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Texas Executes Mexican National Despite Protests; RNC Day Two; Who Will French President Hollande Bring as First Lady to State Visit to U.S.?; Iraq Deaths; Mexicans Take up Arms

Aired January 23, 2014 - 12:30   ET


PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So this could be just, you know, them talking about the fact that they're upset about the execution of Tamayo, but not actually, you know, putting those words into action when it comes to a U.S. citizen arrested abroad.

But they very well could mimic the actions of the U.S., what they say the U.S. did, by denying the rights of their inmates here. So, it could have implications, diplomatic implications. We'll have to see.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, that is worrisome. Pamela, thank you. Appreciate it.

We're following this, Americans talking about their future at this big meeting in Washington.

Do they actually have a Plan B for president in case Governor Chris Christie can't recover from the recent scandals? That story's up next.


MALVEAUX: Republicans in their second day of their annual RNC meeting, they're looking ahead to the 2016 presidential primary calendar.

They're also looking for changes for the convention, the debate schedule, all those things you can imagine that they're talking about.

But they're also talking about this, as well. Who are they going to have as the presidential candidate?

Just a few weeks ago New Jersey Governor Chris Christie probably would have been the obvious favorite, but now because of the scandals, the bridge scandal, other problems, the investigations, Republicans, are they talking about a Plan B?

Wolf Blitzer's joining us. Wolf, are they talking about a Plan B? Do they have a backup plan?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Well, there's a lot of Republicans out there, potential Republican candidates, whether some members of the U.S. Senate, like Marco Rubio, Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky. They made no secret they could be potentially interested.

A whole bunch of Republican governors out there, someone like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana or Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio. There are some from earlier contests, Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania.

There's a whole bunch of Republicans whose names are out there. I think it's a little early to finalize that list.

I wouldn't rule out Chris Christie, by any means. If he gets through this current struggle, he's a very viable candidate.

Remember, he won the re-election in New Jersey with a landslide. Assuming he's telling the truth he has nothing to hide, he still will be a formidable candidate.

One additional name I think we have to consider, Suzanne, is Jeb Bush, former Florida governor. His last name may be Bush, but he's popular among a lot of Republicans, relatively moderate Republican, pretty popular in Florida. He's someone who could be a formidable candidate as well.

MALVEAUX: Wolf, you bring up a great point. We have plenty of time before 2016.


MALVEAUX: Of course it's fun to guess and figure out all those.

Do you think when people are looking at him, Republicans specifically, does he have to get over the scandals, get over the investigations? Or are they looking for someone who's just more conservative? That they've got to be reassured that he really believes in what the party believes?

BLITZER: Well, he's got to do all of that. He's got to get through this immediate scandal. He's got to make sure that everything he said in that two-hour news conference is accurate, precise, that there's no hedging, no deviation or anything along those lines.

Assuming he did tell all of us the truth, then he's got to rebuild the confidence, not only of the folks in New Jersey but all over the country.

And certainly there will be some Republicans who weren't enamored with him to begin with because of his relatively moderate position on certain sensitive issues.

Whether he would win a primary in South Carolina, for example, or a caucus in Iowa, that remains to be seen, but let's see if he gets through this current political crisis.

If he does, I think Chris Christie will still be a formidable candidate.

MALVEAUX: We still have plenty of time. Wolf, thanks.

BLITZER: We certainly do.

MALVEAUX: Appreciate it.

Other stories making news AROUND THE WORLD, the Israeli intelligence agency says that it has prevented a terror attack against the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.

Three Palestinian men, supposedly part of an al-Qaeda terror cell, were arrested for allegedly plotting a double suicide-bombing.

Besides hitting the U.S. embassy, the plot allegedly included a second simultaneous attack on the Jerusalem convention center

Israeli officials did not reveal how far along the plot had progressed.

Islamic forces in Syria are being told to end their fighting and unite. This is part of an audio message posted on militant Web sites and attributed to al-Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

CNN cannot independently verify that it is his voice.

Now, the message says, jihadi factions should end the infighting and instead focus on the battle against the Syrian regime. And that message might provide some verbal ammunition for the Syrian government. It has long-insisted that its forces are fighting terrorists in the country's civil war.

But the opposition says that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad allowed al-Qaeda to grow in that country in order to defame the revolution.

Both sides are attending a U.N. conference in Switzerland aimed at ending the bloodshed, but nobody's really expecting any major breakthroughs.

The peace conference started yesterday with some pretty bitter speeches, no evidence of a willingness to even negotiate.

Now, there's some concern over whether or not the two sides will go ahead with those face-to-face talks set for tomorrow.

And who will represent France as first lady when President Hollande visits Washington next month? Some think it will be his old flame, but others suspect he is going to bring a new woman.


MALVEAUX: When French President Francois Hollande visits next month, who is he going to bring as France's first lady? The answer could reveal a lot about modern French politics.

Here's CNN's senior international correspondent Jim Bittermann.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: If nations look to their presidents as role models, the French are being shown a very modern version of family values. Despite his constant refrain during the presidential campaign that he was going to be a normal president, Francois Hollande has never had a very conventional personal life.

