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Catalonia Referendum; Hurricane Maria Aftermath; Riot Police Deployed in Catalonia. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired October 1, 2017 - 03:00   ET



CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Tensions in Spain as Catalonia tries to hold its independence referendum. Polls have just opened but police could try to block voters.

Plus President Trump attacks the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, even as the island deals with the devastation left by Hurricane Maria.

And Sunday is American football day in the U.S. but will the players stand for the national anthem?

The president is calling on them to respect the flag.

Thank you very much for joining us, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier, live from the CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta.


VANIER: The polls are now officially open in Catalonia's controversial referendum on independence. Spain's central government has sent in thousands of police to block supporters from casting their ballots.

But voters lined up for hours in Barcelona, refusing to let police stand in the way and the crowd let out a victorious cheer when ballot boxes were brought into the polling stations.

Catalonia's separatist government vows to press ahead, despite Madrid calling the vote illegal and saying the result will not be recognized in the end. CNN's Isa Soares joins us live from a polling station in Barcelona.

Isa, first of all, I know the polling stations officially have just opened.

So can you confirm that people are going in and starting to vote?

And also is the central government disrupting proceedings in any way?

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): I can show you what is happening just behind me. You see the doors are still closed. There is a pause at the moment. I'll let you know when those doors open.

There are some 200 or so people, a line, a queue just down here but also another one that circles just behind my camera men just here.

And people have been here, waiting for hours, since roughly 5 o'clock in the rain, waiting to make sure that their voices are heard and they can cast their vote.

We've had to police officers from the Catalan police approach. And as they approach, they ask the crowd who is the person in charge? They're all lifting their arms, up in the air, and say we are all in charge, Cyril.

So what has been -- listen to this applause.


SOARES: The doors are still closed from what I can see. Police is at one corner. Two police officers that I've seen so far. Police have been coming in and out. They've been coming outside the school overnight. One of the people who are staying inside, Cyril, who slept here for the past 48 hours, he met with me and basically said to me, the voting booth is here and the papers are here. We are ready to go.

So this has been a critical moment for many of the Catalan separatists who want independence. The word leaking out, of course, that the last poll conducted by the Catalans government back in July showed that 49 percent didn't want independence. And some 41 percent wanted independence. So very contentious issue here in Catalonia and that is why we have seen protests throughout, and again.

But at this moment, one of applause and celebration.

VANIER: Isa, Isa --


SOARES: -- (INAUDIBLE). We shall vote.

VANIER: -- Isa, this is (INAUDIBLE).

Isa, this is fascinating to watch. And I want to make sure our viewers understand, this is not just any vote. You have one side of this, the Catalan government, that wants this vote to go through.

But we are not sure that it's actually going to happen because the central government has vowed to disrupt it.

SOARES: Absolutely. And it's -- this is critical; the government has said throughout localization that this is unconstitutional and it is illegal. The foreign minister speaking yesterday called it a sham of a referendum.

And basically accusing the Catalan government of having alternative facts when it comes to the idea of independence. So for many, for the central government, this will not be recognized. This will never be, never count. There will be no referendum ,were the words of the ministry. So it will be interesting to see what will happen if, in fact, the

first, they'll be able to vote, Cyril, but also what happens after the vote and how many people turn out to vote and whether dialogue is going to take place from both sides.

But important to point out to our viewers around the world that it's not just people here in Catalonia not all pro-independence; 49 percent, according to polling in July, actually want this to remain part of Spain, Catalan's remain part of Spain. And that's why we also saw protests yesterday in the streets, again, this independence referendum -- Cyril.

VANIER: Yes, still a lot of open questions there.

Are people going to vote?

At this stage, that looks likely.

And then are the results going to be announced?

And then what happens after that?

Isa, you're our eyes on the ground. We'll check-in with you again throughout the day. Thank you very much.

Now to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. Eleven days after Hurricane Maria wrecked the island, most of the 3.4 million Americans who live there are desperate for outside help.

Many say they feel abandoned by their government, even the mayor of San Juan is living in a shelter, sleeping on a caught. But later Friday when she pleaded -- but late Friday when she pleaded to Washington for speedier federal aid and the President of the United States seemed to take it personally.

He tweeted from his posh golf resort in New Jersey.

