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Venezuelan President Blames "Right Wing" for Assassination Attempt; First Lady Breaks Ranks with President Trump; Zimbabwe Election; Bangladesh Protests; Teaching Children Empathy. Aired 3- 3:30a ET

Aired August 5, 2018 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Drones armed with explosives appear to target the Venezuelan president. Nicolas Maduro calls it an assassination attempt by the far right.

The U.S. president takes aim at LeBron James but the first lady sides with the basketball hero.

A story that will make you think again. A London classroom is fighting bullying by bringing in babies.

Live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier. It's great to have you with us.


VANIER: Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro says he escaped an assassination attempt on Saturday and he is promising to find those responsible. Maduro said drones detonated explosives near him during a military ceremony. He appeared unharmed when he appeared on TV hours later.

Soldiers broke ranks and scattered after the second explosion. Bodyguards surrounded President Maduro and took him off stage. Addressing the nation, the Venezuelan president blamed Colombia and a right-wing plot for trying to oust him.

CNN's Rafael Romo has been speaking with Venezuelan officials about this apparent attack.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR: The two explosions rattled president Nicolas Maduro when he was on stage. The socialist leader was in the middle of a speech during an event to celebrate the 81st anniversary of Venezuela's National Guard when the blast happened.

The president would later say that it was an attempt against his life. He blamed far right elements of the Venezuelan opposition and Colombia's outgoing president, Juan Manuel Santos. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADURO (through translator): This was an attempt to kill me. They have tried to kill me today. And I am not doubting that everything signals that right, ultra-right, Venezuelan ultra-right and Colombian ultra-right and the name of Juan Manuel Santos is behind this attempt.

ROMO: The Colombian government said there was no basis for the accusation and that president Juan Manuel Santos was focused on the baptism of a granddaughter and not on topping foreign governments.

Asked by CNN if the Venezuelan government had any evidence linking Colombia, the Venezuelan attorney general refused to answer.

President Maduro also said, without showing any proof, that those responsible for financing and planning the attack are in the United States, specifically in the state of Florida, where many Venezuelan immigrants live.

A senior State Department official traveling with U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Indonesia said they heard the reports and are following the situation closely.

Venezuela is in the middle of a deep financial crisis. The International Monetary Fund recently said inflation will reach 1 million percent this year. Blackouts and shortages of basic food items are commonplace -- Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.



VANIER: Jennifer McCoy is professor of political science at Georgia State University. She joins us now, she's also co-author of the book, "International Mediation in Venezuela."

Jennifer, what is your analysis of what transpired?

JENNIFER MCCOY, GEORGIA STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, it looks like an attempt on the life of the president. That's what the government is claiming. And it's not the first. There has been a great deal of unrest in Venezuela and also a lot of dissatisfaction apparently, even among military ranks.

The government has been arresting and removing military personnel from the ranks, accusing many of conspiracy against it. So this is another in a pattern that has been going on for the last couple of years. Of course, we'll have to wait to see the evidence, to see what was really behind it.

VANIER: So that's what I was going to point out. Maduro regularly claims there are groups inside and outside Venezuela plotting to overthrow his regime. Often the evidence is shaky, sometimes nonexistent.

My question is, how much of these claims, including today, should we believe?

MCCOY: Well, obviously, something happened because something caused the National Guard, who were all standing up in rank there, to break rank and to run after hearing an explosion. So it's very possible that it could have been an attempt. There have been a couple of others this year.

But also some people say it was, you know, something organized by the government in order to drum up support for it. The government does regularly make accusations of conspiracies from abroad. In this case, he has accused Colombia and Venezuelans living in the United States.

VANIER: Yes, some critics of the regime just flat-out do not believe that these are bona fide --


VANIER: -- attacks against the government. They believe the government's making them up.

But you're telling us there is a real threat and there are real attacks and attempts against this regime?

MCCOY: Well, there was one in the last year by a group of military personnel, who were captured and killed and who had made tapes, audio and videotapes, calling on people to stand up and rebel against the government.

And in a quite audacious act that they had, the helicopter moving over government installations. So there have been some attempts.

But it's difficult to tell this early exactly the nature of this one, who was behind it. And the fear is that the government could use this, whether real or not, as an excuse to round up even more critics or dissidents.

VANIER: How does this tie in with the current economic and political context in Venezuela?

I mean inflation is sky-high. We're into the fourth year of a recession. The economy has collapsed. There's a great deal of animus against this president.

Do you connect what happened today with this overall context?

