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Raul Castro Sets Dissidents Free; Can International Pressure Bring Regime Change in Cuba?; Chinese Man Sent to Prison for Clean-Up Efforts in Lake Tai

Aired July 13, 2010 - 16:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: After years in captivity, seven men are tasting freedom tonight in Spain. They are the first of more than 50 dissidents Cuban leader Raul Castro is expected to set free.

Cuban born actor Andy Garcia, though, is among those who say this means nothing. Tonight, we look at whether international pressure really can bring about regime change in Havana.

On CNN, this is the hour we connect the world.

With a deal brokered by Spain and the Catholic Church and Havana is hoping that it will get something in return. From Washington but in his first speech in years, Fidel Castro doesn't even mention the detainees his brother has released.

So, is this a real shift in strategy?

I'm Becky Anderson in London with the story and its connections this evening.

He's been tweeting with your thoughts on this. Keep them coming at BeckyCNN. We'll discuss some of those comments a little later in the show.

Also tonight, remember this aid of flotilla to Gaza well, now Libya is sending a ship there too and Israel is threatening to intercept it. We're live in Jerusalem and in Tripoli with the latest developments.

And an Afghan army soldier opens fire on his British comrades. That report this evening and we'll discuss the international fall out with Kabul's chief spokesman.

First up, this hour, smiling and flashing victory signs seven Cuban dissidents stepped off a plane into freedom today. They are the first of 52 political prisoners that Cuba has promised to release. It's biggest such gesture in more than a decade.

Let's kick off this part of the show, shall we, with Al Goodman in Madrid.


AL GOODMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A taste of freedom. Seven Cuban political dissidents just released from prison by the Castro government speak their minds as soon as they arrive at Madrid's airport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are the advanced guard of a group of prisoners who have arrived in Spain after seven years of unjust captivity.

GOODMAN: They are the first group to leave Cuba among the 52 political prisoners Havana has agreed to release. All were arrested in 2003 when Fidel Castro's government cracked down on dissidents. They were sentenced on various charges for up to 28 years in prison.

The government of Cuba, suffering economic hard times agreed to the prisoner release in a deal with the Catholic Church and the Spanish Government who had sent its foreign minister to the island.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE; There was enormous interest in Madrid in hearing what the dissidents had to say. I'm trying to get a sense of whether their release will signify a change in Cuba.

GOODMAN: This Cuban journalist, Ricardo Gonzalez insisted a new breeze was blowing in his home land.

RICARDO GONZALEZ, JOURNALIST (through translator): For me, and for us, change starts with freedom. Not just for our colleagues in jail but freedom for each Cuban to think what they want. Cuba deserves democracy.

GOODMAN: But he denied the released dissidents were simply pawns the Cuban government was using to curry international favor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are not being manipulated. Exile for us is a continuation of our fight.

GOODMAN: Fidel Castro, Cuban's ailing, long-time leader who has passed control to his brother, Raul made a rare TV address on Monday blasting the United States but not one word about the prisoner release.

Typical, says this Cuban, part of a group advocating more releases of political prisoners. She went to the airport to meet the latest arrivals even though she's convinced change has not arrived.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It's just more of the same. Fidel Castro is releasing the prisoners but just little by little. It's like torturing those of us who are waiting for them.

GOODMAN: Yet, for these seven and for other dissidents who may soon join them in Spain under the latest deal, getting out of jail may be enough for now.

Al Goodman. CNN, Madrid.


ANDERSON: Well it is too early to tell whether this prisoner release will tangibly improve Cuba's relations with the west or indeed lead to the easing of sanctions but the move is drawing praise. The United States called it a positive development that it hopes is a step towards increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba.

Spain, indecently, one of Cuba's biggest trading partners calls the prisoner release quote "A new desire on the part of the Cuban government to advance with social and economic reforms."

And the European Union which conditions its relations with the country on its progress in human rights says it hopes the deal will lead to a lasting solution allowing the release of all of Cuba's political prisoners.

And as Al Goodman noted, one significant voice not commenting on the story is Fidel Castro. He's given a rare TV interview touching on international controversies from Iran to North Korea but he was virtually silent on events in his own back yard.

Let's bring in David Ariosto in Havana.

Significant or not, David?

DAVID ARIOSTO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well thank you, Becky. Lots of news in and around Cuba. Like you said, Cuban born Cuban president Castro speaking last night on Cuba's evening broadcast using it to blast the United States in terms of its foreign policy and forecasting potential war warning of a potential nuclear war between the United States, Iran and involving North Korea.

Let's take a listen to one example of what he said.

FIDEL CASTRO, FORMER DICTATOR OF CUBA: They are not going to admit United States that they are -- they are the ones who's (INAUDIBLE) this boat. How they did it? In mine, that they install in the boat in yesterday body of the bow so they promote a conflict between South and North Korea.