"The mayor of San Juan was very complementary only a few days ago. Has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump. Such poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort, 10,000 federal workers now on the island doing a fantastic job."

My colleague, Anderson Cooper, asked the mayor for her reaction to the president's criticism.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: You woke up this morning to tweets from the President of the United States.

What did you make of what he said?

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: I smiled. I smiled. Really, I have no time for small politics or for comments that really don't add to the situation here.

COOPER: The president also said in a tweet earlier this morning that you had been nice to him early on, but that Democrats told you have to be nasty toward him.

CRUZ: You know, I don't know, maybe he sees women, he doesn't like to be told what to do but, you know, that's not who we are here in San Juan.


VANIER: With us now is journalist and political commentator, Ellis Henican, for more on this.

Ellis, so help us understand why did the U.S. president choose to lash out at the mayor of an American territory that has been and still is devastated by a hurricane?

ELLIS HENICAN, METRO PAPERS: That's a question for a psychologist more than a political analyst, I'm afraid, Cyril.


HENICAN: He's Donald Trump. He don't diss, I suppose, he got some positive comments from the island but over the past several days as things have gotten tougher there, the comments of local officials, including Mayor Cruz, have gotten harsher and -- he not like.

VANIER: He criticizes her -- I am reading from his tweets here -- "her poor leadership ability."

And he criticizes communities for wanting everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.

Is there any fairness, is there any substance to his argument?

HENICAN: No. And that's ugly stuff, honestly, and it plays into racial stereotypes and kind of the of the worst feelings of prejudice out there and it is a -- it' a nasty comment, honestly, and let me tell you, we could talk about the history of the Puerto Rican people.

But, no, that is a completely bum rap, I'm afraid.

VANIER: OK, so then this question, does it hurt him politically?

HENICAN: It depends who you're talking about. With the base, there is no evidence that anything hurts him politically. We have 25 percent to 30 percent of Americans who no matter what are solidly behind the president.

But there's been a little bit of loss at the margin; maybe there's some people kind of on the cusp were who were frustrated or disappointed by this. Maybe the Puerto Ricans out there who do not like to slur but I think the base is probably pretty solid.

VANIER: Yes, with some people might quibble with you on the numbers of his base, 35 percent to 40 percent might be a --


HENICAN: Yes, fair enough. Fair enough.


HENICAN: -- and it's not one -- there's no super solid and there is a pretty solid. So you know, they do come in slightly different flavors.

VANIER: So the question of Mr. Trump's reaction was put to General Honore, the man who was in charge of FEMA during Hurricane Katrina. He is currently in Puerto Rico. This is what he said, speaking to CNN earlier today.


LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET.), COMMAND, HURRICANE KATRINA RESCUE EFFORT: I have no reaction. The mayor's living on a caught and I hope the president have a good day of golf.


VANIER: The mayor of San Juan, who was criticized the U.S. president, is living on a cat, that is true. As she told CNN, in a refugee center or a center for displaced people while the president is spending the weekend at his golf course.

So again to the same question. Does that not hurt at all a president who ran on anger against the establishment, on corruption, on privilege, does that not hurt that part of his base?

HENICAN: Well, yes, anyone who is open to not liking everything but the president, I think sees all kind of bad stuff in that. General Honore, who recently we got to know in Hurricane Katrina, has many talents. But one of them is moral clarity. He says, listen, these people are suffering. Don't get into silly political squabbling. Go help them. Their lives risk and I think the president's fallen back on political thin-skinnedness and fuming and poking at people and, you know, this is not a good moment for that -- Cyril.

VANIER: All right. And that's story's not over. Of course, the U.S. president is going there on Tuesday. CNN has multiple teams on the ground. We'll be coverage that as well.

Ellis, good to speak to you, thank you.

HENICAN: Same here, man.

VANIER: Puerto Rico's governor is urging the evacuation of hundreds of people living near a damaged dam on the northwest part of the island. The U.S. military has been reinforcing the dam with sandbags but heavy rains have stressed it to the breaking point and officials feared it could give way. Elsewhere across Puerto Rico, here is the latest from U.S. emergency

officials. Search and rescue teams have scoured the island from end to end and rescued 843 people; 11 highways have now been cleared of storm debris. That should make it easier for large trucks to move emergency aid into the battered countryside.

