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Venezuela Crisis; Interview with Eric Farnsworth, Council of the Americas; $1 Million Bond for R. Kelly; Vatican Summit; Fight against ISIS; 2019 Academy Awards. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired February 24, 2019 - 03:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): On the Venezuelan border, a push to bring humanitarian aid into the country turns into deadly clashes as aid trucks go up in flames.

Also a $1 million bond set for R. Kelly, after he was charged with 10 counts of criminal sexual abuse in a Chicago courtroom.

Plus as civilians try to leave the last ISIS enclave, there are still some who support the extreme ideology. CNN speaks with some true believers.

Hello from CNN Center in Atlanta, coming to you live, this is CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for being with us.


ALLEN: And we begin in Venezuela, where an effort by the opposition to bring in humanitarian aid has turned deadly.


ALLEN (voice-over): Officials say five people were killed, nearly 300 wounded in clashes with troops near Venezuela's borders. At least two trucks carrying supplies went up in flames. Opposition leader Juan Guaido indicated President Maduro was responsible and urged troops not to support his regime.

JUAN GUAIDO, INTERIM PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): You don't owe loyalty, members of the armed forces, to someone who burns food in front of the hungry. We saw a man burn medicine in front of the sick.

How many of you soldiers have sick mothers?

How many of you have children in school without food?

You don't owe any type of obedience to those who sadistically, because there's no other expression for it, celebrate that aid doesn't enter a country that needs it. You don't owe any type of loyalty.

ALLEN (voice-over): More than 60 members of the armed forces are no longer loyal. They defected from the Maduro government.

Meantime, the U.S. is again blasting Mr. Maduro's aid blockade. In a tweet, Secretary Mike Pompeo called the president a tyrant and said the images of burning trucks was sickening. The U.S. has also announced a meeting between vice president Mike Pence and Juan Guaido, set to take place Monday in Colombia.


ALLEN: Officials have closed some of the border crossings between Venezuela and Colombia to evaluate the damage from the skirmishes. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh was at the scene as the protests unfolded. He has this report from the Colombian-Venezuelan border.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It had been billed as a new dawn when the opposition planned waves of Venezuelan refugees would simply take aid back into their homeland across the busiest border bridge with Colombia.

But it was closed, blocked physically by Venezuelan riot police and, behind them, violent pro-government gangs.

The young police taunted or begged into changing sides.

"I'm Venezuelan," she says, holding up her ID, "and my father was a sergeant. How will you stop me crossing?"

But they were Venezuelans, too, and also knew its collapse and its hunger and, here, its heat and thirst.

"The water you're drinking," she says, "it's Colombian because your president doesn't give you any. Bring him out here to us."

"I eat or drink soda whenever I want here," he says, "but the hardest pain is how my grandfather died because he didn't have medicine."

For a brief moment, the anger dissipated, the police lowered their shields, talked calmly. But down the road, the promised aid convoy arrived in a huge crowd intent on pushing through.

WALSH: Tension mounting here, the shields have gone back up again. And protesters are recommending people start to move back.

WALSH (voice-over): This was why: a slow march of opposition protesters, peaceful in as far as they would not take no for an answer. It fast collapsed into tear gas, today's lofty goals soon lost in a routine exchange of hatred, rocks against rubber bullets and rocks thrown back.

WALSH: Did you expect to have blood on your shirt today?


WALSH: Did you expect that to happen today? [03:05:00]


WALSH (voice-over): And as they lost staff on the bridge, the protesters took their fight underneath. They are many but Maduro's police are mightier. They have only whatever they could make.

None of this chaos got any aid across here. But it showed the uncompromising ferocity of the Maduro government and it led, throughout the day, to Venezuelan soldiers giving themselves up, Juan Pierre (ph) carried out, the mobs both cursing and cheering.

The opposition had promised defectors amnesty but this will only get uglier, seeing the mobbing of pro-Maduro militia here, battered by the crowd and spared only by Colombian police. And if the symbolic bid to get aid in peacefully failed, then these scenes are what Venezuela is left with -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Cucuta, Colombia.


