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Venezuelan Opposition Leaders Seized in Twin Raids; The View from Moscow on New U.S. Sanctions; From Foreign Correspondent to Ambassador's Wife. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 1, 2017 - 14:00   ET


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN HOST: Tonight, crackdown in Caracas. Opposition figures arrested just two days after the controversial election. I speak

to the head of the country's national assembly.

Also, the U.S vice president on Russia's doorstep in Georgia as tensions between Moscow and Washington continue to heat up.

Plus, decades on the front lines. I speak with a journalist Lynda Schuster about her incredible life.

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

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro is wasting no time cracking down on the opposition after a controversial election on Sunday to install a

completely new parliament loyal to him.

Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma were arrested early this morning. You can see video there on your screen. And those videos posted online by

their families show what they say are Venezuelan intelligence services dragging the men from their homes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We don know where he was taken. The group of men came with their faces concealed and in camouflage they

took him. They have kidnapped him once again. We hold the regime responsible for his life and physical integrity.


PLEITGEN: Now the two men were already under house arrest and Venezuelan authorities say they violated the terms of that house arrest. Meanwhile,

the U.N. is demanding their release.

Far from buckling under international pressure, Present Maduro is laughing off new U.S. sanctions slapped on him. Venezuela's opposition-led national

assembly now faces an uncertain future.

Its leader Julio Borges tells me the only path forward is true Democratic elections.


JULIO BORGES, VENEZUELAN POLITICIAN: It's very clear that the government has said in the past weeks that they are looking for peace in Venezuela.

And it's amazing that the first step that they did after the supposed election this Sunday is to take Leopoldo and Antonio and taken them to the

jail. This is very clear that this is the answer of an undemocratic government that is only looking through fear to keep what they called peace

in Venezuela which is none other thing than violence.

PLEITGEN: How concerned are you for also your situation. The situations of others who are currently in the assembly? Because the assembly itself

was under attack just earlier this year.

BORGES: Absolutely. We have had many attacks, violent attacks, against the parliament in Venezuela. And today, I had a session of the parliament.

I am very, very grateful, because many ambassadors went with us to the national assembly, and they were joining the session of the parliament and

to us it was very important support that pushed against any attack to the government.

PLEITGEN: Now the opposition obviously boycotted on Sunday, but it still went through. You know, this new assembly was elected.

What are your options now to try and maintain at least some of democracy?

BORGES: Well, our option is to be in the streets, making demonstrations. Our option is to be in the parliament, making resistance in order to fulfil

the desire of the freedom and democracy in Venezuela.

Our option is to call for the international community in order to help Venezuela. Not only with condemnation but also with concrete actions in

order to push for a democratic outcome in Venezuela. So we have to struggle in order to keep and to achieve a freedom and democracy in

Venezuela and social justice. That's our concern. That's our fight. It's the chief aim of our struggle.

PLEITGEN: How big is the danger of the protest? I mean, we've already seen so many people killed over the past couple of months in Venezuela of

this protest getting out of control and even more than they have already, and the violence, you know, becoming an even bigger issue.

BORGES: Yes, it's something very painful. Now we are speaking. We have been in the street for more than 120 days. Unfortunately, 120 people has

been killed. Thousands of people have been arrested. Most of them are under military trial, which is unacceptable. And what I want to be very,

very clear with you is that we are not in a civil war in Venezuela.

[14:05:00] We don't have to ban two countries facing each other. That's not the problem in Venezuela. What we have is one country, one Venezuelan

people united against a minority, which is kidnapping democracy in Venezuela.

PLEITGEN: At the same time, President Maduro has said that he's the one who is empowering the people. He calls the folks in the assembly the

oligarchs. That he says he's taking power away from them.

Where do you even start or try to start some sort of political negotiation process in that kind of environment?

BORGES: Well, I think that Maduro is right now in a corner. He has no political answer for the people. You have to see that we have not only

political problems in Venezuela. The economic and social problema are big and that they are bigger than the political problem.

We have the highest rate of inflation of the world. We have the most violent country because of personal crime in the world. We have the

companies and industries. They are leaving Venezuela. So Maduro has no answer for Venezuelan people. And the constitutional assembly will reap

the problems of Venezuela.

So we have to keep our fight in order to have a Democratic country with an open economy, with solving the social issues in Venezuela. And I hope and

I'm sure that we are near of that possibility of a Democratic outcome in Venezuela.

