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Critics Decry Venezuela Vote; Kurdish Referendum on Independence; 100 Years Since Battle of Passchendaele. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 31, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:20] FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN HOST: Tonight, international outcry as Venezuela's president takes another step from democracy to dictatorship.

The head of the Organization of American States joins me from Washington.

Also, the governor of Iraq's Kirkuk Province tells why the country's Kurds want to move ahead with a referendum for independence.

Plus, remembering the devastating Battle of Passchendaele 100 years on.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Fred Pleitgen in for Christiane Amanpour.

Leaders from Brussels to Brazil are condemning the controversial election in Venezuela, which on Sunday chose a new legislative body to take the

place of a current opposition-led national assembly.

The criticism of the government of President Nicolas Maduro nominated all 545 candidates and that includes his own wife. The opposition, of course,

boycotted the vote and all this comes after months of hyperinflation, food and medical shortages and of course those massive protests.

Ten people died in clashes on Sunday alone bringing the death toll to 125 since April.

Tonight, we're very fortunate to have our own correspondent Paula Newton on the ground in Caracas.

And, Paula, many people were fearing mass protest and violence after the vote but it seems as though at this point in time still fairly quiet,


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, and it does come to some relief. I have to tell you, Fred, the people here in this city and

throughout Venezuela who are absolutely exhausted. That doesn't mean the fear has dissipated. And they are also wondering, even if you speak to

people who support the opposition, they are saying, look, this is it. We're done with democracy in Venezuela.

Now that this super body is in place, the Maduro government can do whatever it likes and that includes arresting people without cause, and that will

also include passing any law they deem appropriate.

Now the Maduro government says that is not the purpose of this new super body, but certainly no one is believing them at the moment especially with

some of the heated rhetoric that's been flying in the last several days. Most notably from President Maduro himself in the early morning hours, I

want you to listen to him talk about the Trump administration.


NICOLAS MADURO, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The spokesman for the government of emperor Donald Trump said that they do not recognize

the results of the elections of the Venezuelan ANC. What do we care what Trump says? What we care about is what the sovereign people of Venezuela



NEWTON: So interesting here of course the Trump administration promise that if Maduro went through with his vote, which he did, there would be

strong and swift economic action. We are awaiting that.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. calling this whole election sham, and saying it's an illegitimate government.

It will be interesting now, Fred, to see what those sanctions are are actually going to be put into place. The devil will be in the detail on

how much it will actually hit the regime. And perhaps it may also, unfortunately, hit the people here. The people of Venezuela.

PLEITGEN: Yes. And, you know, Paula, it was so interesting that you said that the opposition says we're done with democracy here in Venezuela.

What's their next move? What can they do now?

NEWTON: Yes, and such a good question, Fred.

You know, it has literally been years since the opposition has been trying to coalesce around these issues. Get on in the street. Put more pressure

on the Nicolas Maduro regime. It really hasn't work.

Whether it's been peaceful, whether it's been protest on mass. And they right now are trying to figure out what to do. But the key is perhaps in

the interview that you're going to have next, many people here have not felt that the international community has been enough. Certainly not

strong enough to things like sanctions or pressure on this regime.

That is another reason, Fred, that if you talk to people on the street that they are saying as fearful as they are with the kind of sanctions that the

U.S. government can put into place and remember they control a lot of what happens here.

Half of all the revenue in Venezuela comes from sales of oil to the United States. They also feel that it could be a new pressure points and that may

finally make sure that this regime had some pressure put on them.


PLEITGEN: The big question was sanctions, especially by the ones that Washington could lobby against Venezuela's. How do you put on sanctions

targeting the government or whoever is in power and not the people?

The big, of course, saying with the oil sector, what do people think that America could do, that America should do at this point.

NEWTON: Well, the problem is once you start putting sanctions on that oil sector, it's impossible almost to detangle that from what will be a

deepening humanitarian crisis.

