Return to Transcripts main page


Protests in Islamabad; Memorial Service in Tripoli; Abuse in Georgian Prisons; Catholic Church Keeping the Peace in El Salvador; Music Makes Difference in Afghanistan

Aired September 20, 2012 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: I hope so, Josh. Thank you for that. Hey, stay tuned, everyone, now for "NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL" with my friend, Fredricka Whitfield. Thanks for watching.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Thanks so much, Ashleigh. Welcome to the NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in for Suzanne Malveaux. And we're taking you around the world in 60 minutes. Here's what's going on.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): Sounds and pictures of fury from Pakistan. In Islamabad, protesters converged on buildings housing several foreign embassies, including the U.S. embassy. The mood there was violent. Rocks thrown. Fires set to barricades. Several injured, including police.

And this was the scene in northeast Syria today. An airstrike hit a village gas station. Opposition activists say the strike killed 20 civilians and wounded more than 70 others. The death toll is expected to rise.


WHITFIELD: And people in the former Soviet republic of Georgia are outraged over graphic videos reportedly showing prison guards abusing and raping inmates. Thousands of protesters took to the streets after TV stations aired the shocking images.

The president says what happened at the prison is a, quote, "horrific affront to human rights and dignity," end quote. The country's corrections minister has resigned over that video.

More protests and violence today in Pakistan. As many as 1,500 people marched outside the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad that houses the U.S. embassy and several other foreign embassies. Some protesters carried sticks, threw rocks and set fire to barricades as they marched.

Police fired warning shots to disperse the crowd, but several police officers and protesters were injured. Joining me now from Islamabad, Reza Sayah. So Reza, give me an idea what's taking place now. Has it quieted at all?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has. The capital, Islamabad, has quieted down, but the anti-Western protests did flare up several hours ago. But I think it's so critical to point out that this was a relatively small protest. Maximum 1,500 people. There was some violence. Some checkposts set afire. These protesters, according to police, trying to approach the diplomatic enclave.

This is a walled compound, a highly secured compound where you'll find the U.S. embassy, the French embassy as well as other embassies. It's incredibly difficult for anyone to get inside this enclave. Even so, these protesters tried to approach it. Once they did, that's when the trouble started.

Some of the protesters throwing rocks. Police responding by firing shots into the air, firing tear gas in the air. As I mentioned before, some small buildings, checkposts were set on fire.

Police telling us that eight of their officers were injured, but we can't repeat enough, there's 180 million people here in Pakistan. A small fraction, 1,500 here in Islamabad, protested. The pictures are dramatic, and it's this minority that's going to make the headlines, unfortunately.

WHITFIELD: So, Reza, what's the motivation here? Is it back to that U.S.-made video, or is it related to the cartoonist in the French publication?

SAYAH: My impression is that most of these protesters are still angry about the movie, and they don't even know about the cartoon.

What's remarkable is a week ago we contacted some of these hard-line religious groups. They didn't even know about the movie then. It was only when the publicity came out that they were aware of it and these protests came out.

There's others who say it's not about the movie, it's not about the cartoon. It's about a U.S. government many people don't like here.

Many don't like U.S. foreign policy in the region, the occupation of Afghanistan, the drone strikes, and oftentimes people link the U.S. government with the corruption they see in the Pakistani government. So a lot goes into the anger here that's not always easy to explain, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Reza Sayah, thank you so much from Islamabad.

Fierce street battles have killed more people in Syria, and an opposition group says at least 82 people died today. CNN has obtained exclusive video from a journalist who spent time with rebel units fighting Bashar al-Assad's forces.

In the city of Aleppo, and it shows the fire -- the fighters, rather, aren't just Syrians. They're coming from other countries determined to defeat al-Assad's regime. Here's Nick Paton Walsh.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Aleppo, the fight is mostly Syrian to Syrian, street to street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

But on the radio is Faraz (ph). A foreign fighter, he is Libyan. He says he braves the regime's tank shells because his fight for Libya compelled him to also fight.