ARIOSTO: Now, this is just the one example of something that we've seen over the course of the last several weeks and several months. Last night was just a TV representation of an example of what Castro has been writing (INAUDIBLE) surgery. He's become sort of columnist in chief around this policy but his efforts are focused largely on foreign policy which is the interesting thing about this.

It's interesting is what Castro didn't say. He didn't focus on the major news that's taking place within his own country and that is the historic release of 52 political prisoners. This would be the largest release of political prisoners since a 1998 visit by Pope John Paul II and in fact, this would be roughly about 1/3 of the remaining total number of political prisoners here on the island.


ANDERSON: All right, David. We thank you for that and apologies there for the slight interruption in the sound quality.

Cuba's critics said then questioning how sincere the prisoner release is suggesting it's simply a total gesture. Let's bring in Philip Peters.

Big thinker on this. (INAUDIBLE) he's vice president of the Lexington Institute and an expert on Cuban affairs.

Philip might say the fact that Fidel ignored the release in his speech last night suggests we're hardly witnessing a fundamental change in strategy here.

Significant or not at this point and your thoughts.

PHILIP PETERS, VICE PRESIDENT, LEXINGTON INSTITUTE: Well I think it's significant. It's definitely significant. The release of these political prisoners if indeed, these 52 are released and especially if they are released with the option to stay in Cuba if that's what they wish to do. it means by Amnesty International's count, we would only be left with -- with a handful of prisoners of conscience in Cuba.

So that's a very significant move. It doesn't solve all the human rights problems in Cuba but you can't dismiss this.

ANDERSON: Cuban born actor Andy Garcia calls the government a facade. I spoke to him earlier on and this is what he had to say. Have a listen to this:

ANDY GARCIA, ACTOR: I've been involved in these protests and marches supporting the ladies in white or the -- the mothers and sisters and daughters of these prisoners of conscience to let them be free. And as of a week ago, the Cuban government has always claimed that these are common criminals. So as of a week ago, they were just common criminals. Now, all of the sudden, they are political prisoners of conscience.

Why? Because the international pressure is saying we've got your (sic) eye on you and you're going to have to release these people and if not, another one is going to die and the next one is in line who's going to go on a hunger strike. So, these people are not humane people. The Castro brothers are a people full of inhumanity. And they need to leave Cuba in order for the Cuban people to be absolutely free.

ANDERSON: He's not convinced by this. He -- he doesn't think this is a change in strategy and necessarily -- are we seeing enough from Raul Castro?

PETERS: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear -- understand your question.

ANDERSON: He doesn't see this as a change in strategy. He says the Castros are going to leave Cuba before Cubans will be free.

Other people will say that the international community in Cuba, including the U.S. are being fooled by what Raul Castro is doing at present.

PETERS: Well, it's -- at face value, it's a release of prisoners. It's a release of almost all of the prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International's count. I'm not -- like Mr. Garcia -- I'm not a member of the Fidel Castro or Raul Castro fan club.

There are -- as I say -- there are human rights violations that remain after this. The question is what's the best strategy for -- in my case, for my country to pursue with regard to Cuba. I say prisoner release or not prisoner release the United States is on the sidelines. We deny a lot of forms of interaction between our country and Cuba which would constitute sources of influence in Cuba and we're crazy to do that.

We should be opening up towards Cuba and we should be pouring it on. I think Mr. Garcia probably represents a school of thought with regards to sanctions against Cuba which is that American sanctions should be kept until the last moment and only removed when Cuba changes completely. I think that's a formula for waiting another 50 years, frankly.

ANDERSON; But not everybody agrees with you. How important is Cuba then to your mind for the U.S.?

PETERS: Well I -- I think Cuba is important for the United States. Cuba is a neighbor. We've had long historical ties. We've had cultural ties. We've have family ties and at it's -- it's not of strategic importance. It's not a security threat. But it is a neighbor and we should work out our relations with Cuba and we should treat Cuba's government and the Cuban people just as we deal with other countries where we have a disagreement and this is a very fundamental disagreement on human rights issues with the government.

ANDERSON: You've had positive noises from Spain. The EEU, the U.S. and indeed the Catholic Church at this point. what's the end game?

PETERS: Well, we'll see where it goes. Minister Moritinos thinks that -- that in addition to releasing these prisoners that -- that Cuba will proceed with economic reforms. That would be a good thing. I think it's - - and I -- I applaud what Cardinal Ortega is doing in the Cuban Catholic Church. They've achieved something quite remarkable and new which is a dialogue between the Cuban government and Cuban civil society and the -- and the institution of the Catholic Church.

I hope that that proceeds. I hope it leads to -- to more changes. I think it would be -- it would be definitely good for the Cuban people if that were to take place.

ANDERSON: All right. With that we're going to leave it there.

We thank you very much indeed for joining us. As well as engage the viewers in what we've been doing tonight.

