Cuba. There is still much more on

Pope Francis' agenda and Chris Cuomo has more on the papal travel plans.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anticipation builds in the U.S. Pope Francis comes to the nation's capital Tuesday. He'll be the

first pontiff to ever speak to Congress directly. While climate change and capitalism are expected talking points, some see his visit as a push toward

fully lifting the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

Controversial enough for one congressman to boycott.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure if he's worried about alienating people. He'll be encouraging but he speaks the truth.

CUOMO (voice-over): Next, a trip to New York and the United Nations, where the growing refugee crisis is expected to be on the docket. Il

Papa's visit will end in Philadelphia where families will be his focus.

POPE FRANCIS: See you in Philadelphia.

CUOMO (voice-over): The U.S. tour coming on the heels of his historic visit to Cuba over the weekend, at a time when the Communist country is

undergoing some change.

Latin America's first pope praising the two nations for normalizing relations. And the tens of thousands in Havana's Revolution Square Sunday

a message of hope and faith.

POPE FRANCIS: (Speaking Spanish).

CUOMO (voice-over): Calling on Cubans to serve one another, not an ideology. Signs of underlying political tensions as anti-government

protesters are arrested after approaching the Popemobile.

Pope Francis meeting privately with former leader Fidel Castro to discuss the environment and global economy.

Then later, meeting once again with younger brother, Raul Castro. Ahead of the visit, the U.S. announcing further loosening of travel and

business restrictions with Cuba.

But on the streets of Havana, some hopeful, some doubtful that they'll ever see any positive impact on their lives.

"In the short run, I haven't seen any kind of change," says this man. "Maybe later but not yet."

"It's a necessary change that both countries need," this woman says. "We need."


CURNOW: Well, that seemed to freeze at the end there. That was CNN's Chris Cuomo, reporting from Cuba.

Our Patrick Oppmann is based in Havana for CNN and there's a real understanding of the importance of this visit.

Hi, there, Patrick.

This pope has got quite a rock star reception, hasn't he?


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I covered the previous two papal visits and I never remember people screaming in the

streets, "Que Papa mas chevere," "What a cool pope," certainly something that you don't hear about any head of state or most of them.

And this pope, though, has been greeted with hugs, with people bringing their children up to him to bless and kiss. And just a general

excitement that I haven't seen here in many years of covering Cuba.

You know, you see the crowds in Holguin. Thousands of people and they're not coming out because they have been ordered to, as so often

happens here in Cuba, it really seems that they're coming out because they want to. That's how we saw so much enthusiasm yesterday and today as he

continues his journey on into Holguin and gets a little bit more of that rock star treatment -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Indeed. A cool pope, as you say.

Let's talk about this meeting between Francis and Fidel, so much of this trip has been about contradictions, contrast, hasn't it?

OPPMANN: Absolutely. And immediately after delivering mass yesterday, Pope Francis went just outside of Havana, where Fidel Castro has

a compound that is usually almost impossible to enter. But this is the pope and he had said he wanted to meet with the former Cuban leader and

that's what happened.

We're told for about 30 to 40 minutes he brought gifts with him, including a somewhat unusual gift: masses and sermons that had been

delivered and recorded by the Jesuit priest who had taught Fidel Castro in school here in Havana and, of course, was one of the Spanish priests

deported after the revolution took power.

Fidel gave the pope a book that he had contributed to about religion that was actually one of the first indications that there was going to be

some opening to religion --


OPPMANN: -- in the country and then, you know, it is always somewhat unusual and interesting to see so many photos like we did yesterday of

Fidel Castro's family because they've almost rarely been -- almost never been acknowledged in Cuba.

Fidel Castro's always been -- projected the image of a man that lives for the revolution, in time for anything else but of course he does have a

family. He has a wife and they were shown yesterday.

And it's also interesting and perhaps worth noting that his wife, Dalia Soto, is there, wearing white. We see her wearing a very smart

looking white dress but it's also a bit of a protocol breach, Robyn. As you know, you don't wear white around the pope unless, of course, you have

a special dispensation that's only granted to Catholic queens. So she doesn't quite fit there. But I'm sure the pope was all too happy to

overlook the little breach of protocol that occurred.

