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Acclaimed Cuban Ballet Dancer on U.S.-Cuba Relations; Fear of Radicalized Belgians Coming Home; Imagine a World. Aired 11-11:30p ET
Aired March 21, 2016 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: continuing coverage of the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly a century; 88 years
ago, it took President Calvin Coolidge three days to get there aboard a battleship.
This time around, just three hours aboard Air Force One, flying into Havana's shabby chic (ph). And tonight, the legendary Cuban ballet dancer,
Carlos Acosta, joins me live from Havana on hopes for the future.
And perhaps a reality check from the former Mexican foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda.
Also ahead, as the police net closes on Belgium's terror cell, the Belgian mothers who have lost sons to ISIS, trying to stop other parents going
through the same agony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERALDINE HENNEGHIEN, THE MOTHERS' COLLECTIVE (through translator): Is there anything else I can lose?
I've already lost my son, so there's nothing else that they can do to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
As history is being made in Havana, the first American president in 88 years sets foot on Cuban soil. And the Cuban president, Raul Castro,
welcomed President Barack Obama, both leaders promising to work on repairing relations, despite the formidable challenges.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've said consistently, after more than five very difficult decades, the relationship between our
governments will not be transformed overnight. We continue, as President Castro indicated, to have some very serious differences, including on
democracy and human rights.
RAUL CASTRO, PRESIDENT OF CUBA (through translator): Today I reaffirmed that we should exercise the art of civilized coexistence, which involves
(INAUDIBLE) differences and preventing these from becoming the center of our relationship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The president was greeted with pomp and circumstance at the palace of the revolution, the Cuban military band even playing something
that they had never done there before. That was the American national anthem.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Earlier President Obama had paid his respects to Jose Marti, a 19th-century Cuban independence hero in Revolution Square.
Now the U.S. leader sees this as part of his legacy of engagement with historic U.S. foes.
And in nearly two years of Cuba diplomacy, the dollar is now legal there, Cuba is no longer on the U.S. terror list, citizens can travel more freely
between the two countries and U.S. airlines are flying in.
But even so, both sides are cautious. For Washington, Cuba, worryingly, remains a one-party police state with a poor human rights record. For
Havana, the imperialist Yankee Congress shows no sign of lifting the half- century economic embargo.
So to talk about this all, joining me now from Havana, the global ballet star, Carlos Acosta, a Cuban who has returned home to rebuild the abandoned
national art school there.
And from Miami, former Mexican foreign minister and keen political observer, Jorge Castaneda.
AMANPOUR: Gentlemen, thank you both for joining me.
Carlos, if you can hear me all the way there from Havana, what does this moment mean for the Cuban people, for you?
CARLOS ACOSTA, BALLET DANCER: Oh, it's wonderful, it's great. It gives -- given people a lot of hope. My dancers, I just formed a new company. My
dancers, they are very excited and this, it can lead, for artists like myself, to many future collaboration with artists from the U.S. I mean
like we all know we are neighbors and you know, all sorts of new artistic creation can emerge from this and it just gives the Cuban people a little
hope, you know. We're really excited about this.
AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, I first met you there in 1999 and you have then become the principal ballet dancer at the Royal Ballet here. You were
the first foreign dancer with the Bolshoi. You have had -- and there we were walking in London, actually, a few years ago.
Can you tell me why you decided to go back in so-called retirement?
You could have set up your own --
AMANPOUR: -- dance theatre, ballet troupe, anywhere in the world.
ACOSTA: Hey, yes, that's right but my heart it always been here in Cuba. And you know, it is up to us to come back and help to form the next
generation of artists. I mean, if I'd take it a little bit more selfish, I could have, like you say, end up in London and forming my own company.
But my heart has always been here. I'm Cuban and I want to do the best I can to help my country in any way I can. And I see that there is a trend
of artists that need direction, that need -- there's going to be all this bridge from Cuba to the world for the future of the arts and the future of
the nation in all.
And I want to do my very best in trying to change, in trying to help the legacy of dancing that is very rich in my country.
AMANPOUR: Stand by a second, Carlos, because I want to bring in Jorge Castaneda, former Mexican foreign minister and really a keen observer of
all this Cuban and Latin American diplomacy by President Obama.
Do you -- are you swept away?
There you are in Miami, sort of known partly as Little Havana for the Cuban exiles.