We've been tweeting on this. And I tweeted the Cuban born actor Andy Garcia -- has called the government in Havana a faOade. Nazesco (ph) says just this, "I agree with him." At (INAUDIBLE) control says well, every government isn't a faOade, really? Question. And last one from (tree pole) I be he, Andy Garcia lives in the U.S. You can read into that what you will.

At Becky CNN keep the dialogue going.

Well another aid ship heading towards Gaza. Will it defy Israeli orders to steer clear? Or head into a possible confrontation? That story is next. This is Connect The World.

Live from London, I'm Becky Anderson. We're back in about 60 seconds or so.


ANDERSON: Well it's been just over six weeks since Israel's widely condemned raid on an aid flotilla heading toward Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed when Israeli troops boarded one of the vessels.

Now, an Israeli investigation concluded that the military made mistakes but the troops' use of live fire was justified.

Well now, there is another aid ship closing in on Gaza. This one sent by Libya and a possible confrontation is looming.

I'm going to bring in Fred Pleitgen from CNN Jerusalem.

Fred, we're hearing the ship has agreed to change course and head to Egypt. What more can you tell us at this point?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is a lot of confusion surrounding actually where this ship is going to go. Now, what we do know is that this aid ship, which of course, was hired by a Libyan aid agency that it's on its way to this area. Now, we know that the Israeli Navy then sent a ship out there and this ship made contact with this flotilla. It told it you can't go to Gaza. You're either going to turn around or you're going to go to the Israeli port of Ashdad (ph) or you're going to go to the Egyptian port of El Arish (ph).

Now, according to the Israeli military, the ship's captain said OK I'm going to go to the port of El Arish (ph). Now, according to the Libyan aid agency which is run by the son of Muammar al-Gaddafi, they're saying no, we are still going to try to sail for Gaza.

So right now, that's really the main confusion. Where the ship is going to go. The big question here is what's going to happen as it gets closer to this area. The latest indications that we have from the Israeli military that it's still about 75 kilometers away from the Egyptian shore.

Now, the Israelis have made very, very clear that they're not going to allow the ship to go to Gaza. They want it obviously to go to this Egyptian port. But right now, it really isn't clear where this ship is going.

And one thing that our viewers really have to know, Becky, is that the area here is very, very small. The Egyptian port, the Israeli port and Gaza are very close together so it's going to take quite some time for the Israeli military to determine whether or not this ship is actually going to Egypt or whether it's going to try to continue to go to Gaza.


ANDERSON: Well let's find out with -- whether we can get some more details on that, Fred. Thanks for the time being.

The new (INAUDIBLE) then launched by a charity headed by the son of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi.

I spoke to Saiv Gadafi (ph) just a couple of weeks ago with some questions that you, our viewers, had asked. And here's a bit of that exchange right now.


ANDERSON; And a last question from Rani (ph) from Marseilles. He says you've been very outspoken on the plight of the Palestinians in the past. Can we expect you, he says, to be at the vanguard of the new generation of Arab leaders who'll help resolve this conflict?

GADAFI: (PH) I'm doing my best to -- to help our brothers in Palestine. But they have to help themselves. And they have to unite. And they have to solve their own problems.


ANDERSON: Saiv Gadafi speaking to me. Just a week or so ago. Well, I want to talk more about the ship and where it ultimately may end up with Yousif Sawani (ph). He's the executive director of the Gadafi (ph) International Charity and Development Foundation and joins me now by phone from Tripoli.

So, Saiv (ph) let me get this straight. You sponsored this ship, am I right in saying that?

SAWANI: Yes, I'm in constant contact with the ship. We have phone calls (INAUDIBLE) every hour on the hour and they call us in case of an emergency.


SAWANI: (INAUDIBLE) definitely yes. Yes. Definitely off the coast of Gaza by the (INAUDIBLE) from the coast of Gaza. And as your correspondents from Jerusalem was right in saying (INAUDIBLE) has a very small (INAUDIBLE) and the two boats are close to each other so that's, I think part of the confusion. That's international media and having to deal with.

But we confirm that the ship is definitely heading for Gaza. We have (INAUDIBLE) Gaza. We say it in the first instance and we arrange for this humanitarian peaceful mission just to deliver humanitarian goods to the people of Gaza and this is where we think humanitarian assistance and relief material should go.

People in Gaza are very in need. They have been under siege for number of years and international community should be at responsibility --


SAWANI: -- morally, ethically and allow the safe and peaceful delivery of the cargo of the ship.

ANDERSON: Right. This is in contravention of the Israeli blockade. They say you must go to Egypt. You are not welcome in these waters on the way to Gaza. So what do you say to the Israelis at this point?

SAWANI: Yes, I -- I understand (INAUDIBLE) they have -- their Navy has approached the -- I understand what they are saying and their Navy approached the -- the vessel and had communication with the -- with the Chief of (INAUDIBLE) and the captain. They gave them an ultimatum to leave the area and head for (INAUDIBLE) But our answer will remain as always. We started sailing towards Gaza. And Gaza is our target and we hope that everyone -- every party concerned will come to their senses and realize that this is a humanitarian, peaceful mission.