CURNOW: Clearly I didn't get that memo, either. All right. Thanks so much. Patrick Oppmann, our man in Havana. Thanks a lot.

Now, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow. They're discussing Syria at a time

when there's evidence of increasing Russian military build-up inside the country.

Our Oren Liebermann is in Jerusalem. But first, let's go to Matthew Chance in Moscow.

Hi, there, Matthew. We're getting new reports on how much of a military build-up there's been in Syria and also just give us a sense

within that context what was said at this meeting.


Although, I have to say as a preface to this, that the Kremlin deny they're significantly boosting their military presence in Syria, merely

that they're increasing their shipments of weapons to back the Syrian government in their battle against what the Russians say is ISIS and the

other rebel groups.

But U.S. officials have confirmed to CNN that they have observed an increase in Russian military hardware on the ground. We have got a list of

some of those items here: 25 tactical aircraft -- that's fighter and attack aircraft, including 15 helicopters, nine tanks, three surface-to-air

missile systems and approximately 500 personnel.

So a significant presence of Russian military on the ground in Syria, certainly you see compared to what the country has hosted over the past

several years. Of course, Russia has long had military advisers in Syria, it has a naval facility at Tartus as well, which is staffed and its weapons

shipments to Syria often come with technical experts to train the Syrian army in using them properly.

But this seems to be a significant uptick in the amount of military personnel and hardware on the ground.

In terms of the meetings that are taking place today behind closed doors between Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Vladimir

Putin, the Russian president, Benjamin Netanyahu here to get assurances from the Russians that any of this military hardware will not find its way

into the hands of Hezbollah, for instance, the Lebanese militia, not have an impact on Israel's security.

Vladimir Putin stressing that that is not the intention and that, you know, Israel's security is very much a joint interest for Russia. Take a

listen to what he had to say.

CURNOW: Matthew, it doesn't look like we have that sound bite. But just stand by. We'll come to you again in a minute. I want to ask you a

question about the wider context.

But let's go to Oren.

The prime minister took some top IDF generals along with him. This is an indication of just how seriously he takes these developments in Syria.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took with him the IDF chief of staff and the Israeli

military head of intelligence.

And you're right, that that attests to how seriously Netanyahu sees Russian forces in Syria and how much that could affect the region here.

Now, it seems as if -- and analysts say that Netanyahu wants to make sure he's on the same page as Putin. Netanyahu's not worried about Russian

forces as they are. What he's concerned about is advanced military equipment falling into the hands of Hezbollah or other militant groups.

It's been nine years since the last war between Israel and Hezbollah but there is still very much tension along that border and we have seen

some back-and-forth across that border.

So Netanyahu trying to get some sort of assurance that that isn't going to happen, that that -- those Russian arms won't fall into

Hezbollah's hands.

But there's another reason that Netanyahu would want to meet with Putin or has met with Putin, and that's because Israel has said it has red

lines. It will not allow the transfer of weapons shipments through Syria into Lebanon.

And according to foreign media reports, in the past, Israel has struck weapons shipments. But to do that, Israel has relied on its air force edge

over the region and if it's not coordinated, if there's no coordination here with Russia, there could be tension, there could be friction and there

could be a collision.

So analysts say Netanyahu's meeting with Putin, trying to avoid that collision, trying to make sure these two leaders and these two militaries

are on the same page.

CURNOW: Yes. Trying to avoid --


CURNOW: -- inadvertent confrontation.

Oren, I've also got another question for you.

But for Matthew, how should this meeting be seen, particularly in the wider context of tensions between Russia and the U.S. and even tensions

between Israel and the U.S.?

CHANCE : Yes, well, I mean, obviously, it plays into that. Look. I think we have to look at what's driving Vladimir Putin, what's driving

Kremlin policy at the moment when it comes to its intervention in Syria.