Are you as swept away by the moment in Havana right now?
JORGE CASTENEDA, FORMER MEXICAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, Christiane, I think everybody who has followed Cuban history the last 50 years or so is
swept away by the images, by the photo ops, by the symbolism of President Obama's visit and by the reception given to him by President Raul Castro.
Now, that said, how much of this will actually change for the Cuban man or woman in the street is more difficult to say. I think President Obama
decided after a while that he was not going to try and get major concessions from the Cubans in exchange for his own advances and that he
would prefer to go to Havana, have the symbolism, have the goodwill apparent all the time and hope for the best later.
He didn't have much time to wait and he made this decision, which was probably the wise, pragmatic one to make.
But, of course, Christiane, that also means that the Cubans are in no rush to make any of the significant concessions or changes that, at one point,
it seemed that they might have made on democracy, on human rights, on really opening up their economy.
AMANPOUR: Why do you think they -- it seemed like they might have made it?
Based on what, Jorge?
Because people are saying that, at this moment, this is the best Obama could have expected. And I guess, now that regime change seems to be
officially off the table, presumably people in Miami, the traditional opponents of this kind of rapprochement, are feeling -- how are they
CASTENEDA: Well, I -- from what I've read here -- I only arrived yesterday but from what I've read and heard, a lot of them are not really that happy
although there is general support for ending the embargo, general support for normalization of relations with Cuba, undoubtedly.
Some people believe Obama could have gotten more; others agree with him that he should not really have put up any fight to get more, just to go
ahead and have the symbolic trip and do it.
The point is not whether the Cubans have changed their mind; the point is whether Obama changed his mind. Apparently six, seven, eight months back,
he seemed to suggest that he would only go to Cuba if there were real significant advances on human rights and democracy, short of regime change.
That did not occur and I think Obama rightly decided to go anyway. But it's important to realize that that's where we stand today, no change on
human rights, no change on democracy.
AMANPOUR: Carlos, you can hear what some of the critics and the observers are saying and Obama talked about, you know, differences with the Castros
over democracy and human rights.
Is this something that is important to you and to the Cuban citizens?
Do you expect and hope that your country will open up politically as well as economically?
ACOSTA: I think, for me, one of the most important things is that, in a war, nobody wins. And these two countries have been in a war for 50 years,
over 50 years. And there are a lot of things that are changing here in Cuba. Businesses are flourishing.
For instance, a few months ago, you couldn't go into a restaurant and all you get is black beans, chicken and rice. And now you can find broccoli in
restaurants, you can find arugulas (ph), zucchini. Things are flourishing --
ACOSTA: -- more and more and more. So that can't be bad. And that, it came about from that pact of friendship that these two countries had a
stroke (ph). And of course, everything, it's not going to happen overnight, it is a process. But things are happening for the best. And
I'm very hopeful about what the future is going to bring.
AMANPOUR: Carlos, you know, you make me smile. I've been to some of those markets, where there was literally nothing and people could barely afford
anything after their monthly rations expired.
But the broccoli and the zucchini is presumably -- I do remember very well -- it's presumably for the -- for the -- perhaps more well-off Cubans now
and you yourself grew up in incredible poverty. You remember that.
How did you find your way into this global stardom?
How did you get out of your Havana poverty to become what you are?
ACOSTA: Yes. I was one of the lucky ones, who always had the luck to have companies and interest in my dancing. And so in 1990, I won a couple of
major competitions and then somebody saw me and that person was Ivan Nai (ph), he took me to the London Festival of Ballet.
Then I ended up in Houston, Texas, and then from that point on, whereas my career was a stepping stone until I ended up in the Royal Ballet. I know
that I was one of the lucky ones because, at that point, the border was quite close and people had to defect in order to audition for companies.
But these companies, they came here to the island. And I've been able to negotiate some sort of legal status that allowed me the freedom to go back
and forth. So that's why I never left. I always been back and forth.
And to me it would have been very sad if I had to leave my family behind. I always -- you know, I always have been very, very in touch with my
family. And so I've been able, because of my dancing, to have a contract that allowed me to have a better life for myself and for my family.
But at the same time, now they say an incentive because businesses are flourishing, people have more incentive to go and work for themselves
because they can. And so like I say, it is a process that, hopefully, it will open more into more sectors of the economy and so on. And I think it
looks like it's heading to the right direction.