PLEITGEN: And so far Nicolas Maduro has laugh off the new sanctions levied on him by the Trump administration. What do you think the U.S. should do?

What do you think the OAS could potentially do and other countries, what they should do in a concrete way other than condemnation?

BORGES: Well, I really feel that we are already living sanctions in Venezuela. Venezuelan people are undergoing the worst economic situation

in history. So Maduro have to be blamed for the suffering and the pain of Venezuelan people.

Maduro has build this situation of isolation of Venezuela. Maduro has built the rhetoric of anti-international relationship of Venezuela. So

Maduro wants to transform Venezuela in another Cuba.

So we are already living in a situation in which I think that it's impossible to be worse than what we are living now. So I think what other

countries, what they are doing is only answering the politics of Maduro to isolate Venezuela.

PLEITGEN: How can the situation be solved? Because everybody, internationally, if you talk about this, it's absurd that a country as

rich, as cultured as Venezuela should be in the kind of situation that it's in right now.

BORGES: Well, for me the solution is easy. And I am not being simplistic. It's very easy. It's to put Venezuelan people, the constitutional right to

do the elections, to follow the rule of the constitution, to have real check and balance in Venezuela, to have the protection of human rights, to

respect the national assembly.

So it has to be a real political will to make democracy to govern Venezuela right now. So the real solution, it will be healed by Venezuelans through

elections, through human rights, through the recognition of each other.

PLEITGEN: Julio Borges, thank you for joining the program.

BORGES: Thank you very much.


PLEITGEN: Now of course we continue to ask for interviews with officials from the Venezuelan government. So far, we have not gotten a response from


When we come back, Russia's relations with the U.S. are becoming frostier by the day as hundreds of U.S. embassy staff packed their bags. I ask the

head of the Russian international affairs council what's next?


PLEITGEN: Welcome back, everyone.

All packed up and ready to go. U.S. diplomatic staffs are starting to move bags and belongings out of their Moscow properties after Russia ordered

Washington slashed more than 750 of its embassy staff.

The move is of course in retaliation for new U.S. sanctions which Vice President Mike Pence says will be signed, quote, "Very soon by President


Vice President Pence is in Georgia on Russia's southern border at the moment, where joint military exercises with U.S. are under way. You see

him there in the video.

This as Russia prepares to send thousands of troops to its Western border for drills with Belarus.

Let's get the Russian perspective with Andrey Kortunov from the Kremlin- backed think tank the Russian International Affairs Council.


Mr. Kortunov, welcome to the program.

And the first question I want to ask you is, so far we have seen the U.S. levy sanctions against Russia, but we have seen the Putin administration

hold back.

Are we now seeing with this slashing of the embassy staff a real re- evaluation of the Trump administration by President Putin?

ANDREY KORTUNOV, DIRECTOR, RUSSIAN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COUNCIL: Well, I think the name of the game here is expectations management. Definitely

there are many disappointments and frustrations above the first half year of the Trump administration.

However, I don't think that Mr. Putin is ready to write off the new administration. And if you look at the Russian retaliation measures, they

didn't affect potential for cooperation on regional crisis.

Putin specifically mentioned that we are still ready to work with Americans on issues like Syria, North Korea, on other issues of mutual concern.

PLEITGEN: You know, sir, it' interesting, because the U.S., there was a bit of a debate about the sort of muted White House response to the -- to

the slashing of the embassy staff.

What do you think is the view inside the Kremlin of the current political situation in Washington? Do they think that congress wants to be tougher

on Russia, but the Trump administration continues to want better relations with the Russians? Or do they think that the Trump administration is

essentially hamstrung at the moment?

KORTUNOV: Well, I think that the meeting between the Russian and the American presidents in Hamburg went relatively well according to the

estimates here in Moscow. And I think that the result of respect towards secretary of State Rex Tillerson, he is well-known in Russia and I think he

enjoys a lot of respect here.

However, I think gradually the Russian leadership understands that this administration is very constrained in what they can do. And it is

particularly reflective in terms of the new package of sanctions, because for many in Moscow, this is not about the weather, it's about the climate

change. And l think that people here believe that sanctions will create a new fundamentals for the Russian-American relations for a very long period

of time. And it's very unlikely that anything can be changed in a rather, you know, radical, dramatic way.