In fact, with an upcoming state visit to the White House, it's not even clear who he's going to bring along as first lady, since he has two choices, the journalist he called his first lady, and the movie actress he's apparently been dating lately.

News magazines like "Paris Match" have been tracking Hollande's private life for more than 10 years now, depicting how he and his first partner, Segolene Royal, who he met in university, lived together for decades, raised four children together, never bothering to tie the knot.

When she ran for president in 2007, they seemed the ultimate power couple. The press gushed over their family life.

But there was a problem with that picture. Hollande would later admit that he was, in fact, carrying on an affair with one of the very "Paris Match" reporters who covered him, Valerie Trierweiler.

Just days after Royal lost the presidential election to Nicolas Sarkozy, she proclaimed that the supposedly happy Hollande-Royal couple was splitting up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They managed to position themselves selling the campaign as the opposite of the soap opera, the drama, of the Sarkozy couple.

So they were very lucky not to be more investigated during the campaign.

BITTERMANN: Trierweiler became a regular in Hollande entourage. Even before he took her to the presidential palace to become the first lady, he called her "the woman of my life."

But then, perhaps a sign of trouble to come, he changed that, saying she was "the woman of my life today."

Then came last month's revelation in the magazine "Closer" that Hollande allegedly had been ducking out of the president's residence on the back of a motorcycle from the palace motor pool, disguised in a bikers helmet so he could go on trysts with movie actress Julie Gayet, who once made a campaign video for the president, and who was reportedly introduced to Hollande by none other than his ex-, Segolene Royal.

The president has so far neither confirmed nor denied the alleged affair despite repeated questions.

And the first lady went into the hospital for depression and is now resting in a presidential residence in Versailles, home to French kings who have also had fairly messy personal lives.

What happens next is anyone's guess, although the president has promised to clarify the first lady situation before he goes to Washington for a state visit next month.

How will the French president's private life play in the U.S.? A sociologist says Americans are far less tolerant of such things than the French.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the U.S. there's much more social intolerance. The results, of course, is not less adultery, but more scandals.

BITTERMANN: In fact, Hollande's claim that he would be a normal president may be true in one sense.

These days more than half of French young people live together without benefit of a marriage vow or civil contract, just the way Hollande has always done.

What's more, a recent survey indicates that more than half of French men and nearly a third of French women have had affairs outside of their marriages or partnerships.

So, which of the women in his life will Hollande take to the White House? Analysts say the most prudent thing might be just to go as a bachelor.

Jim Bitterman, CNN, Paris.


MALVEAUX: Messy situation.

I want to remind you about a special CNN film that you can actually see here tonight on CNN. It's called "THE IMPOSTER."

Now, this is a true-crime documentary about a Frenchman who convinced a Texas family that he was their long-lost son. So it's all about how he did it and how it all unraveled. CNN Films presents "The Imposter." So, you got to watch it or set your DVR, tonight, 9:00 Eastern.

Last year in Iraq more than 8,000 people died, most of them caught in the middle of new political fighting. We talk to one family in Baghdad who lost so much in such a short period of time. They're the real people suffering this national tragedy. That is up next.


MALVEAUX: Twenty-six people were executed in Iraq this week and they were hanged. The justice ministry in Baghdad confirms that they were all convicted of terrorism-related crimes. Now, the people of Iraq, they are dealing with almost daily car bombs, shootings, soaring civilian death toll.

All of this political and ethnic fighting made 2013 the deadliest year in Iraq since the height of the Iraq War. According to the United Nations, 8,000 Iraqis, mostly civilians, were killed. My co-anchor, Michael Holmes, is in Iraq and he's putting the faces to those numbers. MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: You know, Suzanne, one problem covering a story like Iraq is that it is so easy for the death toll to become just that, numbers. And in the time we've been here, those numbers have been high. They've been very high. Well, we decided to try to put a human face on all of that by visiting just one family who have suffered not from one car bomb but incredibly two.


HOLMES (voice-over): A father's unimaginable grief. A mother's endless tears. And three children who barely comprehend what has happened to their family. Abu Ali (ph) is no insurgent. Umm Ali, not a politician. They are a visceral human portrait of Iraq's grinding violence.

UMM ALI, MOTHER (through translator): We don't work with the government. We're simple people. We have nothing. We sell watermelons.

HOLMES: Their decent into agony began on July 23, 2007, when a bomb exploded at the family's humble watermelon store barely 50 meters from their home. Son, Ali (ph), 19 years old and about to get married, was killed instantly.

"I was a week away from marrying him off," says Abu Ali. "Instead, I buried him."

Life went on, such as it was, until July 20 last year. Two other sons of Abu Ali, Ala (ph) and Abas (ph), on duty at the watermelon stand, when another bomb went off. Ala, 23 and by now a father of three, and brother Abas, just 17, were killed in the hail of shrapnel. Evidence of its power still etched in nearby walls today.

The funeral turnout was huge. No one could believe what had happened to this family. Ala and Abas taken to be with their brother.

