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U.S. Cutting Off Aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras; U.K. Parliament Deals May's Brexit Plan a Fatal Blow; Israel Strikes Hamas Targets in Gaza; Tibetans Prepare for a Post-Dalai Lama World. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired March 31, 2019 - 03:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking point: the U.S. cuts aid to several Central American countries as border facilities overcrowded with migrants. Authorities say they cannot keep up.

Plus, a year of protests. Thousands in Gaza mark the anniversary in demonstrations along the Israeli border.

And it was 60 years ago, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet for India. We look back at his time in exile.

Thank you for joining us, I'm Natalie Allen. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

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ALLEN: Our top story: the U.S. State Department says it is cutting off aid to three Central American countries, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. U.S. president Donald Trump accuses them of setting up caravans and is threatening to shut down the southern U.S. border if Mexico doesn't do more to block migrants.

The move comes as U.S. Customs officials say they are way over capacity. They're struggling to process a huge surge of migrants, many from Central America. President Trump was in Florida this weekend as the latest border drama unfolded. CNN's Sarah Westwood has more from West Palm Beach.

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SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump has spent the weekend here in West Palm Beach focusing on immigration. He's renewed threats to shut down the border between the U.S. and Mexico if Mexico doesn't do more to stop illegal immigration into the U.S.

Now this is not the first time President Trump has made this threat. But it is the first time he's attaching a deadline to it. He says by next week he could close all or part of the southern border if he doesn't get Mexico to step up and do more. Now the president is also calling on Congress to address the

immigration laws. He's blaming Democrats for congressional inactions and wrote in a tweet on Saturday, "It would be so easy to fix our weak and very stupid Democrat inspired immigration laws. In less than one hour and then a vote, the problem would be solved. But the Dems don't care about the crime, they don't want any victory for Trump and the Republicans, even if good for USA!"

Customs and Border Protection said over the weekend that they are reaching a breaking point, the number of families and unaccompanied children coming over the border has put enormous strain on their resources.

They say their facilities were not designed to accommodate families and children and that the status quo is unsustainable. And, like President Trump, they are calling for congressional action to change the laws.

Now Trump, on Friday, speaking about the border shutdown said that could involve shutting down trade between the U.S. and Mexico, which would be enormously expensive for both countries.

But it remains unclear what exactly the president means when he says he could close down the border as soon as next week -- Sarah Westwood, West Palm Beach, Florida.

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ALLEN: Processing centers in border states like Texas are literally overflowing with people. This is El Paso. Entire families are being corralled by a chain link fence. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said nearly every sector on the border has passed its capacity.

At least one facility has passed more than 300 percent. Officials say border stations were built to process hundreds single adults from Mexico but they're not ready for hundreds of thousands of families and unaccompanied youth from Central America.

The problem has gotten so bad officials in Brownsville, Texas, say they are dealing with the release of hundreds of migrants every day. CNN's Ana Cabrera spoke with Brownsville's city manager Saturday.

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NOEL BERNAL, BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS, CITY MANAGER: Ultimately our focus is we need to do what the city is able to do through our partners, through our non-profits, to provide support and provide a positive experience on the humanitarian side because these are people who are seeking some type of relief in our country.

Our role, however, is giving them a positive experience and helping them transition.

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ALLEN: The U.S. border city of Brownsville is seeing hundreds of migrants released by federal authorities almost every day. CNN's Martin Savidge has been there and has more on how the community is dealing with the influx.

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MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The overcrowding problem of migrants in federal facilities such as those that have been held at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the U.S. Border Patrol is now becoming more and more of a problem for local communities like Brownsville, Texas, here, which is up against the --

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SAVIDGE: -- border with Mexico.

Because now the federal government is releasing a lot of those migrants, the Feds say they simply don't have enough room to house and care for them and turning them out on the streets of many of these local communities.

In Brownsville, this is the Good Neighbor Settlement House. It's a faith-based organization normally that would be handling the homeless or the impoverished. Instead, more and more they're taking on the case of the migrants. The migrants are dropped off here, sometimes by the busload.