MCCOY: Well, if it was a real attempt, then that would certainly show how vulnerable the government is because the situation is very untenable for most people living in Venezuela.

If the government -- if it was a made-up event, if it was something that the government constructed itself, it also shows its vulnerability for the dissatisfaction of life. They have announced a new economic plan that will supposedly save the economy.

But I think many outside economists do not have faith in that plan. So we are unlikely to see a dramatic improvement in living standards in Venezuela very soon.

VANIER: Jennifer McCoy, thank you so much for joining us at such short notice with your insights. Thank you.

MCCOY: Thank you.


VANIER: Sources close to the White House tell CNN that President Trump is worried his children will get caught up in the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Mr. Trump is said to be especially concerned about his son, Don Jr., although the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, denied that in a statement to CNN.

Mueller has been looking into the meeting at Trump Tower that Don Jr. held with a group of Russians during the campaign. If Don Jr. was lying when he told to Congress under oath that his father did not know about the meeting at the time, well, he could be charged with a crime.

U.S. first lady Melania Trump is defending LeBron James after her husband insulted the NBA star, who had just given an interview to CNN's Don Lemon. A spokeswoman for Ms. Trump praised James for his charity work with children.

He just opened a new public school in Akron, Ohio, and that's what the interview was about. The first lady is even opening -- is open to visiting the school. That is, of course, in sharp contrast to Mr. Trump's Friday night tweets.

"LeBron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television," wrote the president. "He made LeBron look smart, which isn't easy to do."

Now in the interview, CNN's Don Lemon asked James if he thinks the president calls out African American athletes for his political gain.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Whenever there is something like he's in trouble, he can't wiggle his way out of something, he'll bring up the national anthem thing and kneeling or standing.

Do you think he uses black athletes as a scapegoat?

LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS FORWARD: At times. At times. And more often than not. I believe he uses anything that's popular to try to negate people from thinking about the positive things that they can actually be doing.



VANIER: Political analyst Bill Schneider is with us.

Bill, the attack on LeBron James, do you think this is just the president's temper flaring?

Or is he picking on LeBron by design, as in, does it serve a political purpose for Donald Trump?

BILL SCHNEIDER, POLITICAL ANALYST: He picks on anyone who criticizes him. He's very sensitive about that.

LeBron James is a hero. Look, I'm in Los Angeles. He's just coming here to Los Angeles to sign up with the L.A. Lakers. He is a genuine hero.

Of course, Trump didn't carry California. He lost it by over 4 million votes. And let me assure you, he's not going to carry it again. It's not the America that he knows.

But LeBron James attacked him, criticizing him in a mild way. He just disagreed with Trump and he said he's dividing the country, which very few Americans would say is wrong. And Trump just came back at him, as he does at anyone who criticizes him, and says he's dumb.

VANIER: Again, here's what's interesting to me about the political calculus, if there is one and I'm not sure there is. You say LeBron James is in Los Angeles, in California now. Donald Trump has -- is never going to win California, so maybe it doesn't matter if he criticizes LeBron.

However, LeBron is from Ohio, and he has got still a lot of support there. And, lo and behold, Trump was stumping in Ohio on Saturday.

Do you see a connection there in trying to win perhaps some votes in Ohio?

SCHNEIDER: I'm not sure. Remember, he left Ohio. A lot of voters in Ohio resent the fact that LeBron James left Ohio for California. There's also the fact that he's African American.

And a lot of African Americans are going to see Trump's attack on LeBron James as just another instance of a kind of thinly veiled racism on the part of President Trump. And that is something that they have come to really resent.

VANIER: Which goes back to my original question of, could Donald Trump perhaps be choosing certain targets with whom to feud?

Because if you think of Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player, other black athletes that have drawn the ire of this president. There does seem to be -- there's an argument for saying this could help Trump electorally.

SCHNEIDER: It speaks to his base. He has a base, it's about one- quarter --


SCHNEIDER: -- of the country. A lot of his base is working class white men. Those were his core supporters. They're still his strongest supporters today.

A lot of them harbor racist sentiments, even about sports figures. A lot of them resent political correctness. The president's statements are rarely politically correct. He resents political correctness and attacks it at every turn.

So when the president conveys a certain, perhaps thinly veiled racism, that doesn't bother his base at all. A politician once said, your base in politics are the people who are with you when you're wrong. And Trump has always had them.

VANIER: There's another interesting upshot of this, which is that the first lady sided with LeBron on this and it's yet another instance of Melania Trump publicly distancing herself, undercutting her husband.