Israel should take this as a golden opportunity to show to the rest of the world that they are able to defend (INAUDIBLE) humanitarian, peaceful missions like ours and others.


SAWANI: We are (INAUDIBLE) this is not a propaganda stunt. This is not --

ANDERSON; Yes. I've got your argument. OK. I've got your argument. Let's get the viewers some more information.

Let me get this straight. Let me pin you down. Do you know exactly how far away from Gaza the ship is? How long it will take to get there and indeed, if the Israelis intercept, what will the ship do?

SAWANI: Well I -- to the best of my knowledge, the ship should be in -- in -- in -- what it should be just about 10 o'clock in the morning. Wednesday, that is.

And we just talked, as I said, and the Israelis understand our mission and that we are not seeking any confrontation or provocation. And they should take this opportunity and allow the ship to unload its cargo onto the air field in Gaza.

ANDERSON: We can leave it there. We thank you very much indeed for joining us.

You've been listening to the executive director of the Gadafi (ph) International Charity and Development Foundation joining me on the phone from Tripoli, an organization that is sponsored an aid ship on its way, as he says, to Gaza and it will arrive, he says, about 10 o'clock Wednesday. Time that in contravention, of course of the Israeli blockade of those waters.

Going to take a very short break here on Connect World. I'm Becky Anderson. Back after this.


ANDERSON: Well all this week here on Connect the World, we're bringing you stories of environmental warriors, people dedicating their lives to cleaning up some of earth's most polluted areas.

We started yesterday, Monday, in Bangladesh with Rizwana Hassan (ph) mission to reign in the nation's ship scrapping business. Old, derelict vessels are health hazards to the unprotected workers who tear them apart. They're also harming the environment.

Later this week, we'll visit the U.S., Poland and Germany for other stories from these environmental warriors.

Today, though, we are in China with the story of Wu Lee Hong (ph) and a very dirty lake. Wu spent years trying to clean it up, his efforts ending in prison. Now, Wu is free and picking up right where he left off.

Emily Chang has got that story for you.


EMILY CHANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lapping at the shores of Jiangsu province, Lake Tai is at once tranquil and majestic. Until it reveals its dirty secret.

It's a secret Wu Lee Hong (ph) has been trying to tell for 20 years. The 43-year-old environmental activist was just released after three years in prison, convicted of blackmail and fraud. This is his first television interview since.

Having just come out of prison, are you at all scared to talk to us?

Not at all, he says, the environment belongs to the people and we need to protect it.

Wu's crusade started in 1989 when he began documenting the lake's demise, snapping photos, taking samples, warning government officials the lake was doomed.

Lake Tai was once considered the heart of China's fish and rice cultivation, known for its bountiful catch and harvest. But with the arrival of big industry on the lake perimeter, that reputation has been lost over the last two decades.

As China's economy surged forward, its third largest fresh water lake went from national treasure to national disaster.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have all of the pollution problems that you could imagine surrounding one lake. You have agriculture, agricultural runoff of fertilizer or pesticides or all kinds of organic pollutants. You have industrial pollution from factories.

CHANG:: At first, government officials praised Wu's efforts to expose the problems calling him an environmental warrior in 2005.

What changed then, between you and the Chinese government?

WU (through translation): When the government gave me the award, they expected me to be on their side. but I had to be honest, he says.

CHANG:: As a result, Wu became the subject of intense government scrutiny.

WU THROUGH INTERPRETER: The police would just sit in front of my house and watch me, he says.

CHANG:: In 2007, they broke in and arrested him.

At first, I thought he should just give up, his wife says, but then I realized that he was doing the right thing and should keep going.

Later that year, Wu's prediction came true. Lake Tai (ph) succumbed to a giant algae bloom. Green, gooey scum that thrives on pollutants and left 2.3 million people without drinking water.

The Chinese government forced thousands of factories to close, revamped water treatment systems and pledged $14 billion to clean up the lake by 2020. But Wu remained in jail.

In response to whether the charges against Wu were unjust, a local environmental official says we welcome people to be enthusiastic about protecting the environment but if you violate the law, it's the same punishment for everyone.

He admits pollution remains a huge challenge. Many large factories still operate and while the algae has abated, it still flares up.

That's the algae.

Fishermen admit the water seems cleaner but their catch is dwindling.

There's no fish anymore, this man says.

And so an undaunted Wu Lee Hong (ph) plans to continue his campaign.

Some day, I just want the water to be clean for the next generation, he says.

A solemn pledge from a man to his lake.

Emily Chang, CNN. Lake Tai, China.