[14:05:00] Again, more than 95 percent of all the revenue this sanction get from that oil sector, the Trump administration is weighing some very

targeted sanctions which could help to that extent a little bit, but really will be quite painful in the short term for everyone here.

What is interesting, though, is again just from the few people that I spoke to on the opposition ranks, how many normal everyday people like you and

me, Fred, are saying OK, if that's the way it has to be, we have to put up with more of humanitarian crisis then so be it. We need this to change.

PLEITGEN: Paula Newton in Caracas. Thank you very much for your reporting.

Of course, we'll keep an eye on the situation there. And see if any protest materialized later on in the day.

Thank you very much.

And now from Washington, D.C., I'm joined by one of President Maduro's most vocal critics Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of

American States.

Sir, you saw how the election went down yesterday. There was a lot of violence. There are obviously many people calling itself into question.

What's your reaction?

LUIS ALMAGRO, SECRETARY GENERAL, ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES: Yesterday is the day that Venezuelans will mourn and will mourn forever.

16 people at least were killed during the demonstrations. And that is a big tragedy for the country. 16 people to be killed in one day.

It's only -- we cannot see the war that only (INAUDIBLE) President Maduro can provide that to the world. And that is a shame on the dictatorship on


Plus, of course, we have seen the manipulation of the result. They have created an alternative reality that cannot fool anybody. At least we have

to say that we have seen all the centers. Voting centers practically empty during the whole day. Some of them, they close even hours before. It was

the end of the election.

So what we have seen is a complete fraud. And this fraud has not been recognized by the most important democracies in the world and everybody has

condemned the violence. And that was what this day means for Venezuelans.

PLEITGEN: At what point do you think that the situation -- as you've noted, there had been 16 people killed yesterday. 125 at least killed

since all this began. At what point does this threatened to seriously destabilize Venezuela.

ALMAGRO: Venezuela is completely stabilized. And the country has completely fall into economic, social, political and financial crisis. The

way it is to restore democracy in the country.

We know what the people want. We know what the people think. And we know that the people will do whatever is necessary to achieve it. To restore

the democracy today is the imperative of the international community about Venezuela on his, of course, the needs of the Venezuelan people.

PLEITGEN: Nicolas Maduro for his part says that he is giving power to the little people in Venezuela and taking it away from what he calls the


What do you make the statements of that?

ALMAGRO: That statement is not right from the beginning until the end. The Venezuelan people are suffering like they can never suffer before. We

have seen this social crisis, putting people to die because of lack of medicine, because of lack of food.

And the rights of children mortalities are highest ever. They have appear disease that were eradicated for decades. So what we are facing is an

incredible humanitarian crisis that we would have to need to resort in the future.

PLEITGEN: I know that you have been trying your hand at diplomacy over the past couple months there in Venezuela.

What power does the OAS now have to try and mitigate the situation? Somehow to, as you say, a return to democracy, but also to make sure that

Venezuela itself gets back on track. Because it is a very dire humanitarian situation as you've noted as well.

ALMAGRO: We have tools. The main tool to restore democracy in the country is applied in the American democratic charter. And for that, we need the

support of the countries.

We have been very loud about denouncing what is going on in Venezuela. We have taken away impunity from this dictatorship. We have been very clear

in the way that we need to move forward in order that the institutions should start working again. That the restoration of power to the different

branches of government is achieved.

[14:10:00] That means we need to increase international pressure and internal pressure also have to be increased -- form of international

pressure assumptions.

PLEITGEN: But when you say that, when you call for things to be restored, changes to make in Venezuela, you know that President Maduro and some of

the others in the government are saying that the OAS and you particularly are biased.

What do you do in that situation? Do you still have any sort of leverage? Any clout there on the ground? Can you actually still talk to this

government of Nicolas Maduro? Are you talking at them right now without getting any sort of response?

ALMAGRO: The government of President Maduro has been passing messages to me practically every week. We have been doing our answers to them. But

the answers are very clear because in all our charters and conventions and agreements that you have in the framework of the organization, that the

work ahead would have to be done also by all member states together.