I just wonder, is there a precedent to this for first ladies?

SCHNEIDER: I've been around a long time. I'm never seen anything like this. What it suggests to me is very simple. The first lady is not part of the president's base. He's not the president of the whole country. He's one of only two elected officials whose constituency is the whole country. The other is the vice president.

But he doesn't represent the whole country like most presidents. He represents his base. He speaks to his base. They talk back to him through FOX News. He talks to them through social media.

The first lady isn't really part of that. Just the other day he criticized the fact that he watched CNN, which is his sworn enemy, on the airplane. And her response to that, through her spokeswoman was, the first lady's going to watch anything she wants.

VANIER: Yes, there's a pattern of that now. She's established a pattern of undercutting the president.

I mean, there was that famous jacket, "I just don't care, do you?"

There's the fact that she insists on watching CNN. I wonder whether any of this has political impact or whether it's just a sideshow.

SCHNEIDER: I think a lot of people have noticed and they're not surprised by the fact that she doesn't appear to be one of his true believers, one of his core base.

They wonder, how long is this marriage going to last?

It's his third marriage. There's no indication that the president himself resents this or is angry about this. But it does say that, when he speaks to his base, he's not speaking to her.

VANIER: Bill Schneider, thank you so much. Once again, a true pleasure speaking to you, thank you.


(END VIDEOTAPE) VANIER: American martial arts actor Steven Seagal. Why is he in the news?

You may remember he became a Russian citizen a couple of years ago. The Kremlin now is rewarding him. The ministry of foreign affairs says Seagal has been named a special representative to promote U.S. and Russia relations through cultural and youth exchanges. The actor is a close friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

We could see the inauguration of the president of Zimbabwe as soon as the end of this weekend. That would cap off a tense week in the country following the contested election of Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Six people were killed in post-election violence. Funerals have begun for the victims. Mnangagwa has promised an independent inquiry into that violence.

Meanwhile, opposition leaders continue to say the vote was rigged and they will not recognize Mnangagwa victory. David McKenzie is in the capital, Harare.

David, tell us what the next step is for the opposition, especially for opposition leader Nelson Chamisa. He says he doesn't recognize this presidency.

What's his next move?

MCKENZIE: Well, Cyril, his next move is to take this to the courts, most likely. Excuse me, I've lost my voice a little bit here in Zimbabwe.

The problem is they haven't had any evidence yet, that they've presented to the public, of that supposed rigging. So they've placed themselves in a difficult political position.

In the meantime, Zimbabwe is certainly calm here in Harare. You see fewer army on the streets. The police is there. There have been more than 20 opposition members who have been taken to the courts, denied bail and possibly facing quite serious charges of inciting public violence. So that's the issue now in Zimbabwe.

The pressure on the opposition to concede defeat is growing. Various political actors in Southern Africa and across the continent have said they need to now move on with this critical election -- Cyril.

VANIER: Mnangagwa held out an olive branch to Chamisa and I'm wondering whether that might be a way out of this.

Do you think there could be any kind of power-sharing agreement?

MCKENZIE: It might not be power-sharing per se but you're right, Mnangagwa did hint, possibly, that he could welcome Chamisa in some way, shape or form. There have been governments of national unity here in Zimbabwe in the past. But we don't know whether that was more to try and ease the tension or

a formal olive branch. There have been moves even with the opposition party, some confusion of what the final thrust is from them.

But as this weekend progresses, there is a sense that lost a little bit of momentum, it will be crucial on Monday --


MCKENZIE: -- to see whether they have enough evidence to push through to the courts. The problem is politically it will be very difficult for them even if legally they have some kind of challenge.

Meanwhile, there have been long lines on the street here in Zimbabwe at the banks. People just want to get on with their lives, some of them at least. So this kind of holding pattern doesn't really help the opposition's cause for trying to overturn the results of this election.

VANIER: David McKenzie, reporting live from the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, thank you very much.

When we come back, students protest in Bangladesh. What has them out in the streets, stopping bus drivers.

Plus a new kind of teacher is giving schoolchildren a lesson in empathy and anti-bullying. Stay with us.




VANIER: Israel is facing its biggest backlash yet over a new law, declaring the country a Jewish state. The Druze minority led a massive protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday, demanding the law be rescinded. They say it downgrades them to second-class citizens.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu denies the law infringes on their rights and, truth be told, the Israeli government was blindsided by this criticism because the Druze are considered loyal supporters to the state.