FARAZ (PH): We live this moment, you know, to (inaudible) this moment. So you know, it destroys Libya. You cannot say this is not freedom fighters. In an effort to be free of the government, they want (inaudible). I don't know why they only watch (inaudible). They don't give us enough supplies (ph) or --


WALSH (voice-over): Libya got NATO's help. Syria for now gets his.

FARAZ (PH): It looks like (inaudible), you know. (Inaudible). No. He has to (inaudible), you know, for one, two hours. (Inaudible). (Inaudible).

WALSH (voice-over): The Syrian regime blames foreign radicals for the uprising, trying to conjure up fears of a takeover by Islamist extremists. While Faraz (ph) embraces religion, he dismisses extremism and Al Qaeda altogether.

FARAZ (PH): I'm only a student. I left my money, my student, my family. Not Al Qaeda. We're not coming to corrupt this country. We came here to help.

WALSH (voice-over): There could be thousands of foreign fighters in Syria. Some radical. Some not. While rebels may want battle- hardened fighters here now, they may regret that when the extremists decide to stay, says one expert.

AHMAD MOUSSALLI, ISLAMIC MOVEMENTS EXPERT: I think we don't have any benefit in having them, but I think at this point, because of their weaker weaponry and training and ability, they may need them to fight.

If you assume the fighting is going to be finished, as in they are there to stay and what we might witness is something like Yemen where the fallen fighters will be able to control certain areas or cities.

WALSH (voice-over): Faraz (ph) does say he wants an Islamic government for Syria, but he wants to go back home. That's where he learns about real loss. He still wears the shirt of his brother who died fighting in Libya. And in Syria he has already lost a Libyan friend to a sniper's bullet.

FARAZ (PH): (Inaudible) was just one here and the second was here, which is -- this one, the third one (inaudible). You can see this. WALSH (voice-over): In the brutal Syrian battle for every corner, the foreigners here and the concerns they bring of radicalism might be attracting more attention than their numbers merit, but the U.N. believes their influence is growing and that some of it is radical, and that as this war drags on may well grow.


WHITFIELD: And Nick Paton Walsh now joining us from live Beirut.

Nick, we're hearing word about an airstrike that hit a gas station triggering a deadly explosion. What more do you know?

PATON: According to Syrian activists, it appears that missiles were fired from an aircraft flying over this gas station. You can see pictures here of the devastation left behind. A number of cars hit. The death toll we are hearing, 30 dead at this point and 83 thought to be injured, but those figures could change significantly. The death toll (inaudible) rise.

Let me give you some context as to where this airstrike happened. It's about 21 kilometers south of the border, where yesterday a Turkish border post was seized by rebels from the Syrian army. So it may be fair to suggest this could be connected. An airstrike perhaps or what you can see there, a large collection of vehicles in a place close to that significant part of infrastructure seized by rebels.

No idea really if the dead here are civilians at this particular point, but can you see the devastation. Really quite extreme, there another example of the fierce nature of the Syrian regime's airpower. Devastating effect upon much of the country. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nick Paton Walsh. Thank you so much. From Beirut.

Libyan and U.S. officials are gathering right now in the Libyan capital of Tripoli to honor the four Americans killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. They will be holding a memorial service momentarily for U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, and information officer Sean Smith.

Officials believe the four men were killed by radical Islamic insurgents who used a protest over an anti-Muslim film made in the U.S. as a diversion to attack the consulate. Hala Gorani is here with more on the kinds of concerns that Ambassador Stevens apparently had about his personal security or the security of his fellow comrades there.

HALA GORANI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right, and of American interests in eastern Libya and other parts of Libya as well. You know, all the way back in June of this year, a senior Libyan official was already telling CNN that U.S. drones were flying over suspected jihadi camps, that this was already a cause for concern.