So I think that expectations are much lower today than they were half a year ago.

PLEITGEN: At the same time, the administration, or the White House continues to say that there is a possibility for things to improve.

As you know, Vice President Pence is currently in Eastern Europe and then in Georgia as well.

I want you and me to listen in to something that he said today about what it would take for sanctions to gradually go away.

Let's listen into that real quick.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president and our Congress are unified in our message to Russia. A better relationship,

the lifting of sanctions will require Russia to reverse the actions that caused sanctions to be imposed in the first place.


PLEITGEN: Obviously, that would involve Eastern Ukraine, Crimea.

Do you see any sort of reversal in Russian policies as far as that's concerned?

KORTUNOV: Well, I think that one of the problems with the sanctions is that the sanctions are very generic. They are about everything. They are

not just about East Ukraine or about Syria. They are about arms control. It's about Russian hackers. It's about human rights.

Basically, the message is that we don't like you. And I think the perception here is that no matter what Russia does, it will not be good

enough to convince the U.S. Congress to change its attitude.

Let me remind you that Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which was adopted back in 1974, to let Soviet Jews immigrate to Israel lasted for 38 years even after

the Soviet Union was gone. And even after Jews were perfectly ready and able to go to Israel freely, they still kept this amendment.

So we know for sure that it might be easy to adopt sanctions, but it is very, very difficult to lift sanctions.

PLEITGEN: So you say the Russians believe that the message that the U.S. Congress at least is sending is we don't like you, if you will.

The Americans are saying that their message is, look, we believe that you meddled in our Democratic process. And I know that there have been

consistent denials, but there has been very little lure than just the Russian saying, look, it wasn't us. There has been very little in the way

of for instance, you know, Vladimir Putin says it may have been democratic hackers or patriotic hackers as he calls them.

Any sort of effort to try and get to these people? Any sort of effort, maybe deliver these people to the U.S. To show some sort of transparency?

Isn't there a lot more that the Kremlin could also do? Russia could also do to try and mend relations.

KORTUNOV: I do not disagree with you. I think that in Russia, they grossly underestimated the importance of this issue for ordinary Americans.

They dismissed it as something not really serious. And I think that it was a mistake.

I think that Russia should offer any cooperation possible to investigate that, especially because Russia itself is very concerned about foreign

interference into its domestic politics.

Russia is very obsessed with its own sovereignty. So I think there is practically no reason for Russia not to offer cooperation to the United

States. And I hope that this corporation, either has been offered or will be offered.

PLEITGEN: So we're just getting a message now that the U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson has apparently just now said that the relations or he

believes the relations between the U.S. and Russia are under what he calls considerable stress.

Do you at this point from your vantage point see the possibility of that improving, or do you think that things could actually get even worse?

Because we do know that when countries stop communicating directly with one another, when they misunderstand each other, that things can get, I won't

say out of hand, but they can get worse very quickly.

KORTUNOV: I agree with you completely. And I will tell you that I spend a large part of my professional life studying the U.S.-Soviet and then U.S.-

Russia relations.

And I am convinced that we need a lot of cooperation between the two countries to handle many issues that otherwise will be very difficult to


I think that although there will be no breakthrough as far as I can see, the situation is too bad for a breakthrough. However, I hope that we can

start with some incremental, small things like maybe tactical collaboration in Syria. Maybe more collaboration on Korea. Maybe we can preserve some

pockets of cooperation, which we still have.

Let's say cooperation between Russia and the United States on the Arctic region. Some joint projects in research and education. I hope that we

will be able to maintain at least a foundation for better relations and then we have to rebuild on that.

PLEITGEN: Andrey Kortunov, thank you very much for joining the program.

And as Russia crackdown on American embassy staff, in Turkey the mass crackdown after last year's failed coupe continues. Around 500 people have

been put on trial today in a courtroom built for that occasion. Almost 50 of them could receive a life sentence in prison without parole.

And when we come back, we imagine a life of, quote, "Dirty wars and polished silver. A journalist who saw conflict up close and personal as an

ambassador's wife -- next.


[14:21:40] PLEITGEN: And finally tonight, we imagine a life shaped by passion, love, war, death and family.

Lynda Schuster witnessed the conflict reporting from war zones as a journalist. Her next role as an ambassador's wife was far from just cushy,

taking her to see crises up close in places like Mozambique and Peru.