ANDERSON: Well tomorrow, our theme week continues. In the U.S. we're going to meet Yvonne Shoueinaud (ph) the man who founded these sports and outdoor retailer Patagonia. That's one of the world's first green companies. Patagonia has long been considered a model in the corporate world of a company that doesn't compromise environmental standards for the sake of quality.

So how does he do it? We'll find out tomorrow here on Connect the World.

Tonight, General Patreaus vowing to push forward on the mission in Afghanistan. He says the deadly rogue attack will not undermine trust between Afghan and allied forces. But is the damage done? That's up next here on Connect the World.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ANDERSON: A warm welcome back around 9:30 in London. I'm Becky Anderson. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD, here on CNN. Coming up, an Afghan soldier is on the run after allegedly killing three British soldiers in Afghanistan. We'll get reaction from around the world to you on that story.

And the refugee crisis inside and outside Iraq; more than two million people are homeless inside their own country. A look for you at a new initiative to help them find homes.

And your connector of the day today is Cuban born action and the Garcia of "Ocean's 11," and "Godfather" start, will share his thoughts on the political situation in his home country. Plus, he'll be answering your questions on acting and all things Showbiz a little later in the show. Those stories are ahead in the next 30 minutes.

Let's get a quick check from CNN on the headlines at this hour.

The Libyan charity sending a ship loaded with aid for Gaza, says it will arrive in the Palestinian territory on Wednesday. They tell CNN they do not want a confrontation with the Israeli military, but they will not turn away from Gaza. An Israeli official has says earlier that the ship's captain was promising to change course and head to Egypt.

Well, seven Cuban dissidents are beginning new lives in Spain. They arrived in Madrid on Tuesday, the first of 52 political prisoners that Cuba has promised to release as part of a deal brokered by Spain and the Roman Catholic Church. All the dissidents call their release the start of a new era for Cuba.

Testing is underway to see if the new cap on the damaged oil well in the Gulf of Mexico will work. Meantime, the Obama administration has sent a full bill to BP, and other responsible parties. This one is almost 100 million dollars.

Well, an intense is underway in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. Investigators are searching for an Afghan Army soldier who killed three British troops. The British prime minister, David Cameron, calls the rogue attack, quote, appalling, but he insists NATO forces will continue to work closely with the Afghan Army.

Let's start this part of the show with Atia Abawi in Kabul.


ATIA ABAWI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Three British soldiers were killed and at least four others wounded when an Afghan soldier fired a rocket propelled grenade at them. This occurred around 2:00 am Tuesday morning in Helmand Province, at a joint force operating base, meaning a base where both Afghan and British soldiers were living and working together.

Deputy ISAF Commander Nick Parker is calling on the Afghan government to investigate, find the perpetrator and help prevent this from happening in the future.

DEP. LT. GEN. NICK PARKER, INT. SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE: This is something which has got to be investigated. Our Afghan partners have got to look very carefully at what has happened. And they've got to reassure us that they're doing everything they can to minimize it happening again.

ABAWI: Although this was a shocking incident, it wasn't all that surprising to some. First of all, this has happened in the past, where an Afghan security member attacked a member of the NATO coalition, killing them. Although, it should be noted that it doesn't happen often.

Second of all, when it comes to President Barack Obama's strategy, announced in December of 2009, he's calling for an increase of Afghan soldiers to 134,000 by October 2010. Many say that because of this, the recruiting process has actually suffered, and that the recruiters are focusing more on quantity, rather than quality.

Atia Abawi, CNN, Kabul.


ANDERSON: We're also hearing from the commander of U.S. NATO forces in Afghanistan. General David Petraeus offered his condolences and said, quote, "we must ensure that the trust between our forces remains solid in order to defeat our common enemies."

British Defense Secretary Liam Fox calls the killings despicable and cowardly. He said, "training Afghan forces is vital to the mission." And he vowed that today's events will not undermine the progress made.

Well, Afghan President Hamid Karzai also offered his condolences and apologized to the British government for the attack. Well, I spoke earlier with Mr. Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omar, and asked him if thinks the incident could damaging, hugely damaging, indeed, to the trust between Afghans and those who are training them. This is what he said:


WAHEED OMAR, PRESIDENT KARZAI'S SPOKESMAN: This is a tragic case, and we agree that this has to be very thoroughly investigated by our government. And we have committed ourselves to thoroughly investigate this.

But this is an individual case involving an individual. And we don't even know as to what triggered it. It -- it will not affect the overall state of cooperation between (INAUDIBLE), the development of the ANA, the Afghan National Security Forces, and everything else. We have to see it as a single incident, in which one single individual is involved. So we do not need to generalized his.

ANDERSON: The development of the ANA, of course, is part of the military strategy. There is a political strategy that President Karzai and President Obama have also bought into. Is there, though, any evidence that Karzai's policy of reconciliation, reintegration of the Taliban is working?

OMAR: Yes, Becky. We have taken some -- some very serious steps in that. And it's -- we're very happy to have had the -- the -- the support of the international community in the policies of -- for the policy that we are proposing.