Bangladesh saw large student protests for a seventh day on Saturday. They're demanding safer roads and they're demanding a crackdown on unlicensed drivers and unregistered vehicles after a deadly incident a week ago.


VANIER (voice-over): Traffic brought to a halt. Hundreds of cars set on fire and dozens of people injured. A student protest that began peacefully seven days ago in the Bangladeshi capital is spreading violently across the densely populated country, triggered by the death of two teenagers, run down by a speeding bus. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have been protesting the roads for a few days over some of our demands. We are demanding justice for those students killed by a bus. And we want safe roads.

VANIER (voice-over): It was a privately run bun that mowed down the two students on Sunday after plowing through a crowd of college students. The country's state-run news agency reported that the driver had been arrested Wednesday.

But tens of thousands of students are now demanding a crackdown on traffic safety in a country where more than 4,000 people die in road accidents each year. One of the world's highest ranks, according to the World Bank.

Blocking intersections in Bangladesh's largest city, videos show uniformed school kids sitting in a circle, chanting for justice. Some simply hold up placards --


VANIER (voice-over): -- one reading, "Our transport system equals serial killer."

Others demonstrators crowd around a vehicle, demanding to see the driver's certification. Unlicensed bus drivers are reportedly a common problem in Bangladesh. Anger towards them became more heated as the protesting continues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They continue to stop our buses running, as students attack and damage our vehicles. We cannot go on the roads. Students hit our drivers and our things, so no vehicles could move.

VANIER (voice-over): According to Bangladesh's state-run news agency, the country's education minister told protesters Saturday that their demands were accepted and the government would be working to bring discipline to the country's transportation. But the outraged students show little sign of stopping, paralyzing swaths of the congested capital, a city of more than 10 million.


VANIER: Western Europe remains in the grip of a deadly heat wave. With more records being set. And now fires have broken out in Portugal.


VANIER: I want to take you to Britain. We're staying in Europe. Totally different story. A happier one, where some schools are trying to help children be kinder to each other.

How do they do it?

First of all, it's a way to stop bullying, which experts say is a serious public health problem. One organization uses an unusual teacher to get the message across. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz was in the classroom.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good afternoon, Evelyn.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN PRODUCER (voice-over): Students greet their tiny teacher.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, Baby Evelyn, and how are you?


ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Ten-month-old Evelyn is full of lessons for this class.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you're feeling upset or a bit frustrated, how do you regulate yourself?

What do you do to make yourself feel a bit calmer?


ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Emotional literacy, social skills and most importantly, empathy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was quite excited. I was a bit weirded out that they're going to bring a newborn baby to children that don't even know how to handle one.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Empathy is seen by many child psychologists as the antidote to bullying. Baby Evelyn, with a little help from her mom and the teacher, is here to administer the cure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She'll like teach us how we have to feel for other people, which is empathy.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): The year-long Roots of Empathy program reduces fighting by about 50 percent, according to independent research.

The key to its success?

Sharing with students the relationship between a loving mother and a dependent, vulnerable baby.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're interacting with us. Like they're not just showing us, they're talking with us.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Ten-year-old Muhammad says he already sees changes in his fifth grade class.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it was rough and (INAUDIBLE) and no one listened. But once Evelyn came, we started to get calm. ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Mary Gordon, the program's founder, tells us, as empathy goes up, aggression goes down, students feel happier, healthier.

MARY GORDON, ROOTS OF EMPATHY: I think the attitudes of bullying are changing in that it's not suck it up anymore, it's that it's not right, it's not just, it's not fair, it's debilitating.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Among some 10,000 young people surveyed in the U.K., about half said they had experienced bullying. Nearly a quarter of those victims turned to self-harm to cope.

And now with the rise of cyber bullying, children face harassment even at home. Mary Gordon says their capacity to care is their best defense.

GORDON: It's our job to teach them how to read, to compute, to write. But if we fail to teach them how to relate -- and you need empathy to relate -- we will have a doomed society.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): At just age 10, Ibrahim says he's a new man, more sensitive and understanding than ever before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before I met Evelyn, I would be like -- to be honest, I was a bit mean to some people. But now I've changed a lot and I'm kind to my friends and stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Goodbye, Baby Evelyn.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Schoolyards have always had their bullies but soothing the cruelty of children with a tiny dose of innocence is a radical new idea. And it might just be working -- Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.


VANIER: You're never too young to become a new man.

Thanks for watching. I'm back with the headlines in just a moment. Stay with us.