It's clearly not meant as a way of undermining Israel's security and that's why the Kremlin has been so open to a meeting with Benjamin

Netanyahu to give the assurances, I expect, although we haven't heard anything about the outcome of these meetings yet.

But I expect they're to give assurances of the kind that Benjamin Netanyahu is looking for, that this is not meant to have an impact on

Israel's security. I mean, you know, Russia's playing a broader political game when it comes to its battle with the West for influence in the world.

There are low oil prices, there are sanctions against Russia but it's still saying, look, you know, look, we are a country that has to be dealt

with when it comes to international diplomacy.

Syria is a longstanding ally of Russia, it's its last toehold, its only toehold, perhaps, in the Middle East and it's very reluctant at Russia

to let that influence go in this country and it believes very much that if Syria falls, if the government of Bashar al-Assad falls, then so does

Russian influence in the Middle East. And so that's what is driving Kremlin policy, I think, at this point.

CURNOW: OK. Thank you, Matthew.

And Oren, based on what Matthew has just been saying, if this build-up continues and there is more and more proof of an escalation, in a sense,

that could give Moscow its most significant military foothold in the Middle East in decades.

What does it mean for Israel?

LIEBERMANN: Well, Matthew's exactly right, that this these two militaries and countries aren't at odds. So as long as these two leaders

are on the same page and coordinate, there shouldn't be a build-up of friction and of tension.

The question is, what else -- if anything else -- is Moscow and is Putin trying to do in Syria? So as long as there is that coordination --

and that's what it looks like this meeting is about creating, it wouldn't be a concern for Netanyahu. It wouldn't be a concern for Israel.

The question there remains, what else is -- are these forces there for, if anything else, and Netanyahu, the intelligence officer who went

with him, the head of military intelligence, will be trying to figure some of that out over the coming weeks, months and perhaps even longer.

CURNOW: Oren, Matt, thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

Volkswagen shares are tanking and its CEO is apologizing. And the automaker is ordered to recall hundreds of thousands of cars. We'll tell

you why. That's next.


CURNOW (voice-over): And calls for Republican Ben Carson to bow out of the U.S. presidential race after his (INAUDIBLE) about Muslims. All

that and more here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. (INAUDIBLE).




CURNOW: Welcome back. This is the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow.

The CEO of Volkswagen is apologizing for breaking customers' trust and shares of the world's top-selling automaker have plunged 20 percent after

U.S. regulators said Volkswagen cheated on air pollution tests.

Our Maggie Lake is following all of this for us from New York.

What is this all about, Maggie?

MAGGIE LAKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Robyn, the auto industry reeling from this. This is a huge blow for Volkswagen, a car company accused of

cheating on emission tests, basically installing software that when tested, appeared to be complying but when actually out on the road, was emitting up

to 40 times the accepted level in emissions.

This in their diesel cars sold in the U.S.

Now, the CEO, as you said, apologizing, not specifically meaning wrongdoing; however, he did put out a statement, saying, "I am personally

and deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public," this from Martin Winterkorn.

They're also halting all sales of new and used models of these diesel cars in the U.S. This is significant, Robyn. This makes up 20 percent of

their U.S. sales. This company has been investing billions in factories in Tennessee, committing to another several billion, up to 2018.

This was going to be where their growth came from now, pulling them, halting sales. They're conducting an external investigation. They're

going to presumably have to pay fines, a lot of analysts talking about the number of $18 billion and it remains to be seen whether U.S. regulators are

going to pursue criminal charges here.

A lot of attention on the CEO, whether he can survive this; basically, one analyst in New York said there is no positive way to spin this. We

know it's cost them billions in market value.

The question is, what's going to be the lingering public relations damage here to the Volkswagen brand?

So a very bad day for Volkswagen -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Indeed, Maggie Lake, as always, thanks so much, coming to us from our New York bureau. Thanks.

Now Greek voters have given Alexis Tsipras another turn as prime minister. His leftist Syriza Party won Greece's snap election on Sunday.