Only about half of Puerto Rico's residents have access to clean water. Most of the island is still without power. Remote areas are just now starting to see some relief. The city of Utawado (ph) was shut off from the rest of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit. A task force had to build a pulley system to give these residents some much-needed supplies.

Here is CNN's Brynn Gingras.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) sounded like a monster.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miriam Cruz (ph) rode out Hurricane Maria from inside this bedroom. The storm's eyewall traveled right through mountainous Utawado (ph), a city about 90 minutes from San Juan. The river that runs through this area rose more than 20 feet.

What was your thought, looking out the window and seeing this river go up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Terrible. I thought it was going to come up here. But it didn't. Thank God for that.

GINGRAS: But the flooding caused landslides and knocked out this bridge, the only way for Cruz's community to get out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were afraid that we will be left alone.

GINGRAS: But they weren't. Right now we're crossing a river with a pulley system constructed by a task force that's under the direction of FEMA. And really across the river, about 40 families who haven't seen relief up until today, up until this full system was constructed.

This group of specialized officers, firemen and EMS come from New York, Indiana and Ohio. In the past week, their teams across Puerto Rico have saved more than 800 people.


GINGRAS: This task force took us to Cruz's neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were conducting those assessments, that's how were receiving information from the local emergency management officials, that, hey, in these particular areas, we haven't been able to get there yet. We have no communication with them.

Can you help us?

And that's really what we're here to do. GINGRAS: Now residents are rationing this new shipment of supplies and they are grateful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I saw them come the first time, I saw heaven. So finally we knew that they knew about our situation.

GINGRAS: But with a broken bridge, food and supplies will be needed again and communications are still out. This man cannot get in touch with his daughter, bringing him to tears.

What do you want to say to your daughter in Texas?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're OK because we appreciate your help (INAUDIBLE).

GINGRAS: Even without the help, we found this community doing all they can to stay alive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See that line in there?

That's how we got the water on this side.

GINGRAS: You did that yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, yes, the people here, not me but the men. You know, the men.

GINGRAS: So if you didn't have that...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'd have no water.

GINGRAS: That despite President Trump's recent criticism of Puerto Rico's leaders and local response.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course, we get frustrated because we have done what we can.

GINGRAS: As for the task force, this assignment is over.

And they're on to the next mission, continuing to help the people of Puerto Rico -- Brynn Gingras, CNN, Puerto Rico.


VANIER: OK, we want to take you back to these live pictures; we're in Catalonia right now, in Gerona (ph), in the region of Catalonia. Let's see what we're looking at.

We're looking at riot police, which -- who appear to be somehow disrupting the vote. Remember what we're telling you, an independence referendum is happening right now, as of a few minutes ago, in Catalonia. And Catalans are being called on to decide whether or not they want to be independent from the rest of Spain.

The central government in Madrid is vehemently opposed to this, had already said that this referendum was unconstitutional and they would seize or otherwise shut down maybe more than half of the polling stations, is the number that was out there, that were going to be used.

Until a few minutes ago, we hadn't seen any of that disruption but we knew that they had sent in thousands of police reinforcements. It now looks like that is what is going on.

I am not yet in a position to confirm it, but it is very possible that we're looking at a school because many of the schools in Catalonia were being used as polling stations as a means, probably to keep the police out of them.

And it appears -- so we're about to see a video that was shot just a few moments ago.


OK. So this is starting to answer one of the questions we were putting to our correspondent on the ground, Isa Soares. She's going to b with us shortly. I was asking earlier whether police had been disrupting the vote in any way.

Well, this has provided an answer.

All right, Isa, can you hear me?


VANIER: Isa, what can you tell us at this stage?

SOARES: Well, Cyril, as you've been looking at the video coming in from Gerona, that is where the president of Catalonia is expected to vote at 9:30. And what viewers have been able to see is police, national police, not Catalan police, in riot gear, creating a cordon but also driving voters from that gymnasium. That is not a school, that is a gymnasiums that is being used as a polling station, one of more than 1,000 or so throughout Catalonia.

And so this is really the first time that we have seen today central police of the government of Madrid really move in and try and stop this referendum from going ahead.

So that is happening in Gerona. But where we are, as you can see, the doors remain closed, Cyril. People are still queuing, not just behind but also right behind our live shot position and (INAUDIBLE) right at the corner. We have seen police come in as they approach. They basically ask the crowd, who is in charge?