"They're all gone," Abu Ali tells me. "Three sons, two bombings, a family destroyed. No one will call me dad anymore," he sobs. "They were also our breadwinners. They supported us. Now I have no income. I haven't paid the rent for seven months."

HOLMES (on camera): This is all this family has, it is three rooms, one large bedroom, a living room and a kitchen. Given the tragedy that this story is, the real sad part is, it's not unusual. This is happening every day around Iraq and families are left in this sort of position. It really is heartbreaking.

HOLMES (voice-over): "It's hard," says Abu Ali. "I've thought of suicide, but what would happen to my grandchildren?"

The market where the family's watermelon store stood is still there today, a portrait of the three dead sons a reminder for all of what happened here in 2007, last year, and could happen again at any time.


HOLMES: You know, Suzanne, you meet a family like that and you contemplate their loss and then their future, and you wonder how they'll go on. But they do and they will. And, you know, Abu Ali, by the way, as we said in the story there, 58 years old. He looks so much older than that.


MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, Michael. Excellent reporting, as always.

And we want to bring this to you here. We're keeping a close eye on the Dow Jones down now 170 points. We're going to be monitoring the markets to see just how much is going to change, but big developments there taking place. The Dow plunging nearly -- now at 171. Down 171.

In Mexico, families forced from their land and homes by criminal gangs. Well, they are now fighting back. Ordinary citizens taking up arms against Mexico's violent drug cartels. And in some places, they're winning the battle. The details up next.


MALVEAUX: In Mexico today there are men with guns patrolling small towns just trying to protect families against criminal drug gangs. Well, these folks, they're not police or soldiers. They're actually civilians. These are farmers, businessmen. They're just sick and tired of the killing and the intimidation. So they're taking matters into their own hands. Our Rafael Romo is there.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): Seventy-one-year-old Samwell Gomez (ph) walks through his broken and deserted house. Symbolic of his life after he and his family were forced to flee their 50-acre ranch near the small town of Filipe Carrillo Puerto (ph) three years ago. Gomez was a victim of a Knights Templer (ph), a ruthless drug cartel in Mexico's Mitracan (ph) state. He was forced to pay ever-increasing protection money for the cattle he raised and the limes he grew. But when the cartel tried to take his land, he knew it was time to leave.

"They would tell us, you either sell it to me or I will buy it from your widow," he says.

He wasn't the only one living in fear.

"They killed our people. They raped our young women. And they did as they pleased," he says.

Hipolito Mora was among the first to fight back. The 58-year-old farmer led a self-proclaimed group of vigilantes that forced the drug cartel out of their town last April.

"I know I'm operating outside of the law," he says, "but I'm doing it for my family, just like every other man in this movement."

His rebellion became an inspiration for others in the area. Since early January, several other towns have taken up arms and confronted drug traffickers in violent clashes. The cartels struck back, torching vehicles and businesses and killing several people. In the end, more than a dozen towns managed to drive away the criminal organization that had terrorized the region for years.

ROMO (on camera): This is the checkpoint at the edge of the town of Lawerta (ph). It's just like many others in towns throughout the region, where vigilante groups control access, letting townspeople in and out while hoping to keep the cartels from getting back in.

ROMO (voice-over): They're young and old, farmers and laborers, and even some migrants who have returned from the United States to reclaim what used to belong to their families. This man, who wants to be called Juan (ph), used to live in North Carolina.

JUAN, VIGILANTE: In the last couple of months there's been a lot of violence and we haven't been able to make any money to support our families. And we just - we all got to eat. And if we ain't working, we can't eat. So we'll just -- it was something that had to be done.

ROMO: The Mexican government has sent in thousands of soldiers and federal police to help patrol and control the area.

ROMO (on camera): So what's going to happen if the army decides to leave?

JUAN: Well, we hope they don't leave. We hope they stay here to back us up.

ROMO (voice-over): Their fight has given hope to Gomez that life can go back to normal. He knows that there are no guarantees the cartels won't try to come back, but this time, he says, he and the vigilantes won't give up.

"They would have to kill us all because we're all going to fight," he says, "not only for our lands but more importantly for our families."

Rafael Romo, CNN, Filipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico.


MALVEAUX: Excellent story.

Couple of stories also catching our attention today, photos as well. Take a look at this.

South Africa, a huge statue of Nelson Mandela causing quite a stir there. If you look really closely at the statue, you're actually going to see a tiny rabbit in his ear. The memorial statue, it has been up for about a month in Pretoria, but nobody noticed this little rabbit until now. The South African government not amused, has ordered that the artist who made the statue remove the rabbit.

In Brazil, they're also having problems with their famed statue here. This is the Christ Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro being inspected. This is after - it was amazing - it's head and two fingers were chipped by a lightning bolt that happened last week. It was an extraordinary picture when you see that. Officials say they plan to place more lightning rods on that statue in an effort to prevent future damage.

And in Pakistan, a group of men gathered to play a game of pool, you see there in the background. You can see Pakistani women fetching water from a hand pump and carrying it on their heads.

Thanks for watching AROUND THE WORLD. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now. Have a great afternoon.