This is going to start very soon. Of course, all our focus at the moment is on the Kabul Conference. But the peace process is going to launch very soon. We hope that that will turn around a great deal of the dynamics here in Afghanistan.

So we are very hopeful, and the international community is very supportive. We hope that it will have results.

ANDERSON: The lynchpin on this policy, of course, is talking to the Taliban. Amnesty was offered in 2005. As far as I can tell, no senior Taliban commander has defected. Only something like 12 of the 150 or so Taliban leaders on the U.N. Security Council's sanctions list have come over. How can you say that this is and will be an effective strategy, whether the international community has bought in or not?

OMAR: Well, the international community is very supportive. There is no doubt about this. But, obviously, this is something that will take its time. It's not going to happen overnight. It is a process. And we all agree the important factor is that, by now, there is a consensus us and the international community that there is a political way to deal with this. That took us a lot of time to convince the international community that a political way was possible.

Now, it's gaining momentum. The consultative (INAUDIBLE) of the Afghan gave it their support. And there is a lot of pressure on the side of those Afghan Taliban who are not linked to al Qaeda, and who have been excuses for not joining the peace process. There's lots of pressure. And I think it's going to bring lots of fruits in the coming months.


ANDERSON: The views there of Hamid Karzai's spokesman in Kabul. Coming up next in the show, the people displaced by the war in Iraq; more than two million refugees in their own country; two million others have fled. We'll be taking a look at what's being done to help them all get homes.


ANDERSON: It's been more than four months now since elections in Iraq, and politicians there don't appear any closer to forming a government. I'm Becky Anderson in London. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Today, the U.S. government stepped up pressure on Iraqi leaders, urging them to assemble a government quickly, and calling the solution to the situation critical.

And whoever becomes the new leader will have to try to solve one of Iraq's most pressing problems, its refugee crisis.

CNN's Arwa Damon reports.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESONDENT (voice-over): Hadijah (ph) was pregnant the night al Qaeda gunmen in black masks stormed into her village.

"They were carrying weapons," her mother Numya (ph) tells us. "They set my aunt's house on fire, and they shot her daughter. They traumatized us. We fled only with our children. We didn't take anything."

Most of the village's 350 families did exactly the same.

(on camera): When the villagers began to return in 2008, they found their homes in ruins. And although now the fighters are largely gone and security has improved, it is still a concern. The mayor, for example, is too afraid to appear on camera.

(voice-over): And asked that we not mention the village by name. Once the scene of such terror, now this area is the site of an experiment. Sprouting throughout, small white homes. It's a U.N. project to build temporary housing for returning families. Iraq's prime minister issued an order backing the effort, although it's not Iraqi money that is funding this project. It's largely American.

So far, the U.S. has put 35 million dollars into this initiative. Kelly Clements, one of the State Department's main refugee specialists, says the crisis is a top priority for the U.S.

KELLY CLEMENTS, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: We thinks it's both a moral imperative and a strategic objective, in terms of making it possible for as many refugees and internally displaced as want to come back to Iraq to come back.

DAMON: Numya's family of 18 moved into three of the homes. She shows us the toilet they have turned into a kitchen. "We don't have enough room," she says. Part of the challenge is also livelihood. In these parts, people are farmers. Drought and water shortages have made them unable to make a living, and they struggle with power outages in the suffocating heat.

U.N. and U.S. projects to help with that should be on the way, including boosting the electricity supply, improving irrigation systems, and paving roads.

What took place in this small village outside of Baqubah, and the plight its residents face is not unique. There are over two million internally displaced Iraqis, most as a result of this war. And they need help.

Arwa Damon, CNN, outside of Baqubah, Iraq.


ANDERSON: You just heard Arwa Damon's report. The number of internally displaced people inside Iraq has swelled since the war began. One and a half million people have been internally displaced in the last four years. And two million more have fled to some of Iraq's neighbors. Here is where they have gone.

Now, Syria has taken the largest number, 1.5 million refugees now living there. Half a million fled to Jordan. Egypt has -- doesn't share a border with Iraq, but more than 100,000 Iraqi refugees are there. More than 50,000 are in Iraq's neighbor, Iran. And Lebanon, Turkey and other Gulf countries collectively have become home to more than 200,000 additional Iraqi refugees.

Now, as we said, the majority of those are in Syria. Philippe LeClerc is the deputy representative to the U.N. Refugee Agency there in Syria. I spoke with him earlier today. I began by asking him what life is like for the typical Iraqi refugee in the country that he is in, Syria. This is what he said.


PHILIPPE LECLERC, DEP. REP. UNHCR IN SYRIA: Most of the Iraqi refugees have left some time since 2006, and they were thinking of leaving one year maximum. Now many of them have been staying for four years. They don't have money anymore. They don't have employment. They see their country in transition. They don't have a good picture of who will be ruling the country. The basic services are down.