According to the Libyan official, and this is something, again, that was said a few months ago back in June, long before this attack on the U.S. consulate, that there are 200 to 300 men under the control of radical Islamist commanders in that part of Libya.

And one of the things that Chris Stevens was reportedly worried about was that there had been already efforts or that there were plans to attack the consulate in Benghazi, the one that ultimately cost him his life and the lives of three other Americans.

Interestingly, Matthew Olson of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate Homeland Security hearing that the four were, quote, "killed in the course of a terrorist attack." So that word is now being used as opposed to, you know, initially in the confusion of the moment was this just a crowd that got out of hand, was it someone that happened to have heavy weaponry that used it.

And it seems more and more as though this is something that was sort of in a more militaristic way targeting the consulate.

WHITFIELD: So this certainly corroborates one of those theories that you just mentioned. There were several theories that this was a planned attack and that perhaps that film was just used as an excuse as a real launching point --

GORANI: I think that right now --


WHITFIELD: -- to appear as though it was spontaneous, but maybe it was it wasn't.

GORANI: Exactly. And that's a good question, because we don't have the answer to that yet. We know the FBI is in Libya right now. They arrived on Tuesday. They're joining other U.S. officials as well as Libyans there to investigate the attack.

And I think right now we're still hearing from Libyan officials. Then this was pre-planned. In other words, that the attackers used those protests against that anti-Muslim film as a diversion, and others say it wasn't necessarily pre-planned, but it certainly was an attack that was mounted with heavy machinery and heavy weaponry against both the consulate.

And also we shouldn't forget a mile away from the consulate in what was considered a safe house, because we had deaths of Americans in those two locations.

WHITFIELD: Right. All right. Thanks so much.

So the FBI's still there; it's unclear how long they're going to be there to gather their information. All right. Hala Gorani, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

All right. So what can our past tell us about our future?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

WHITFIELD (voice-over): The attack of the U.S. consulate in Libya is not the first time America has been targeted like that. Up next, we talk with a man who was national security advisor in 1979 when the U.S. embassy was taken over in Iran.

And a controversial experiment to reduce the number of murders in El Salvador.



WHITFIELD: At the beginning of his presidency Barack Obama traveled to Cairo. His goal, he said, he was to try to bridge the gap between the U.S. and Muslim world by building a relationship based on mutual respect.

By 2011 uprisings known as the Arab Spring had spread around the Middle East and northern Africa, calling it a historic opportunity. President Obama pledged to stand with those seeking democracy.

Joining me now is CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott.

So, Elise, how has the president kind of lived up to that, responded to the Arab Spring?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, he really said it was a case by case in terms of individual countries, as you know. It kind of swept the Arab world, but in every country it was a little bit different. In May of 2011, President Obama made a speech, talking about how he envisioned U.S. involvement in this tumultuous region. Let's take a listen to what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- the world as it is in the region. We have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.


LABOTT: So, Fred, what did President Obama do? Well, he, first of all, increased investment and trade in these countries in transition to spur economic growth in Egypt and Tunisia, for instance.

And then he was very select about military intervention. Now he got involved in Libya in a limited way, but as you see the administration has been reluctant to get involved with Syria, and I would say he was also cautious with some allies, balancing and promoting democracy with national security interests.

And he was pretty adamant that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak should stand down, but in Bahrain, for instance, where the U.S. 5th Elite Station (ph), he was muted in his response to the protest, but, Fred, the president made clear that each country has to choose its own course and the U.S. can help, but can't impose the outcomes here. WHITFIELD: And despite that, there's been a lot of criticism from Republicans, including that of Candidate Mitt Romney, who are not aligned with the policies and the approaches of the president, so what would Candidate Romney do differently in a situation like this?

LABOTT: Well, Governor Romney has accused the president of being too deferential, even apologetic to the Arab world and not sticking up enough for U.S. values and interests.