She joined me today to talk about her new book, "Dirty Wars and Polished Silver."


PLEITGEN: Lynda Schuster, welcome to the program.

SCHUSTER: Thank you very much.

PLEITGEN: So I really think your book is great. I find there's essentially two people in the world. There's people who want to stay at

home when they grow up and there's those people who want to explore the world.

When did you find out for yourself that, you know, your surroundings were a little too small and you wanted to go somewhere else?

LYNDA SCHUSTER, AUTHOR, DIRTY WARS AND POLISHED SILVER: Well, I grew u in Detroit. In the Midwestern part of the United States. And the driver's

license on the Indiana license plates back then was -- they had a motto of wander, which I thought was excellent advise for anyone growing up in the

Midwest. Grow up and leave.

And I ran away from home when I was 17. And having finished high school, and this was part, sort of youthful rebellion, part rejecting my mother's

worrying -- what I considered my mother's very boring life. And ended on a Kibbutz in the northern part of Israel just in time for the 1973 Yom Kippur


But instead of scaring me, it just enchanted me. I was acutely aware of, first of all, being a very green reporter because I got very lucky, I was

hired right out of school by the "Wall Street Journal," and was within a year covering Central America.

I was acutely aware actually of being a woman and travelling in these places. And this was at a time when there weren't a lot of women, foreign


I could often get a foot in the door. I could get interviews that my male counterparts couldn't. Once I got the interview, however, it was sometimes

a struggle, a challenge to get them to take me seriously. But so that was the challenge. It was to -- I was there to make it work.

So, yes, I think we have come a long way. But I think as with most professions, there is still a lot more that can be done.

PLEITGEN: I know that your first husband was killed like ten months after you got married.

Talk to me about how devastating, and you would describe this in your book that was for you. And did that ever make you think about your career

choice and also your choice of pursuing these very instable places that you were in a lot.

SCHUSTER: Yes. I met my first husband Dial Torgerson of "The Los Angeles Times" I think on the second or third day of my first reporting trip abroad

and we fell in love and married in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras in between assignments.

And then sadly, ten months later, he was in a car with a photographer on the Honduran/Nicaraguan border when their car went over landmine and killed

them instantly.

I was out on assignment, came home, got a phone call. At about 1:00 in the morning from the Mexico City A.P. Bureau chief and she was crying.

And if you got a phone call at 1:00 in the morning, and the A.P. Bureau chief is crying you know exactly what happened and he doesn't even have to

tell you.

It obviously was incredibly devastating. I mean, there I was, a bride at 25 and a widow at 26.

PLEITGEN: At some point, you obviously decided to, you know, get married again, and then you traded the life of the traveling correspondent for the

also traveling wife of the ambassador.

What was that like?

[14:25:00] SCHUSTER: I had met at that point an American diplomat, and fallen in love again. And I was in -- covering the final throws of

apartheid in South Africa and was targeted by assassins there.

And at that point, I think I'd had it. Having found love a second time, I really didn't want to lose it again. And little did I know that this was

going to be sort of going back to the 1950s. And I know it has changed since my time there, but back then while the ambassadorial appointees got

very juicy, classified briefings on their countries, we spouses got lectures on such scintillating topics as your China patterns and you.

One minute I was this hard-bitten girl reporter with, you know, my overnight bag at the ready. And the next minute, I was the 1950's

housewife cross-pollinated with Princess Grace.

PLEITGEN: I know that there's a lot of journalists, a lot of -- probably a lot in the diplomatic field, as well, who grow increasingly frustrated

that, you know, it's one conflict after the next. And you do sometimes ask yourself how much progress has humanity really made, because you do have a

mission also a journalist. How do you feel looking back on that time?

SCHUSTER: Well, yes, it is frustrating. It's the diplomats who sit around the table and negotiate the peace treaties, not the soldiers. And it's the

journalists who put themselves into these places to tell the world what is happening, to help bring pressure on governments, to get to those peace --

those peace negotiations. And so I just see it as both those professions as imperative and necessary.

PLEITGEN: Linda Schuster, thank you for joining the program.

SCHUSTER: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

PLEITGEN: And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at, and follow me

on Twitter @FPleitgenCNN.

Thank you for watching. Goodbye from London.