And they all are surviving in Syria, with the help of the Syrian state and humanitarian assistance. So their children go to school. They are covered for medical assistance. But they don't have an idea of what will be their future.

ANDERSON: What sort of conditions are Iraqi refugees in Syria living in?

LECLERC: The very good thing is people are not in camps. When you talk about refugees, usually, you think of people in camps. Here, people have been able to choose the place where they live, in an urban environment. Most of them are living in the capital city of Damascus, others in are settled in towns. Most of them were coming from an urban environment, like Gaza, for 80 percent of them.

So they're eating nice. Their children go to school. They are, again, covered medically. Their basic needs are covered. But, again, no future. What will they become? Most of these people were working, and we see now elderly people in their 30s and their 40s who are not doing anything at all. You have more and more domestic violence resulting of this situation.

So a more and more difficult situation, while waiting for their country to recover, and potentially they can go back home.

ANDERSON: You had Kelly Clements, representative of the U.S. State Department, talking in Arwa Damon's package earlier on, alluding to the moral imperative to get refugees home. When is that going to happen?

LECLERC: I think the two, three years to come, they will progressively return, if, again, conditions of safety, security, and, again, access to basic services are provided. And then people are very attached to their country, and they will progressively return.

Some of them war particularly traumatized by what they have spent in Iraq, the difficulty they had, will be settled to the United States, to European countries, to Australia. But this will only be a very small minority of them. Most of them, we have to help them to prepare to for a sustainable return, particularly these widely are in asylum.


ANDERSON: The U.N.'s man in Syria doing a story for us this evening. One of Latin America's most bankable stars; he's seen a string of heavyweight Hollywood dramas. Now Cuban-born Andy Garcia is lighting up and going for your funny bone. Your connector of the day is up next.




ANDY GARCIA, ACTOR: I was born ready.

ANDERSON (voice-over): As one of Hollywood's most low-key leading men, Andy Garcia has played some unforgettable roles.

GARCIA: We're twins.


ANDERSON: Including his Academy Award nominated performance as Vincent Mancini in "The Godfather Part III." Born in Havana, Cuba, Garcia was a young boy when his family moved to Miami, in an attempt to escape Castro's regime. Years later, after arriving in Hollywood, it didn't take him long to land roles in films like "When a Man Loves a Woman," and "The Untouchables."

More recently, he has won over audiences as a tough casino owner in the "Oceans 11" films.


ANDERSON: And his 2006 portrayal of a Cuban night club owner in the hit "Lost City."


ANDERSON: This year, he's trying his hand at comedy in the much anticipated "Dizzy Island." In the film, Garcia plays a corrections officer trying to hide his acting aspirations from his loved ones.

GARCIA: Is there --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sorry. Are you doing a Marlon Brando impression?

ANDERSON: The film, which opens next wake, also features Garcia's real life daughter, Dominik.

GARCIA: Welcome Tony to our table.

ANDERSON: Both tough guy and family man, Andy Garcia is your connector of the day.


ANDERSON: I've seen a bit of the movie, and it's very funny. I caught up with Andy earlier, and his daughter, in fact. I asked him how different it was taking on a comedy role, after all that he has done. This is what he said.


GARCIA: Well, you know, I think there's a certain understanding of how comedy works. You know, it is a genre, you know. And although, in the sense of you're not playing the comedy in the piece. You have to have a certain third eye for what those rhythms are, and what could potentially be funny about the concept of this scene, and the predicament that you're in. Then you play the scene straight, with -- you know, as deeply as possible. But you always have an eye to what the rhythm of that is.

I think comedy -- there's certain things with comedy that some -- you have a feel for it or you don't. It's more difficult, I think, to play than drama is, because conflict is an easier thing for an actor or anyone to attain.

ANDERSON: Let me ask you, Andy, Vince Rizzo is a complex character. He's embarrassed by his dream of being an actor. He would rather believe that he's having an affair. Does this resonate with you, not the affair side? That moment when shy away -- when you shied away, as a young actor, from telling people you wanted to be an actor, because you feared for their reaction?

GARCIA: I think there are the initial stages for me, because I didn't grow up like my daughter grew up, you know, sort of like in the industry or exposed to it. It was a very private journey initially. And the first people you reveal, you say, I want to try to do this; I want to act -- only very special people that would not and would not go, ha ha ha, yeah right. You don't want to say it that guy, you know.

So you'd pick your moments where you'd begin to open that door. So it was kind of like that for me. Obviously, you recall those things in the case of this movie. But Vince, you know, he feels tornadicly (ph) with his talents that really does not want anybody to know.

ANDERSON: You haven't had to go through that, because, of course, your dad would know that your wanting to be an actress, and a good one at that. What's it like working with your dad?