In the wake of that attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya and these anti-American protests at U.S. embassies that have been sweeping the Middle East, he accused the president of weak U.S. leadership in the region. He said that President Obama should have done more to shape the outcome of the Arab Spring in a way that served U.S. interests. Let's take a listen to what he said last week.


FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: American leadership is necessary to make sure that events in the region don't spin out of control. We cannot hesitate to use our influence in the region to support those who share our values and our interests.


LABOTT: Now, Governor Romney said if he was president he would, first of all, have been much quicker to act in Libya with military intervention with much more U.S. manpower, and he, in fact, would have supported some of the candidates in these elections, basically picking winners that reflect U.S. interests.

Probably wouldn't have backed those Islamists, but backed with U.S. resources secular candidates. He would have made aid to Arab nations more conditionally, specifically in Egypt, Fred.

OK. And then let's talk about where some of this unrest began in terms of last week in Egypt.

You know, President Morsi of Egypt responded to what was taking place; the Obama administration addressed it wasn't happy, and then there was kind readdressing the issue with different, stronger words. How has that changed, modified the relationship between the U.S. and Egypt from this point forward?

LABOTT: Well, clearly, President Obama was disappointed with Egyptian President Morsi's response to the protest that the U.S. embassy and the lack of help initially to stop the violence.

So, in a recent interview, he put the Egyptian president on notice that he didn't necessarily consider the country that's getting billions of dollars in U.S. aid a close friend. Let's take a listen to what he said to the Spanish language network, Telemundo.


OBAMA: I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy.


LABOTT: And I think, Fred, these protests, this attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya has really thrown everyone off guard. So in the wake of last week's events, the question now, how the U.S. engages in this troubled region, and both candidates are going to have to answer that as foreign policy is clearly becoming more central to the campaign. It's not just economy anymore.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And clearly, that's going to take center stage in the upcoming presidential and vice presidential debate.

All right. Elise Labott, thank you so much.

Protests erupt in the nation of Georgia. Graphic images from a prison in Tbilisi have shocked the country. The political fallout.


WHITFIELD: It's been more than three decades since Islamist militants took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran. They held 52 Americans for 444 days.

Zbigniew Brzezinski was President Carter's national security advisor during the Iran hostage crisis. He is now a trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and he is joining us right now from Washington. Good to see you, Mr. Brzezinski.


WHITFIELD: Well, do you see parallels between the takeover of the Tehran embassy many years ago and last week's attack in Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, one very obvious parallel is that of a society undergoing extreme stress, breaking up and becoming radicalized. That happened in Tehran. That is, to some extent, what's been happening in Libya.

WHITFIELD: Do you believe it could have been anticipated?

BRZEZINSKI: Which -- pardon? Could you repeat your question?

WHITFIELD: Do you believe what took place in Benghazi could have been anticipated? There are reports that there were, you know, security concerns that Ambassador Stevens had, that there was some activity of camps of extremists happening nearby.

Do you believe that the U.S. could have anticipated that the U.S. consulate would be a target?

BRZEZINSKI: You know, the only responsible answer I can give you is that I don't know, and I'm not sure that anyone yet knows. It was a very volatile situation into which an very extremist, murderous group interjected itself, but what was the relationship between that group and the larger crowd that was gathered, I don't know.

WHITFIELD: Is it your concern that's what took place and what is bubbling up around the globe, in terms of various forms of unrest, that this might be a prelude to something even bigger than what we've seen already? Is it your worry that that would be the case?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, it could be. And I think we have to bear in mind that while we have to preserve our freedom of speech in this country, we should not be tolerant of what could be a conspiracy, a conspiracy involving multiple people with phony names or hidden identities, designed to provoke the kind of murderous action that we have (inaudible). (Inaudible).

Freedom of speech is not entitlement. (Inaudible) results. (Inaudible) innocent people. And I think we ought to be on the record, very clearly, that while we condemn whatever appeared on YouTube, we are also concerned about repetitions, and that it will investigate the sources and intentions of the group that organized what appears to me to be a deliberate provocation that resulted in deaths.