Everyone put their arms up in the air and said, we are all in charge.

But also of course it's a very tense time, as you can imagine, in Catalonia. This is a real test for the government of Mariano Rajoy. On one side, you have the government of Catalonia we will vote. Our vote matters, This is about democracy.

On the other side you have the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy saying it is unconstitutional and it is illegal and this referendum is a sham, basically one of the ministers from the government of Mariano Rajoy basically saying that democracy is not above the rule of law.

He said the democracy is sustained and held up by the rule of law. And so what we have are these very --


VANIER: Isa, (INAUDIBLE), just a second, Isa. I want to explain to our viewers what we're watching. Just a second. We're watching live pictures right now of Gerona. You were speaking to that.

But these are very powerful images that we're watching right now. And the question that we've been asking Isa since the beginning of this report has been whether the Spanish central government was going to prevent this vote from taking place.

And up until 18 minutes ago, there was no evidence of that, but here it is. It's happening before your eyes. You're seeing Spanish national police -- and Isa was just telling you, there are levels of police here.

We're looking, we're talking about national police. It seems to me --


VANIER: -- who are clearly disrupting the vote. My suspicion is we're looking at a school but we can't -- but I'm not in a position to confirm that yet because many of the schools were being used as polling stations and clearly you saw the police shoving people out of the way.

No one is entering this building right now and...

Isa, I'm not sure you can see this picture. But I just what we're seeing right now. Police are breaking their way into a building. So it looks very clear at this very early stage in the voting process that Madrid is not going to let this happen -- Isa.

SOARES: I'm seeing it as well, Cyril. And this is basically not a school; it is a gymnasium and it's -- and this is (INAUDIBLE) police from the is not well known and know why he is from the center of Madrid.

These are the police forces that, if you remember, have been positions, have been waiting for orders at the port of Barcelona, Catalan government saying as many as 7,000 waiting orders to actually move in.

Of course, the director of (INAUDIBLE) for the (INAUDIBLE) police, the police from Catalonia, to actually do something and step in. But they have been keeping the calm in many ways. They have just been observers from what we have seen in the past 48 hours.

As you look at these live pictures coming in from Gerona, Spain, this is a place, Cyril, where the president of Catalonia is expected to vote at 9:30, breaking into those windows, in their riot gear, really making sure that people will not vote today.

It's a referendum that the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, says is unconstitutional and that it is illegal.

As you can see here, police walking into this gymnasium. This is guardia civil (ph), walking into this gymnasium to try and make sure that the vote, that no one casts their vote.

Meanwhile, rain has started; the heavens have opened here. And people are still waiting to get inside. But in Gerona (ph), Spain, we are starting to see now police moving in. They have been on the site, waiting calmly in the last 48 hours. For now, as you can see, from these images in your screen, police now approach some of the ballot boxes that will be there.

Let's have a look --

VANIER: Yes, Isa, we're going to --


SOARES: -- trying to get everyone out, to make sure that no one gets in.

VANIER: Isa, Isa, we're going to stay with these pictures. This is absolutely striking. This is what happens when a central government is trying to protect its territorial integrity, whether you agree with the method or not. That's what Madrid is trying to do.

Just for context, for viewers who are joining us right now, we're watching live pictures in Gerona, the Catalonia region of Spain. Now today was the day when Catalonia had announced it would hold a very controversial independence referendum. There is a strong independence movement in Catalonia.

They were holding the referendum today but the central government in Madrid decided that it was illegal, unconstitutional; they would not recognize the results and would potentially disrupt it from happening in the first place.

That appears to be what is happening. I'm not getting the sound on this video right but now you clearly have pro-referendum people putting up -- not defiance but who are -- yes, who are being defiant, even as police is coming into the gymnasium.

It does not look like any voting is going to be able to take place there. Isa, a word. A word on how Madrid had prepared to disrupt this ahead of time. I understand that they either took control or somehow disabled the central vote counting system that Catalonia had. SOARES: Yes, absolutely. What we've seen in the past week or so, the central government doing what it can to make sure that vote counting doesn't go ahead. SO we have seen early in the week, if you remember, basically some 140-150 websites taken down.

These are referendum websites that have been taken down by the government. This has led to many people, the campaigning on the streets, where polling (INAUDIBLE) were being handed out, information was being handed out to people, where to vote.