ALLEN: Earlier I spoke with an expert from the Council of the Americas and I asked him about the significance of Venezuelan troops defecting from Maduro's regime; again, 60 did. Here's what he said.


ERIC FARNSWORTH, COUNCIL OF THE AMERICAS: It is significant that several members and the teams like more are coming by the hour of the security forces are changing their allegiance from Maduro to Guaido.

At this at this point it's a drip, drip, drip.

But will it turn into a flood?

That's what we're watching, to see if, indeed, a quorum of the security forces end up throwing their support behind Guaido.

ALLEN: Right. This is a test for Guaido, to see if he can get more support. We know that two trucks carrying aid into Venezuela did cross from Brazil; that's one small break. At the same time, Maduro broke diplomatic relations with Colombia Saturday.

What effect will that have?

FARNSWORTH: Well, it's hard to say. There are some people who say that, in fact, it won't have an impact at all, because Maduro doesn't have the ability to break relations because he's not the president of Venezuela. So there's a diplomatic dance going on right now.

But the practical implications are that Colombia has indicated it will likely withdraw its diplomats because safety has to come first. And if you can't guarantee the safety of your diplomats, you have to change and bring them back home.

So that's, in some ways, not a surprise, though, because Maduro has done everything he possibly can to this point to try to find external enemies for him so that he can say that he's a victim here, whether it's the United States our somehow the international community. And clearly Colombia is on his list, too.

So this is another step by Maduro to try to say the international community is out to get me; you need to rally around me, I'm the victim and throw off the international imperialists. That's the game that he's trying to play.

ALLEN: Interesting, too, that, on Monday, U.S. vice president Mike Pence, who will be in Bogota, Colombia, for a meeting with regional leaders, will also meet with Guaido.

How much of a threat is the continuing support of Guaido to Mr. Maduro?

FARNSWORTH: Well, I think the meeting is significant. Clearly it has a couple of purposes. One is to show the continued support for Guaido, not just from the United States but by the Lima Group as well.

In fact, it's a Lima Group meeting of Latin American countries and Canada. So it's clearly an important meeting that the United States is participating in. But that's going to show continued international support for Guaido, number one.

Number two is, I think it's a great opportunity for leaders from these countries to actually strategize in terms of what comes next. I don't think it was a surprise that Maduro reacted today the way he did.

There was a lot of anticipation that indeed he would use force to try to keep foreign assistance out of his country.

But the question then is, remains, what comes next?

What can the international community do to continue to push that aid into Venezuela, to get it to the people who so desperately need it and to continue to bring pressure to bear on the Maduro regime to try to get them to change their behavior?

ALLEN: We appreciate your expertise, thank you for joining us, Eric Farnsworth for us, thanks, Eric.

FARNSWORTH: Thanks for having me.


ALLEN: A judge in Chicago, Illinois, in the U.S. has set a bond of $1 million for singer R. Kelly, who turned himself in Friday. This after being changed with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

Despite being one of the most successful R&B artists in history, accusations like these have followed him for decades. For more now, here's Sara Sidner in Chicago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A judge set R. Kelly's bond for $1 million, $250,000 in each of the four alleged victims' cases. Now R. Kelly would only have to pay $100,000 of that --


SIDNER: -- after he has been charged with 10 counts of criminal sexual abuse. The prosecution laying out some very sexually explicit details in this case to the judge, including sexual and physical abuse of several of the women that are now alleged victims in this particular case.

There was an indictment from a grand jury first and then the prosecution filed charges against R. Kelly. The details include physical and sexual abuse against women who are now of age but were minors at the time, "under the age of 17 but older than 13," is how the prosecution put it.

We also heard from R. Kelly's attorney, Steve Greenberg. He came out; he said initially, when R. Kelly was arrested and we saw him to go in to be booked last night, he said that all the women liars and called them liars very starkly and clearly.

Today he backed down a little bit from that but said, you know, you can't believe everything you hear, that he should be given, like any other defendant, a presumption of innocence. He also mentioned the 2008 trial, where R. Kelly was put on trial for 14 counts of pornography, child pornography, and he was acquitted in that trial.

He said people should give him the same kind of presumption of innocence as other defendants.