WHITFIELD: Then am I also hearing you say that there should be a more concerted effort by the U.S. to do something to stop the continued dissemination or the availability of that video, in particular, that is being blamed for helping to spark this in the first place?

BRZEZINSKI: I think dissemination involves freedom of speech, and I'm not sure that there is a specific role for the government in that.

We have a constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, but I would think responsible agencies, responsible institutions would take into account of some form of very inflammatory videos might then generate, as a result -- and I think that's something that we have to think about.

But in addition to that, there is also the possibility that some people are deliberately doing this. They deliberately want to provoke the kind of killings that took place. And that, I think, would be actionable under law.

WHITFIELD: OK. You mentioned some of the parallels, the, you know, the correlation between the extremists in Iran in '79 and that of what we're seeing in the present day. One big difference, however, Al Qaeda did not necessarily exist in '79.

But this terrorist network that has great tentacles around the world, do you think in large part this kind of further complicates the U.S. diplomatic efforts, what can be done on the ground to forge relationships, to get a real pulse of what is taking place in terms of extremist group activity, et cetera?

BRZEZINSKI: I think we have to bear in mind that in the vast majority of Islamic states, the extremists, the fundamentalists, the violent ones are a minority, and I think it's in our interest for that to be kept in mind and for us to maintain a posture that doesn't prove felicitous for the terrorist fundamentalist groups, which can then exploit an animosity between the West and Islam to its advantage. So we have to be very strategically minded in dealing with this problem.

WHITFIELD: And if I can switch gears a little bit, you know, on Israel. You know, how do you advise the Obama administration on how to move forward?

You have been quoted in "The Daily Beast" a while back as saying the U.S. should blow Israel right out of the sky if it would preemptively want to strike Iran, just as we've just heard Netanyahu kind of articulate in recent weeks that this is something that he would want to do, whether he has the U.S. blessings or not.

How do you advise the administration on moving forward or having to deal with what Netanyahu wants to do versus what you believe and what the administration believes ought to be done?

BRZEZINSKI: Before I start advising the administration, let me advise you. If are you quoting someone, in this instance, me, make sure that you quote correctly. What you have cited me as saying is absolutely 100 percent wrong.

I wasn't advising the U.S. government to blow the Israelis out of the skies. I was warning that if the Israelis use American airspace without permission, there could be an incident. And I explicitly said that's nothing to be wished for, but there could be an incident involving the Israelis and us.

There was one back in 1967 involving the U.S.S. Liberty which was attacked by the Israelis and a lot of Americans were killed. I wouldn't want anything similar to happen to either party.

WHITFIELD: Well, that was a quote --


WHITFIELD: Yes, that was a quote coming from --

BRZEZINSKI: (Inaudible).

WHITFIELD: Well, that was a quote coming from "The Daily Beast," so it was their reporting and not ours, and so I was asking you if, indeed, that reporting is correct?

BRZEZINSKI: (Inaudible) I had somebody cite things which are wrong.

WHITFIELD: OK. Well, thanks for clarifying that, that their reporting is incorrect, and that's what this exchange is all about, and that's the importance of the attribution at the very start as well. Zbigniew Brzezinski, thank you so much for your time.

BRZEZINSKI: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Outrage in the country of Georgia. The protest over a prison scandal. An entire country's prison staff has been suspended over what's being called a torture video. It's all happening in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The video reportedly shows prison guards abusing and raping inmates. Matthew Chance joining us live now from London.

Matthew, what more can you tell us about how this video was uncovered?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's absolutely outrageous scenes that have been broadcast on national television in Georgia, of prison guards dressed in uniform, beating and kicking inmates in a particular prison, also scenes of terrible sexual abuse taking place as well.