Tsipras resigned last month, looking to get a fresh mandate on his leadership. He'll now work on securing debt relief and implementing

economic reforms required by European creditors.

The Tsipras-led government signed a third bailout agreement with Europe in July. He says it will be a tough road ahead but one that will

preserve the pride of the Greek people.


ALEXIS TSIPRAS, GREEK PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Today, in Europe, Greece and the Greek people are synonymous with resistance and

dignity. This struggle will be continued together for a full four years because the mandate we got is a four-year mandate.


CURNOW: Well, despite a decisive victory for Syriza, voter turnout was only 57 percent.

Now to the race for U.S. president, where a new poll shows Hillary Clinton's lead is growing among Democrats. The latest CNN/ORC poll

released just hours ago shows Clinton with an 18-point lead over Bernie Sanders and a 20-point lead ahead of Vice President Joe Biden, who's

actually not formally entered the race.

If Biden stays out, Clinton's lead could grow to 2:1 over Sanders.

Well, Republican contender Ben Carson, who is losing ground in the latest polls, is being called on to withdraw from the race after saying he

didn't think a Muslim should ever become President of the United States. Well, CNN's Athena Jones joins me now from Washington with more on this.

Hi, there, Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Robyn. Those comments from Ben Carson have shocked and angered a lot of people. So did Donald Trump's

refusal to correct a man who called President Obama a Muslim and advocated getting rid of Muslims.

The question now is whether these comments will hurt either of these candidates in the polls. This is coming as another outsider candidate,

business woman Carly Fiorina, is on the rise.


DR. BEN CARSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.

JONES (voice-over): This shocking statement by Dr. Ben Carson under a spotlight this morning in the Republican presidential race. On NBC's "MEET

THE PRESS" Sunday, Carson said a Muslim president should not be in the Oval Office and that a president's faith should matter to voters.

CARSON: If it is inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then, of course, it should matter.

JONES (voice-over): Later when Donald Trump was asked about the possibility of a Muslim president, he said --

TRUMP: Some people have said it already happened.

JONES (voice-over): A reference to President Barack Obama, Trump later adding --

TRUMP: He said he was a Christian and he said he is a Christian. I'm willing to take him at his word for that.

JONES (voice-over): But Carson is doubling down on his controversial comments. In an interview with --


-- Washington newspaper, "The Hill," he said, quote, "Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life. And that is

inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution."

Democrats were quick to pounce.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VT.: You judge candidates for president not on their religion, not on the color of their skin, but on their ideas, on

what they stand for.

JONES (voice-over): This as the latest CNN/ORC poll shows Trump and Carson losing momentum with voters after the CNN debate. Trump still the

front-runner but his lead slipping as Carly Fiorina makes the biggest jump, rising 12 percentage points.

CARLY FIORINA (R), CALIF.: How many of you saw the debate on Wednesday night?


JONES (voice-over): Over half of poll respondents who watched CNN's debate think Fiorina did the best job, Florida Senator Marco Rubio taking

home second place, far better than his former mentor, Jeb Bush.

TRUMP: I think Carly had a good night but I think you gave her a lot of very easy questions.

JONES (voice-over): Trump now zeroing in on the post-debate star, attacking Fiorina's record as CEO once again Sunday, tweeting she did such

a horrible job at Lucent and HP, she never got another CEO job offer, the GOP front-runner writing, "There is no way that Carly Fiorina can become

the Republican nominee."


JONES: And when it comes to the comments about Muslims from Carson and from Trump, a Muslim member of Congress is weighing in, saying every

American should be disturbed that the two candidates are, quote, "engaging in and tolerating blatant acts of religious bigotry" -- Robyn.

CURNOW: With that in mind, do you think Carson will back down here?

JONES: It certainly doesn't seem like he'll back down. You saw those comments to "The Hill" newspaper; he even said the next president should be

sworn in on a Bible and not a stack of Qurans.

And one of his spokespeople was on our air this morning on "NEW DAY," saying that Carson doesn't have anything to apologize for because he's

speaking the truth.