ACOSTA: To that direction.
AMANPOUR: I'll come back to you in a second but let me -- let's ask Jorge.
Look, Jorge, this is all part of Obama's Latin American policy.
"The Economist," for instance, said, quote, "Although no region commands less attention in the foreign policy of the United States than Latin
America, no region is more important to the daily lives of Americans."
Tell me how to break that down.
And do you think President Obama, Jorge, has really entered a new reality with lots of countries in Latin America?
CASTENEDA: The problem is that Obama has, you know, said all the right things, made the right gestures.
But when it comes down to actually getting things done or changing U.S. policy, for example, on drugs, the upcoming United Nations -- special
session of the General Assembly a month from now to try and change drug policy worldwide, well, Obama is not leading on this matter. He's letting
other peoples lead but he's not really doing that very much.
The same on immigration; he's tried to get immigration reform done in the U.S. Congress but hasn't succeeded. Now he's trying to do it by executive
decision. He hasn't succeeded there, either.
On trade matters, some progress has been made but not a whole lot. So I think you have, you know, huge symbolic achievements which lay the ground
for someone coming later but not, perhaps, substantive achievements right now, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Sometimes, as you say, it slowly, slowly.
Carlos, at least the Cuban leaders will not be able to blame America for everything going forward and nor will Latin Americans, either, because this
now has been taken away by the Obama policy.
Are you worried, Carlos, that Cuba will suddenly become super Americanized?
Are we going to see, I don't know, Miami in Havana?
ACOSTA: No, I don't think so. I don't think so. It didn't happen when the Spanish were here; it didn't happen when the Americans were here. I
think Cuba culture is so strong, the amount of freedom born in this country is so strong, that is --
ACOSTA: -- always going to come through. Remember, in the Americas, there was a region called cha-cha-cha, which is the most simple reason that it
was invented for the Americans because they couldn't dance the more complex Cuban dances.
And so they say, oh, and so they get -- they are tailor-made, this region, for the American market. And it's always going to -- it wouldn't happen.
I'm not worried about that, because whatever else, it's going to be a melting pot, it's going to mutate into something else. But in Cuba, the
Cuban spirit is still going to prevail at the end.
AMANPOUR: Well, cha-cha-cha, indeed.
Carlos Acosta, thank you so much for joining us from Havana tonight.
And, Jorge Castaneda, thank you very much indeed from Miami.
CASTENEDA: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So much has been made of the historic nature, as we've been talking about, of this trip but it might not have been such a big deal if
President John F. Kennedy had lived.
Never mind the catastrophic anti-Castro Bay of Pigs invasion on his watch or coming eyeball to eyeball with nuclear war during the Cuban missile
crisis. Kennedy later sent a secret envoy to meet with Fidel but it came to a tragic end when he was assassinated in November of 1963.
After a break, terror in Europe as police in Belgium clean up the terrorist ISIS cell. We witness recruitment there hiding in plain sight. That's
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.
Belgian authorities are searching for another suspect in the November Paris terror attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (voice-over): They're looking for this man, Najim Laachraoui, who they say traveled to Hungary with captured Paris suspect Saleh Abdeslam
This is the latest video of that Friday raid that netted Abdeslam in the district of Molenbeek in Brussels, an area that's found notoriety as a
hotbed of violent jihadist ideology.
And that is where we find our Nima Elbagir. And in this part of her special series, "Frontline Belgium," she examines the pain of
radicalization that's inflicted not only on their own families but also their victims, of course.
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Residents winding their way home through the streets of a quiet Belgian suburb. On nights like this,
it's easy to forget this is a country facing very real threats.
We've come here to meet with a potential interviewee. He agrees only to a mutual location.
Imam Suleyman Van Ael is one of Belgium's most outspoken anti- radicalization, anti-ISIS figures. He arrives with a bodyguard but determined to speak.
SULEYMAN VAN AEL, ANTI-JIHADI IMAM: We live in an era where everybody who tries to speak out and stand up for the truth, that he will find people
trying to stop him and refraining him from doing so.
ELBAGIR: People in a European capital city who speak out against what they believe are dangerous extremist trends are being, yourself included,
subjected to some very --
ELBAGIR: -- credible threats from ISIS. And that is horrifying.