Our capacity to denounce, our capacity to take impunity away as I said, it is relevant week. I will have our capacity also to encourage sanctions

against the Venezuelan dictators.

And, of course, at the end of the day, some of the sanctions will have to affect the regime as a whole. Because, today, the money that they received

from their natural resources is not by any means going to the people. In fact, people are not receiving anything. Nothing of this money. But that

they are excessively receiving more repression against them.

PLEITGEN: How important is America's role going to be? Because obviously America is by far the most powerful country in that region.

I want to read you a tweet. Nikki Haley, America's ambassador to the United Nations sent out, saying, quote, "Maduro's sham election is another

step towards dictatorship. We won't accept any legal government. The Venezuelan people and democracy will prevail."

What can America do now? And a lot of people are talking of possible sanctions against Venezuela's oil sector.

ALMAGRO: First of all, the United States should stay attach to the principles, the principles of democracy and respect of human rights.

The second thing is to take action and that those actions that can be taken, I have mainly can be derive as sanctions.

These sanctions could be targeting of course the authorities of the regime. And also from where these regime is getting their revenues. And that

should be the bottom of action that the United States should go, move ahead.

PLEITGEN: Obviously, sir, if there's instability in Venezuela, that's something that can also threaten stability in the entire region, because

you do also have some disagreements in the OAS as well.

For instance, countries like Bolivia, siding with the Maduro government. How do you maintain stability now and sort of work as a united front?

PLEITGEN: This was very difficult to maintain stability when we have a regime with these characteristics. That this completely disrespectful of

the (INAUDIBLE) the people. That, in fact, is going on to our financial, economic and social crisis without any consideration to the people.

Venezuela is already stabilized in the region. If we see, for example, two millions Venezuelans have left the country in the last two years, and that

have put a lot of migratory pressure on practically every country in the region. But especially those that are small, small island, the Caribbean

or small countries in Central America that these migratory pressure is really causing a lot of trouble.

Also, it's a threat to security because as you see, for example, at present, Maduro's family is in jail in New York because of narco traffic.

The vice president has funds frozen in United States for some $500 million dollars because of narco traffic.


PLEITGEN: I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there because we are running out of time. But I do want to thank you very, very much for

joining us.

I know that you will be continuing the diplomacy to try and get that situation there under control.

Thank you very much, sir, in Washington, D.C.

And of course, we do will continue to ask for a representative from the Venezuelan government to come on the show and join us in the program, but

so far our quests have been ignored.

[14:15:00] And when we come back, another vote in another country. This time in Iraq where the Kurds are set for referendum of independence from

Baghdad. Kirkuk's governor says now is exactly the right time for the votes. Stay tuned.


PLEITGEN: Welcome back, everyone.

At least two people are dead after an attack on Iraq's embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan today. Reports say it was claimed by ISIS.

Now even as the group is squeezed out of its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria, it remains a menace internationally.

Two weeks after Iraqi prime minister declared victory over ISIS in Mosul, the group still controls parts of Iraq, including areas in Kirkuk Province.

Places where Iraq's Kurds are hoping to hold a referendum in September. The goal is clear full independence from Baghdad.

Najmaldin Karim is the governor of Kirkuk Providence. And he told me why the Kurds want their own state.


NAJMALDIN KARIM, GOVERNOR, KIRKUK PROVINCE: From the beginning when our land has been incorporated to form the current country of Iran, this

country has not been in peace with its own people or with its neighbors.

So I believe for the people of Kurdistan to express their opinion as far as independence is a legitimate right and the history that the Kurds have been

through with successive Iraqi governments is approved that the current arrangements are not working.

PLEITGEN: Yet there are people in Baghdad, many of them who say that this referendum is not legal -- is illegal. They reject the referendum. And

then of course you have former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who's saying that the Kurds are dreamers, who are even thinking that independence could

happen anytime soon.