Those were his words, of course, not mine -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Thanks so much, Athena. Appreciate it.

Well, still ahead on the INTERNATIONAL DESK, the sounds of chirping fills the evening air in downtown Singapore. We'll tell you about the

unexpected residents of the city's hippest shopping district.




CURNOW: In Singapore, Orchard Road is a 2.2-kilometer boulevard that is home to high-end retail shops, restaurants and entertainment. It's one

of Asia's most famous shopping streets. But as David Molko tells us, it's also the center of a long turf war between man and nature.


DAVID MOLKO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's Saturday and Singapore's shoppers are out in full force. As the sun sets, the crowd

builds, not on the ground but in the treetops.

STEVEN GOH, ORCHARD ROAD BUSINESS ASSOCIATION: (INAUDIBLE). There's altogether about 5,000 of them.

MOLKO: How many?

GOH: Five thousand of them.

MOLKO (voice-over): Up here, the first thing that hits you is the noise.

But down on the street, well, let's just say, look out below.

GOH: Wow. Lucky.

MOLKO: It's lucky?

GOH: Yes.

MOLKO: In Chinese culture?

GOH: Yes. It's lucky.


MOLKO (voice-over): The worst culprits are these Javan mynahs, says Steven Goh with the Orchard Road Business Association and they have been

coming every evening for at least a decade.

MOLKO: If these birds could understand you, what would you want to tell them?

GOH: Stay out now until the night and come back, you know, when there's no visible.


MOLKO: Businesses here have tried everything and anything to get these birds to try another spot. They even brought in a trained hawk from

a local bird park. But, apparently, there are so many birds, even the hawk got spooked.

SUBARAJ RAJATHURAI, WILDLIFE CONSULTANT: It is obvious what they're saying. This is my roost. Get out of the way.

MOLKO (voice-over): Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai says Orchard Road's bird problem is entirely manmade. The angsana trees were

brought in decades back to quickly green the city. The mynahs came from Indonesia.

RAJATHURAI: They work in gangs, so they're very successful. Secondly, they're comfortable with man which means they do well in a urban


MOLKO (voice-over): Subaraj says to convince the birds to move on, you first have to understand why they're here.

RAJATHURAI: They did choose a tree with compound leaves; where it's open and light penetrates, birds don't like it.

MOLKO (voice-over): Move these trees away, he says, and the birds will follow.

RAJATHURAI: Away from people, away from houses. They can poop in the grass all they want.

MOLKO (voice-over): Chances are it's probably not a priority because most people here don't appear to let the birds get between them and a

bargain -- David Molko, CNN, Singapore.


CURNOW: And of course, we're keeping an eye on the movements of Pope Francis as he makes his trip into the third city in Cuba, in the east of



CURNOW (voice-over): It's called Holguin and he will be giving mass momentarily.

Those are live pictures now and you can see congregation waiting for him in the tropical heat.

Pope Francis, of course, has had an amazing reaction from the people of Cuba and we'll keep you posted on what he's apt to say in the next --

throughout that mass. So stay with us.




CURNOW: Hi, there, welcome to the INTERNATIONAL DESK. I'm Robyn Curnow. Here's a check of the headlines.


CURNOW (voice-over): Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Moscow for private talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Mr.

Netanyahu made the trip in response to evidence --


CURNOW (voice-over): -- of Russian military build-up in Syria. Israel is concerned weapons could fall into the hands of militant groups

like Hezbollah.

Volkswagen CEO is apologizing and vows to regain the public's trust. U.S. regulators say the world's top-selling automaker installed software in

hundreds of thousands of diesel-fueled cars that enabled the vehicles to turn on emissions controls only when they were being tested and not during

normal driving situations.

Volkswagen shares have plunged about 20 percent.

Greece's leftist Syriza Party has won the country's snap election. Alexis Tsipras will return as prime minister and he will oversee the

implementation of tough economic reforms mandated as part of the new bailout reached with European creditors.