DOMINIK GARCIA-LORIDO, ACTRESS: You know, in this film, it was very professional between the two of us. You know, it was never like a -- we don't get in the way of each other's process. We work very differently. I mean, it was -- it's good. It's like working with any good actor, and it - -

GARCIA: Great actor.


GARCIA-LORIDO: I felt privileged to be part of this film with him, because it's my favorite thing that he's ever done. So --

ANDERSON: Got some questions from the audience, primarily for you, Andy. Bjorn asks, what is the -- what's the film you most enjoyed and why?

GARCIA: This was pretty close to it. You know, the character is so unique for me that -- it's not the kind of character people really think of me in. You sort of get -- if you're blessed to have a career as an actor, there is always type-casting that goes along with it. In this case, it's a character that's completely a left turn from the type of character that usually people think of me in.

So it will have a special place in my heart. And between that and, obviously, the opportunity to work on the "Godfather" trilogy was a special moment in my life. And another -- I guess the third would be a movie that I did, which I directed, called "The Lost City," which was very personal to my culture and my family's experiences with exile and so forth.

ANDERSON: Question on the subject -- another question; Kimoysh (ph) asks -- alludes to the fact that you were born in Cuba, asks, "what's your reaction to the news that 50 odd prisoners will be released? Are we making progress," he asks? And what do you think will happen next, once Castro dies?

GARCIA: Well, that whole government is a facade. You know, it's a totalitarian police state for 50 years. They have -- they only reason they've released these 52 prisoners is because of the international pressure that has been created based on the fact that the Internet in Cuba -- maybe the Cuban government is losing control over the information system that they so tightly guarded before.

As of a week ago, they are -- the Cuban government has always claimed that these are common criminals. So, as of a week ago, they were just common criminals. Now, all of a sudden, they are political prisoners of conscience. Why? Because the international pressure is saying, we've got our eye on you, and you're going to have to release these people. If not, another one is going to die, and the next one is in line who is going to go on a hunger strike.

So these people are not humane people. The Castro brothers are a people full of inhumanity. They need to leave Cuba in order for the Cuban people to be absolutely free.

So is it progress? Yes. But we should not give them any credit for that progress. The credit goes to those people who are standing up, and to the world. The world is finally turning on that government, and they're requiring them to let the people be free.

ANDERSON: One more. Lisa asks, "away from the world of acting, what are your ambitions," or what were they, perhaps?

GARCIA: A free Cuba.


ANDERSON: (INAUDIBLE) Our Hollywood theme continues with the director Christopher Nolan. He shot to critical acclaim with "Memento" and the latest "Batman" films. Nolan was one of your suggestions for connector of the day. Many thanks for that. Keep the ideas coming, as well as the questions, Tonight, we'll be right back.


ANDERSON: I know. I know. If I say Paul the Octopus, I know some of you are probably throwing things at the television. We promise you, even we got tired of telling you about his exploits for the past month over the World Cup tournament, of course. Then Jeanne Moos got her tentacles onto the story. So, for the last time, please have a look at this.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While the captain of the Spanish soccer team held the World Cup with two hands or even just one, Paul the octopus wrapped at least four or five tentacles around his replica of the cup. Then came the news about Paul the Prophet, the seer sucker supreme --

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, "THE VIEW": The AP reports he's retiring from predicting sports.

MOOS: After correctly predicting which team would win eight out of eight times, after being touted as "Octopus of the Year" on his very own Facebook page.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now I am absolutely -- I'm breathless. I mean, I just can't believe it. I mean, how does he do that?

MOOS: Beats us. The aquarium folks put the same amount of food, a mussel, in each of two flag-adorned boxes, and Paul picked the winner eight times. When they paid tribute to him by dropping a World Cup replica into his tank, a mussel is what got Paul to nestle with it.

The last time an octopus was in the spotlight was when this one grabbed a diver's camera --

-- and proceeded to become the first octopus cinematographer, shooting mainly blurry images of himself, before the diver managed to grab back his camera.

But all the attention paid to Paul has taken its toll.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now he's a little bit tired.

MOOS: At least Paul didn't do what a dolphin at a Japanese aquarium did, jumped right out of the tank.

Some saw it as an attempt to escape. The other dolphins came over to watch the action. The aquarium told "The Daily Mail" the female dolphin suffered minor scratches and was just "playing around and jumped out by accident from the momentum." They used a crane to lift her back into the tank.

Paul isn't going anywhere, despite offers from a company wanting to use him to predict sporting events, and a fortune telling outfit asking to use his image.

(on camera): Of course, Paul now has his very own official song.


MOOS: And of course someone cut up the original song into a subversive version.


MOOS: Don't worry, Paul's on the trophy, not the plate.

Jeanne Moos, CNN --


MOOS: New York.


ALEXANDER: At least on this show, that -- that is it. That's it from the Paul -- and from me, in fact, Becky Anderson, here in London. That's your world connected. "BACK STORIES" coming here on CNN next, right after a check of the headlines for you.