KARIM: Everybody has the right to dream, of course. Dream sometimes becomes reality. There's absolutely nowhere in the constitution that

prevents holding a referendum for the people to express their opinion with regard to their own future specialty after they have been subjected to

genocidal campaigns, use of chemical weapons, discrimination over decades. So I think it is the right time to go ahead with the referendum and then

engage in serious discussion with Iraqi government with regard to peaceful separation and agreement on outstanding issues.

PLEITGEN: The U.S. has obviously spent a lot of blood and treasure trying to shore up Iraqi stability and trying to actually maintain Iraq as a full-

fledged state.

KARIM: Of course U.S. has paid in treasure and in life to get rid of a dictator and to establish a country that's democratic, federal and

independent. And so far, some of that has been achieved with most of it has yet to be achieved. But the course also have been in the forefront of

the fight against ISIS.

You know that yourself. You have been in the area, whether it is in Syria or in Iraq. The Peshmerga forces were the first to stand up to the

aggression of ISIS, while many major cities like Mosul, like Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah, Hawija have all been deserted by vast numbers and

divisions of Iraqi military. And I know that firsthand because we were there defending the city ourselves, and we did that on our own when the

divisions of Iraqi army that was supposed to be protecting it fled and disappeared within less than 24 hours.

PLEITGEN: And you are right. I mean, the Kurds have obviously done a lot, especially in Iraq. And I know that you, back in the days, fighting

against Saddam Hussein were medic in Peshmerga.

When you look at the toll of the war against ISIS, the human toll, the casualties, how does that make you -- how do you reflect on that?

KARIM: A day doesn't go by when I go and see the wives of the Peshmergas who have given their lives, their children, their parents. I -- they come

to my office and it's heartbreaking. It's very difficult for us. I have nothing, but great respect there for our Peshmergas, for their families and

of course the coalition, particularly the United States has been very helpful in defending our area.

And there are many ISIS leaders and fighters have been killed by aerial bombardment, by the coalition forces and we have Special Forces in our area

from the coalition and we see them frequently and they are doing a great job together with the Peshmergas.

PLEITGEN: If the Kurds wants independence from Iraq, it seems to indicate that they don't believe Iraq is viable as a state.

KARIM: If it continues the same way that it has been, there is no way it can be stable and viable actually. And at least, you know, there is great

interference in Iraq now by others without consent of the Iraqi government and at least the department has been most loyal to the United States and to

the west and appreciative of what the United States have done on actually the Kurdish areas.

You can listen to the media and to the comments by different Iraqi leaders and how they look at the US, which has which has paid great price over 2500

-- 4500 dead over 35,000 wounded and maimed forever. Trillion of dollars in treasure. And yet U.S. is regarded by a lot of people as enemies of

Iraq and they should be out. And they should not be allowed to even have anybody stay there and that's really what happened in 2011 when no

agreement could be released between the Iraqi government and the U.S. government to facilitate keeping a force in Iraq, which could have

prevented what has happened afterwards.


PLEITGEN: Next, we commemorate a battle from World War I, one so horrible, it must never be forgotten.

Passchendaele infamous for the ocean of mud that drowned soldiers from both sides. The statue that you see here is made from the very mud from that

very battlefield. It stood in London in remembrance using rainwater to evoke the endless downpour during the offensive.

Peace melted over the course of a week. We marked 100 years since Passchendaele.


[14:25:40] PLEITGEN: And for our final thought tonight, let's remember a place drenched in blood and young men drowning in mud. It has been exactly

100 years since the beginning of World War I's battle of Passchendaele.

A fight that immortalized a revered English poet Siegfried Sassoon as a place where men, quote, "fell into the bottomless mud and lost the light."

Within 500,000 soldiers were killed in the 100 day offensive. Tonight, we leave you with a tribute to the fallen at Timecard Cemetery.

We thank you for watching and hope to see you again tomorrow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My great-grandfather remarked, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth

through the years to come than this mass multitude of silent witnesses through the desolation of war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Private Edward Michael Patton, 38 platoon, D company, 25th battalion, Australian imperial force, killed in action on the 12th of

October 1917.