CURNOW: Want to take you now live to Holguin in Eastern Cuba. There you go. Pope Francis is scheduled to celebrate mass imminently at the

city's Revolution Plaza. These are live pictures you're seeing of the faithful, waiting for him, and this is not the first time he's got this

rock star reception.

He also had mass in Havana on Sunday. In just a few hours, also, he will bless Cuba's third largest city, a city that's in the home region of

Fidel and Raul Castro and is also considered the cradle of Catholicism in Cuba.

The pope has never been to Holguin before. Now this is Pope Francis' second mass in Cuba, as I said, following Sunday's service in Havana.

There is a huge and welcoming reception for this pontiff.

CNN's senior Vatican analyst, John Allen, joins me now, on the phone from Holguin.

You are there. Again, this is a pope who has been so warmly welcomed, John.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SR. VATICAN ANALYST: Oh, absolutely. The welcome has been borderline rapturous since Francis touched down in Cuba about a day

and a half ago.

He is here in Holguin, as you said, one of the traditionally most Catholic regions of this island nation. There is enormous excitement, in

part because any pope is coming but, in particular, this pope.

I mean, not only does Francis arrive as a Latin American, a man who literally speaks the same language as Cubans, can address them directly in

Spanish extemporaneously, as he's done repeatedly on this trip.

But he's also, of course, the figure that paved the way for the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba last December

and there is great hope among many Cubans here that he might also be instrumental in finally bringing an end to an embargo, the U.S. embargo on

Cuba, which is the longest running trade embargo now in world history.

So for all of those reasons, the reception here is enormously warm on this very hot day in Holguin.

CURNOW: With that in mind, though, the fact that he is the first Latin American pope, that he does speak the language, there has been a

change in tone with this papacy but doctrine remains essentially the same. There's enormous expectations for this papacy.

Is there going to be some disappointment along the line?

ALLEN: Well, I think every pope, sooner or later, much like every president or every prime minister, runs into some disappointment. Clearly,

I think there are some on the Right, both inside and outside the Catholic Church, that find Francis' progressive positions on matters of social

justice, particularly economics and the environment, frustrating.

And famed American columnist, George Will, had a piece just a couple of days ago, dismissing the pope's fact-free flamboyance ahead of his

arrival in the United States. But similarly, I think there will be some on the Left, both inside and outside the church, who, while they may

appreciate the change in tone under this pope, would wish he would go farther on substance, that is the wish he might revisit the Catholic

Church's traditional positions on matters such as abortion or contraception or homosexuality, all of which Francis has indicated that he is not going

to do.

So, in the end, I suspect that the constituency certainly in the Catholic pool, that is going to be most satisfied in the long run with this

pope would be those Catholic moderates out there, who don't necessarily want the church to change its teaching but do want it to put a more

compassionate and less judgmental face on that teaching.

And that, in a nutshell, is sort of Pope Francis' project.

CURNOW: Indeed. I mean, he has behaved as an ordinary parish priest, not as the sitting resident on the throne of St. Peter. Give us some

sense, though --


CURNOW: -- on the political message that he has been sending. He's quite opaque at times.

Do you think he's going to say anything particularly in today's mass?

ALLEN: Well, I doubt today's mass is going to be a strongly political message. I think it is likely to be more spiritual. The pope has been

stressing the theme of mercy since he came to Cuba. The actually official motto for this visit is "Missionary of Mercy."

But yet, you know, in the context of Cuba, even talking about mercy is, in some ways, a political and social message. This is a society that

an officially socialist state, where references to the revolution are still very much alive; there are strong divisions, political divisions between

the United States and Cuba.

There are divisions between Cubans who have remained on the island and those who have gone into exile elsewhere, principally the United States.

There are strong divisions here between supporters of the Castros and the dissident community.

And so in this context, to preach a message of mercy and friendship, even though these are core spiritual values and not particularly novel,

nevertheless, it's message that many Cubans find striking, because it's simply not what they're accustomed to hearing from the public rhetoric,

from state-controlled media and so forth here.