We're not showing you those images, but basically images of inmates being raped with broomsticks and truncheons while chained to the bars in their jail cells. So really appalling stuff. And the people of Georgia quite rightly have been absolutely outraged at this.

Thousands of people have been protesting in the streets of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, very angry, very disgusted at the scenes that they've seen and calling for the resignation of senior government ministers. Already one cabinet minister in Georgia has stepped down, as you mentioned.

The entire prison service, the prison guards, at least, have been suspended pending an investigation. But it's all quite important because not only is it a terrible thing, but there are elections due in Georgia in a couple of weeks, and there are concerns this may be a big impact on the government's ability to be re-elected, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And in what way might that impact happen? What is the feeling there?

CHANCE: Well, there's always been, for the past several years there's been a big political divide in Georgia. Some supporters of the government say, you know, this is a U.S. ally that wants to become a member of the European Union and then NATO -- a member of the NATO military alliance under Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president.

But there are others that say, you know, this is a violent authorization regime, and images like this have really sort of added to their credibility amongst the electorate so soon before the elections are scheduled to take place.

WHITFIELD: All right. Matthew Chance, keep us posted there from Moscow. Oh, actually, you're in London. Sorry about that. Thank you so much -- on what's taking place there.

All right. They say India has sold out retailers, take to the streets to show their anger over foreign investment.


WHITFIELD: Taking to the streets to keep big grocery store chains out of their neighborhoods. Protesters did that today in India outside Delhi.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): Shopkeepers closed down today in a strike against the government's decision to allow big foreign supermarket chains into areas dominated by mom-and-pop stores. Supporters of the move say it will boost the local economy.

In South Africa, platinum miners head back to work today. They'll earn as much as 22 percent more after a labor strike that left 46 people dead. Their wage victory, however, has sparked more violent protests. Workers at nearby platinum and gold mines want pay raises as well. A woman was killed Wednesday when she was struck by rubber bullets fired by police.

And now to Venezuela where lightning has hit a refinery in the coastal town of Puerto Cabello. The strike started a huge fire in two storage tanks. Firefighters were able to put the flames out in one of the tanks and are still battling the second fire. There are no deaths or injuries reported so far. Less than a month ago a fire at the country's largest refinery killed more than 40 people.


WHITFIELD: They are some of the most violent criminals in El Salvador, but they've got flat screen televisions and other privileges, and it's being done to actually reduce the number of murders. We'll explain.


WHITFIELD: Some are calling it a pact with the devil, a truce reached by gangs in El Salvador during talks hosted by the Catholic Church. The religious leaders are hoping to reduce the number of murders by gangs in one of the most violent places on Earth. Rafael Romo has details now.

RAFAEL ROMO, SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): It was a meeting that raised eyebrows, sitting down for peace negotiations where the Catholic Church and leaders of the two most violent gangs in El Salvador.

MONSIGNOR FABIO COLINDRES (through translator): These gangs have made a commitment. They won't kill each other anymore and we'll lower the crime rate among them. The church has only been the mediator.

ROMO (voice-over): The truce called for laying down their weapons, as witnessed by the secretary-general of the Organization of American States. El Salvador, located in the Central American region, known as the Northern Triangle, has one of the highest murder rates in the world, more than 70 per 100,000 people.

Before the truce reached by two criminal gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, as many as 13 people were killed every day in the tiny nation of 6 million. The truce negotiated by the Catholic Church last spring was a desperate effort to end the violence. And in the first few weeks after the pact the murder rate was cut down by two-thirds.

RAUL MIJANGO, FORMER SALVADORAN LEGISLATOR (through translator): Throughout this process I have witnessed the construction of a miracle. ROMO: As part of the negotiation process, the Salvadoran government agreed to transfer as many as 30 of the most violent criminals from maximum to medium security prisons, giving them privileges like flat screen TVs in common areas. Critics call the government's actions a pact with the devil.