He did recognize that there is a lot of media attention here. He recognized that there were some women who were in the courtroom here today, listening and emotional. We can tell you that one of the victims, the alleged victims in this case, was inside the courtroom. She was emotional herself.

This has been a very difficult time for the women who have come out and accused R. Kelly of sexually abusing them when they were minors.

Where do we go from here?

Greenberg, R. Kelly's attorney, says that he does not think that R. Kelly has $100,000 just hanging around. So the question is, will he be able to get that money and get out of jail before his next hearing, which will be Monday? -- Sara Sidner, CNN, Chicago.


ALLEN: As Sara mentioned, R. Kelly's attorney called into question the credibility of the singer's accusers and brought up the #MeToo movement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STEVE GREENBERG, R. KELLY ATTORNEY: There's this whole hashtag movement, just because someone says something now and it's 2019, it doesn't make them credible. And just because they said something now and they haven't said something in a long time, it doesn't necessarily make them incredible.


ALLEN: The lawyer there added, since Kelly was acquitted in 2008 of child pornography involving one of the current accusers, the sexual assault charges are basically double jeopardy. The attorney for some of the alleged victims disputes that.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Mr. Greenberg's personal attacks on me and my clients -- he's called all of the women victims liars by outrageous and completely unprofessional. Mr. Greenberg also seems to not recognize what double jeopardy really is. None of the counts that have been alleged against Mr. Kelly involve double jeopardy.


ALLEN: The string of allegations over the years led to a television documentary series called, "Surviving R. Kelly." One of the alleged victims who participated in the series spoke with CNN.


LISA VAN ALLEN, ALLEGED VICTIM OF R. KELLY: He pretty much right away told you what he's into, what he likes, what he doesn't like. He also during sexual acts, the whole time, he's telling you exactly what to do, whatnot to do, what he likes, what he doesn't like, so yes.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: It was interesting because at that time you said, "I didn't assume that he liked younger girls. At that moment, I thought he just liked me."


PAUL: At what point did you realize something was very off here?

VAN ALLEN: There wasn't just one time. It would be recurring things where I was getting older. You know, I'm 19, the girls are still 18 -- 19. I'm turning 20, they're still 18 -- 19. You know what I mean, like...


VAN ALLEN: And then it was like, eventually it was like OK, he likes young girls.


ALLEN: Pope Francis will soon deliver closing remarks at the Vatican's extraordinary summit on clergy sex abuse. This is the fourth and final day of this historic gathering. Never before has the Catholic Church so openly addressed the problem of priests sexually exploiting children.

Abuse victims came from around the world to witness the event for themselves and to publicly press their demands for justice. Day three of the summit will likely be the one everyone remembers. That was when one of the highest-ranking officials in the church confirmed publicly what survivors have always alleged:


ALLEN: -- the church systematically hid evidence of priests abusing children.


REINHARD MARX, ARCHBISHOP OF MUNICH, GERMANY: Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed or not even created.


ALLEN: Coming up here, ISIS has lost almost of its territory in Syria but its deadly ideology survives. We hear from some of the terror group's true believers, women, coming up.

Also, no matter what happens at the Academy Awards, one indigenous actress is showing the world her star power and combating racism at the same time.




ALLEN: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is somewhere in China right now, he is traveling by private train to meet with the U.S. president in Vietnam. North Korean state media only confirmed the upcoming summit as Kim was preparing to leave Pyongyang.

It is a long way to Vietnam. The train ride across China to the border will take two days. Kim will then travel the final 178 kilometers by car. Few details are known about the summit other than the two leaders will meet on Wednesday and Thursday in Hanoi. Their first meeting was eight months ago in Singapore.

With ISIS cornered in Eastern Syria, civilians are still trying to leave the terror group's last enclave. Many suffered under ISIS but there are those who actually support its brutal ideology. CNN's Ben Wedeman has been reporting from the front lines and he has this look at some true believers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a struggle to find space on the trucks taking them to camps further north. Here are the latest, perhaps the last to leave the half-mile- square camp, all that's left of the Islamic State.

But these are not the ones who claim to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. These are the true believers.

Mahmoud (ph), who is 15 years old, has absorbed ISIS' ideology.