CURNOW: With that in mind, I mean, how do you think Cuba, the government in particular, is going to deal with this bolder resurgent


ALLEN: I think it's an interesting question, how resurgent the church here is going to be in the long run. And on the one hand, the church has

been an enormously important social institution in Cuba. The cardinal of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, is often the man that the Cuban regime will

turn to when they need someone to open up avenues of conversation with various sectors of civil society here.

But on the other hand, you know, 60 years of socialist indoctrination have taken a toll on Catholic faith and practice here. And even though

official Vatican statistics will claim that something like 70 percent of Cubans are Catholic, the truth is that maybe 4 percent or 5 percent

actually go to mass on Sunday.

It was quite striking during the mass in Havana's Revolution Square yesterday that a good chunk of the people in that congregation didn't know

the proper responses for the worship service because they're unaccustomed to attending.

So I think part of Francis' mission here is the hope that he wants to give a shot in the arm to the local Catholic Church because he wants it to

play a role in Cuba's transition, pushing it gradually in the direction of modernization reform and opening to the world. He knows he needs a

stronger flock on the ground to pull that off.

CURNOW: John Allen, thank you so much as usual for your expert analysis. Thank you. We'll continue to keep an eye on that mass.

You're at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. Still ahead, a new public housing project in Singapore is breaking the mold. Why developers say it's both

park and apartment.





CURNOW: All this week on CNN we're on the road in Singapore. More than 80 percent of Singaporeans live in public housing and now a new

initiative is improving the way they live by bringing them closer to nature. Here's Paula Newton with that story.



PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Look up -- straight up -- and dream. Public housing isn't normally the stuff of dreams but follow

me for a whirl through Skyville, the vast, open spaces of Singapore's newest housing project.

RICHARD HASSEL, ARCHITECT: What we're now really building is more public space and the idea within this building is that if you increase the

amount of park at the same time you're increasing the amount of apartment, you know, we can end up with a better quality of life.

NEWTON (voice-over): Architect Richard Hassel calls it a natural revolution. A concept of a public park, several of them, carefully curated

in the middle of a 47-story complex, each shared by 80 flats.

HASSEL: This is really integral that every home belongs to a village and the village are the 80 families that share this space.

NEWTON: This is about integrating communities, families, neighbors?

HASSEL: Yes. But trying to do it in such a way that we're not forcing people to go and I think we've struck the right balance here.

NEWTON: Lucas (ph) seems to think so. The toddler is exploring his new home with his parents, Marie (ph) and Leon (ph). They've waited six

years to get into this place.

MARIE (PH), SKYLINE RESIDENT: We are on the 32nd floor and we're overlooking the city view.

NEWTON (voice-over): A measure of the demand to live at Skyville.

MARIE (PH): Got a lot of privacy.

It's got a lot of greenery, nature.

It's actually gorgeous.

The design looks different from the stand-up public housing so I think a lot of effort and emphasis has been on making it look -- I don't know, a

new kind of public housing.

NEWTON (voice-over): For half a century as Singapore built from the ground up, public housing was its very foundation. More than 80 percent of

everyone who lives here lives in public housing. To achieve that, for decades, the aesthetic was pretty basic.

HASSEL: Many of these families, 50 years ago, were living, you know, in slums in Chinatown and so this kind of a bright, airy, clean, spacious

apartment is incredible that they've done that for the whole country.

NEWTON (voice-over): The key has been combing a public initiative with private ownership.

MARIE (PH): So I think the priority of home ownership is quite strong here in Singapore and it's common among all the young couples.

NEWTON (voice-over): Because housing public is the only kind most can afford here, these public flats define where and how people live, their

very quality of life. And Skyville is a reflection of what they want now, a home in a bright, flexible, park-like community setting that they can

call their own -- Paula Newton, CNN, Singapore.


CURNOW: Well, that's our show for this hour at the INTERNATIONAL DESK, I'm Robyn Curnow. Thank you for watching wherever you are in the

world. "WORLD SPORT" is next.