And following that, we've also seen some 14 arrests by -- of Catalan officials, by the central government of Madrid. And we have seen 7,000 this morning the Catalan, 7,000 ballot papers who have also been apprehended by the police.

And in the last 24 hours we saw the police, the central police of Madrid, go into the office of technology and information of the Catalan government. And this is the government that is basically where the vote counting would be taking place.

And they were there apprehending some of the computers and the monitors to make sure that the vote counting does not go ahead. So these are some of the measures that we have seen the central government put in place to try and stop this.

But the government of Catalans is following on from that technology seizure, the technology move by the police, said we have a backup to count the votes. So they didn't tell us exactly what that would be.

But the Catalan government really fighting back -- Cyril.

VANIER: (INAUDIBLE) we're watching are a turning point for Spain. Let's just listen to the sound for a second.

Isa, you were telling me earlier that the voters you so lined up where you are had a special chant.

What was it?

SOARES: Yes, this is something I've been told that's been happening at some of the polling stations. So as the Catalan police, the (INAUDIBLE) police approached, Cyril, they basically asked the crowd right at the doors, who is in charge.

Everyone lifted up their arms and said, "We are all in charge."

Now important to note that some of the doors polling stations, gymnasiums have been occupied by pro-independence supporters, by people who want to have a say when it comes to the referendum.

And for the past 48 hours, they've been having numerous events to make sure. Legitimate events, I might add, to make sure that the (INAUDIBLE) open.

When the group of them that were staying for the past 48 hours, sleeping here, when they left, there were applauded by everyone here, Cyril. So it goes to show what this side of some of the Catalan, the pro-referendum, what they have been doing to make sure the police don't close some of the schools so they can vote.

But of course as we've been seeing these live images that (INAUDIBLE) which is the safely have already dressed in their riot gear, coming into some of the schools and stopping it from voting, what will be interesting which such large crowds is what happened, how do you contain the crowds, how they stop moving people.

And critically, the president of Catalonia is expected to vote there at 9:30, what will happen to him?

Because officials that state police have been saying that anyone who's taking part in the organization of this referendum could be fined as many as 3,000 euros. A lot of speculation what will happen to the future of the president here for what relates to how the Spanish government will -- how they will act when he goes to vote -- Cyril.

VANIER: Yes. Well, Isa, it looks like police forces that came into this gymnasium were looking for something very specific because if you look at the pictures, this happened about 30 seconds ago, they were looking for -- they went to a specific door, they knocked it open. I'm not sure if they retrieved something from that room.

But they were looking for something specific in that building. You also see the two police officers in the foreground here who clearly signaled to the camera that it could go no further. There's only so much that we're going to get to see.

The guardia civil (ph) is on location; Isa was telling us about that.

Isa, I know you're watching those pictures as well. I am seeing those guardia civil uniforms as you are. But I also saw what was clearly a different police force. I do not know if you can tell me, if you have any comments on who that might be because that's relevant, too.

SOARES: Yes, the ones I'm seeing that we're showing, this is guardia civil. There's also policies national; that's national police. And the police that's (INAUDIBLE) that's blue and bits of red, that is Catalan police.

SO the one's you're seeing inside of that gymnasium, Cyril, that is guardia civil. These are the some 7,000 or so police forces that have been waiting in the port here in Barcelona for orders to move in.

Orders, of course, that clearly have been given out to them in the early hours of this morning, that as you can see form these live pictures from Gerona, there are people inside applauding. We don't know which way they will vote.

But clearly they want to vote and they're standing their ground. We've seen this morning a very (INAUDIBLE), a formal quiet resistance, if you will, right here. And what the Catalan government has been saying is it doesn't matter which way you vote. The important thing is that you vote. Meanwhile, of course, the Spanish government saying basically saying this vote is unconstitutional. It is illegal and it is a sham. Basically saying the campaign that the Catalan government had been leading is one of alternative facts.

So very contentious issues. But as you're looking now at these live pictures, police there standing their ground, too, but also importantly not moving anyone out from the inside. What they were looking for, we don't know. I can tell you that the

tour behind that where everyone's waiting for the doors to open here in the pouring rain, the people who were sleeping there in the night, they've shown me some of the images from the inside, which basically show the polling -- the ballots are in. The boxes are in there. They're ready to go.

Whether police were looking for that, we do not know.