Here is a place where they have an opportunity to maybe get a meal or maybe get a shower but the hope is they can also use a telephone and connect with family or relations in the United States and make arrangements for them to move on.

Eventually, they would be processed by immigration authorities here. But the idea is they need to at least be housed somewhere else.

Here's the thing. They have normally been dealing with numbers of maybe 100, 150 a day. Today those numbers were up to 300. Next week there are projections that they could be facing thousands.

If that is the case, then even well-intentioned organizations like this would be pushed to the breaking point, which means you could have thousands of migrants on the street with little care or little oversight. And that's what they're trying to prevent -- Martin Savidge, CNN, Brownsville, Texas.

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ALLEN: Martin also spoke with Brownsville's mayor, Tony Martinez, about how the city is preparing for so many migrants.

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TONY MARTINEZ, BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS, MAYOR: So far, we have been able to handle anything that's come our way and I think we can so long as we have adequate notice to know what's coming.

Right now they're bringing them here. We're feeding them, sheltering them, clothing them, whatever they need at the time, any health issues that they shouldn't have when they get here.

But, if they do and we have, you know -- we have asked some of our local doctors and friends in the medical profession to come give us some assistance and that's what we're doing.

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ALLEN: Joining me now is CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali.

Tim, good to see you.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: My pleasure.

ALLEN: President Trump is threatening to shut down the border.

Do you think he might?

He's threatened this before and he hasn't followed through.

Or is this a bluff?

NAFTALI: Well, only he knows whether it's a bluff or not. But, given his behavior in the past, I would think it will depend, really, on the reaction of the American people and Mexico.

I suspect it's mainly for performance. But it's mainly for political purposes. There isn't a major crisis on the southwest border of the United States. There are a large number of migrants, a large number of people who seek to enter the United States illegally.

But the numbers doing that are still well below what they were in the 1990s and in the late -- in the period between 2006 and 2009. So in many ways, the number is much lower than it was. At its height, it was over 1 million people apprehended a year. We're now --

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ALLEN: How does that square with Homeland Security and officials at the border saying we are being overrun, there they are going to have to release 6,000 people and there are more people in the month of March at the border seeking entry since 2008, since any month since 2008?

That doesn't spell a crisis to you?

NAFTALI: Well, you can create a crisis if you do not have the resources necessary to deal with the demand. In 2014, the number of apprehensions -- this is, of course, when President Obama was in office -- increased dramatically. And the Obama administration initially sought to deter more people from south of the border, from attempting to come into the United States. And that didn't work.

But they began to treat the issue or the problem as a humanitarian matter. And they expanded the number of facilities available for migrants. They poured money into managing the problem as a humanitarian problem, not as a law enforcement problem. If the Trump administration were to expand the number of facilities,

they wouldn't find that the facilities are overrun. So in comparison to other periods on the southwest border, this is not a crisis.

But the Trump administration could certainly turn it into a crisis if it's not willing to invest the resources necessary to take care of the people who are seeking asylum.

ALLEN: He hasn't expressed many words to show empathy for a humanitarian situation. In fact, he is imploring Mexico to share the burden and help stem the flow of migrants. He's also cutting aid to Central American countries who he says are organizing migrant --

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ALLEN: -- caravans.

What are your thoughts about both of those plans?

NAFTALI: Well, first things first. There is no question that the United States has to rethink its approach to immigration.

In 2014, when the Obama administration felt there was a crisis on the southwest border, the Obama administration went to Congress, which was under their control, both houses of Congress were under the control of Republicans, and said we need to deal with this issue.

Let's think about a way to manage immigration, both to strengthen the borders while also providing a system for those seeking asylum can be heard. To no one's surprise, divided government at this point did not produce some kind of compromise approach.

So at this point, we are once again faced with the issue that the number of people coming to the border, we don't have the facilities at the border to deal with those numbers. We can expand those facilities and deal with this as a humanitarian manner.