VAN AEL: I believe that it's part of our Islam that we protect the country that we were raised in and that we try to make the country that we lived in
And the problem is the misunderstanding of this youth, that they think when I attribute myself to a non-Muslim country, it makes me a non-Muslim. And
that doesn't make any sense.
ELBAGIR (voice-over): Belgian security sources tell CNN that in 2015 an average of 5-6 Belgians a month left to join ISIS and it's a pipeline that
flows both ways, with some of that number successfully retracing their steps home.
For the families and the communities they return to, it only exacerbates the fear.
Geraldine Henneghien (ph) and Veronique Kut (ph) are from The Mothers' Collective. Both have sons who left Belgium to join ISIS.
Geraldine's was 18.5; to her, still a boy but old enough to die fighting in Syria. She received the news in a text from the Syrian front line.
Both the women are trying to weave their pain into something bigger than their loss, trying to keep other parents from experiencing their suffering.
HENNEGHIEN (through translator): Every sign, every case is different. When you look at them separately, they don't look like signs of
radicalization. But when you look at the whole picture, you realize that these are signs of radicalization. They're part of the recruitment
ELBAGIR (voice-over): In the aftermath of the horror that swept through the streets of Paris late last year, the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek
emerged as the nexus of the plot. And it's in Molenbeek where The Mothers' Collective are now working with the newly founded Montasser AlDe'emeh
deradicalization center. The center counselor agrees to speak to us to describe some of their work but asks that we conceal her identity.
ELBAGIR: The youngest patient that you see is 12 years old and her parents have given you permission to share her story with us today.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Almost overnight, she started wearing the full Islamic veil. It's been three weeks now wearing the full
jilbab, a long veil with a skirt and everything.
So I tried to understand her motivations.
Is someone telling her to do this?
Not so long ago, one of her sisters left for Syria. And since then, this little girl feels completely overwhelmed. She's so young, the mother is
devastated with worry.
ELBAGIR (voice-over): Geraldine has a stark warning for the parents that comes out.
HENNEGHIEN (through translator): We need to make people realize that if you do not act right away, it can very quickly be too late.
ELBAGIR (voice-over): Since the Paris attacks, the ministry of interior says the laws have been changed to give police greater powers over minors
seeking to travel. And those over 18, who are already on watch lists. But the families and the communities at the heart of this say ultimately they
know this is their battle, in spite of the threats that have become a reality of life here.
HENNEGHIEN (through translator): Is there anything else I can lose?
I've already lost my son, so there's nothing else that they can do to me.
ELBAGIR (voice-over): Nima Elbagir, CNN, Molenbeek.
AMANPOUR: Troubling times there.
And when we come back, imagining a Ukranian Joan of Arc. A petite and unlikely hero in the ongoing war with Russia, Nadiya Savchenko still behind
bars, awaiting her sentence in the most political of trials. That's next.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, as we've been reporting, President Obama is under pressure not to let Havana off the human rights hook even while he
engages with the Castros.
But right now, over in Russia, Cuba's former big brother, the spotlight is on another prisoner of politics: 34-year-old Ukranian pilot Nadiya
Savchenko is being sentenced on charges of killing two Russian journalists.
She's denied the charges all along, insisting she was kidnapped by Russia during the war with Ukraine and is a prisoner of war, a political pawn.
Russia is seeking a 23-year prison sentence. While in Ukraine, Savchenko has become a national hero, with some calling her their own Joan of Arc.
She often turns up to trial in traditional Ukranian clothes or a pro-Kiev T-shirt with some choice words and gestures for President Putin in this
whole judicial process.
Last year she spent around three months on hunger strike when we sent her some questions via her lawyer. She responded in kind, with incredible
optimism under the circumstances.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADIYA SAVCHENKO, UKRAINIAN PILOT (through translator): I don't know what it will take to get me out of Russia but I lose neither hope nor faith. So
many people around the world wish me to be free that it's impossible for a miracle not to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: She ended that hunger strike but one of her lawyers says she'll do it again in protest after she's sentenced. And today, as we keep the
spotlight on human rights violations, we give Nadiya the last word.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVCHENKO (through translator): If Putin wants to defeat Ukraine, let's try to defeat me first. Either task is too big for him to bite. But if he
wants peace and friendship between our nations as he claims, I'm ready to make the first step towards it. My freedom will be that first step towards
peace and understanding in Ukraine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.