KIRIO SALGADO, POLITICAL ANALYST (through translator): The only thing that's holding this truce together is saliva. As soon as it dries out, it's going to fall apart. Why? Because the criminal gangs don't rule themselves. They depend on organized crime.

ROMO (voice-over): But President Mauricio Funes says his government does not negotiate with gangs. The role of his government, Funes said, was only to facilitate the role of the Catholic Church as mediator.

MAURICIO FUNES, SALVADORAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The government only accompanied the effort of the Catholic Church to help reach an understanding between gang leaders.

It also facilitated the work of the Catholic Church by authorizing the transfer of prisoners from the maximum security prison to other detention centers. Of course, that only happened in cases where the law allows it.

ROMO (voice-over): But a recent spike in murders has some claiming the truce has failed and are calling for tougher measures to increase security.

Last April the Salvadoran national police created a 400-strong anti- gang unit, insufficient at best when compared with the total number of gang membership in El Salvador, estimated at anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000.


WHITFIELD: And Rafael Romo joining me now.

So was this an offer of last resort, or might there be other solutions that they're considering?

ROMO: What this tells you, Fredricka, is that the government in El Salvador is so weak and so overwhelmed with the criminal problem that they had to basically sit down and negotiate with the gangs because there was no other solution.

And one way of dealing with this, according to some experts in the region, is to deal not on a country-by-country basis, but on a regional basis. Similar problems are being seen in Honduras and in neighboring Honduras and Guatemala.

And also the drug problem in Mexico and the criminality there is having a spillover impact in central America.

And so what they're advocating for is getting together, sitting down at the table and trying to find a regional solution because these countries that are among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere can't really do it by themselves.

WHITFIELD: All right. It's powerful stuff. Rafael Romo, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

All year CNN brings you the stories of extraordinary individuals working every day to find solutions to the problems that surround all of us, and now we reveal our top 10 heroes.



WHITFIELD: Each year, CNN Heroes feature the stories of extraordinary individuals working every day to find solutions to global problems. Well, today we're revealing our top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012. Each of these 10 will be honored during our live event, "CNN Heroes," an all- star tribute, but only one will become CNN Hero of the Year, which you get to decide.

But first, here's Anderson Cooper with the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I'm Anderson Cooper. All year we've been introducing you to everyday people who are changing the world. We call them CNN Heroes. Well, now we announce the top 10 CNN Heroes for 2012.

The honorees are in random order.

Connie Siskowski is helping children who are caring for ill or aging loved ones to stay in school and hold on to their childhood.

Pushpa Basnet saves innocent children from growing up behind bars with their incarcerated parents.

Thulani Madondo organizes his Kliptown community to educate hundreds of their next generation.

Mary Cortani enlists man's best friend to give fellow veterans a way to move beyond PTSD and into life again.

Malya Villard-Appolon has turned personal trauma into a fight for justice for thousands of rape survivors in Haiti.

After using sports to fight his own addiction, Scott Strode now helps former addicts to stay fit and sober.

Wanda Butts brings water safety and swimming lessons to those most vulnerable, black and Latino children.

Catalina Escobar ensures healthy deliveries and solid futures for Colombian teens already facing motherhood.

Leo McCarthy's tragic loss of his daughter sparked his mission to end the culture of underage drinking. And where terrorists stop at nothing to keep girls from being educated, Razia Jan fearlessly opens her school each and every day.

Congratulations to the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012. Tell us who inspires you the most. Go to online or on your mobile device to vote for the CNN Hero of the Year.


WHITFIELD: So who will be the CNN Hero of the year for 2012? You decide. Go online and on your mobile device to vote up to 10 times a day every day for the most inspirational hero and share your vote on Facebook and Twitter.

All right. This would not have been possible just three years ago.



WHITFIELD (voice-over): Where they are once again hearing the sound of music. Details next.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL, where we take you around the world in 60 minutes.

In Switzerland, these guys have made a breathtaking music video. Just look.