He asked me, "Don't you know the verses of the Quran that say the Islamic State will experience hardship and then God will give it victory?"

WEDEMAN: One of the favorite slogans of the Islamic State was (speaking Arabic) or "The Islamic State is remaining and spreading."

Surprisingly enough, now that that Islamic State is just a speck on the map, many of these people still remain convinced of that idea.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): This woman, who identifies herself only as Om Vasem (ph), or the mother of Vasem (ph), tells me her loyalties still lie with ISIS.

"Frankly, we still believe in it," she says. "We just wanted to --


WEDEMAN (voice-over): -- "live in peace and wear our Islamic clothing, not to go out, not to see men and to be ruled by the law of the almighty."

At 25, she's already the mother of four children. And they didn't flee because of the bombing or the shortage of food. They were told to leave.

"We received orders from Abu Bakr," this woman says, referring to ISIS leader Abu Baker al-Baghdadi. Syrian Democratic Forces commanders say they do not believe Baghdadi is inside, however.

Not a word of regret did we hear nor any contrition over beheadings, terror attacks or the mass murder and enslavement of Yazidis. According to the peculiar logic of the state that called itself Islamic, even its demise makes sense.

"God is testing us," this woman says. "The unworthy will leave and the righteous will remain. Perhaps we are unworthy."

Or perhaps just deluded. ISIS may be about to lose its land but not its believers -- Ben Wedeman, CNN, in Eastern Syria.


ALLEN: Powerful story yet again from our Ben Wedeman, who's been there reporting from the front line.


ALLEN: Here's one for you right before the Oscars. Imagine you're a brand-new actress, starring in your first film. You win awards for your work and then you're nominated for an Oscar. That is Yalitza Aparicio's story and it is inspiring people around the world, especially in her home country of Mexico. Here's Rafael Romo.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SR. LATIN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): On the red carpet, in covers of fashion magazines --


ROMO (voice-over): -- 25-year-old Yalitza Aparicio is not only making waves in Hollywood but making history as well.


ROMO (voice-over): Her performance in the acclaimed film "Roma," led her to become the first indigenous Mexican woman to be Oscar nominated for Best Actress in a leading role. It also happened to be her first acting role.

News of the nomination left her in tears, overcome with emotion, as she lives out an unprecedented success story. Three years ago, Aparicio was living here, a small rural home in Mexico's southern state of Oaxaca. She was a schoolteacher with no acting aspirations until she was discovered almost by accident, when she accompanied her sister to an audition.

YALITZA APARICIO, ACTOR (through translator): It is good that I took the risk of doing the casting, although at the beginning I didn't want to do it. It did well saying yes to it. This has been an intense journey and an amazing experience that I will remember forever.

ROMO (voice-over): In "Roma," Aparicio portrays an indigenous housekeeper and nanny living in Mexico City. It is a tale based on the director's own childhood there in the 1970s and it touches on race, class and anti-indigenous prejudice in Mexico.

ALFONSO CUARON, DIRECTOR: I'm very happy about the representation of a character who's a domestic worker from an indigenous background and that this character is being embraced in a very strong, emotional way from audiences all around the world.

So that, for me, is the most significant thing about the journey of "Roma" to this moment.

ROMO (voice-over): With 10 Oscar nominations and numerous awards, "Roma's" success has brought celebration and pride in Mexico but it earned praise from the country's recently elected leader.

Thousands gathered to watch it as the first movie shown at the former presidential palace and Aparicio's fairy tale story has been described as an inspiration. Sadly, however, her fame has also met with some racist backlash from

other actors and on social media. But in the face of offensive commentary, Aparicio is focusing on empowering others with her newfound platform.

APARICIO (through translator): This nomination is not only mine. It belongs to others that see themselves reflected on the screen, that can actually aspire to do something like what I've done, regardless of their economic status or their skin color.

ROMO (voice-over): At the Academy Awards ceremony Sunday, the first- timer is up against some well-known stars for Best Actress, including Glenn Close and lady Gaga. But Aparicio says that, after her whirlwind experience, she feels she's already won -- Rafael Romo, CNN.


ALLEN: What a beautiful story that is.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. Our headlines are next.