Or we can pretend that somehow, by saying you can't come, they'll stop trying to come. The Trump administration is cutting off its nose to spite its face in not working with Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador, in finding a way to discourage people from leaving those countries.

The Trump administration is not helping U.S. national security by treating Mexico as an enemy. Mexico has the same interest as the United States in strengthening its southern border. We should be working with the Mexicans to tighten their border with Guatemala.

But we're not doing that. Instead, we're threatening them. We're telling them we're going to close the border if they don't do the following. We're not seeing this as a regional problem. We're not being a good regional partner.

ALLEN: Presidential historian Tim Naftali, we appreciate your insights. Thank you so much.

NAFTALI: Good evening. My pleasure.

ALLEN: We turn to the political uncertainty that is Brexit. British media say prime minister Theresa May is not giving up on her E.U. withdrawal bill, even though it has been thrashed by Parliament three different times now. She's expected to bring it to lawmakers for a fourth vote.

But many Britons have lost faith in the process, because after nearly three long years it seems to be going absolutely nowhere.

Let's get more from Salma Abdelaziz in London.

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SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN PRODUCER: The seemingly unending drama of Brexit continues now that Prime Minister Theresa May's withdrawal agreement has been defeated and Parliament for a third time, all options are back on the table. Anything goes.

Let's run through the most likely scenarios for the next couple of weeks.

The first is the no-deal scenario. That is, if the U.K. cannot find a solution by April 12th, the U.K. will simply crash out of the E.U.

The second possibility is that the prime minister could go back to Brussels and ask for a lengthier extension. This could be up to two years long. But it won't be easy to get. On April 10th, the other 27 E.U. states will meet to have their say on the matter.

But we've already heard from France saying that unless the U.K. can offer a clear pathway out, there might not be support for that lengthier extension.

The third possibility is a general election. Analysts will tell you Theresa May has lost a lot of political will, lost a lot of political authority. The Labour Party has already called for a general election. She did, at one point, of course, offer to resign so a general election is a very real possibility for this country.

The fourth option -- and it might sound like madness -- is that prime minister Theresa May could take the withdrawal agreement back to Parliament for a fourth time.

Now how this plays out is quite complicated, because the speaker of the house has already said she cannot bring that withdrawal agreement back to Parliament unless there are significant changes. That's why we saw lawmakers vote on part of the agreement rather than the whole agreement on Friday.

And, of course, all of this has to take place as MPs try to find their own alternative solution to Brexit, the so-called indicative vote. We had an indicative vote last week. There were eight options on the table. All eight were defeated but two came close to succeeding and that is the customs union and the proposal for a second referendum. So it's possible you could see lawmakers trying to find a hybrid

solution here. But really, it's a very complicated situation. And the only thing that's --

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ABDELAZIZ: -- certain is uncertainty -- Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: A year of protests on the Israeli border brings out tens of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza. CNN correspondents are on the scene.

Plus, the Chinese government calls the Dalai Lama a wolf in monk's robes. We'll explain why and take a look back at his 60 long years in exile. Much more coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM.

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ALLEN: Just days before Israeli elections, the president of Brazil has just arrived in Israel. Jair Bolsonaro is being met at the Tel Aviv airport by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who's facing a tough reelection bid. A proposal to move Brazil's embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is expected to dominate the four-day visit.

Polls are open now in Ukraine's presidential election and, with a record 39 candidates, it's a packed race. The top three contenders are running on promises of closer ties with the West, all under the shadow of a five-year military conflict with Russia.

Current president Petro Poroshenko says his main opponent in this election is Vladimir Putin. He's also facing the election's front- runner, Volodymyr Zelensky, an entertainer and comedian. He has never been a politician before but he plays one on TV.

In Gaza, about 40,000 Palestinians turned out for a large protest near the Israeli border. Palestinian officials say three teenagers were killed by Israeli security forces. Israel says five rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel but caused no casualties or damage.

CNN's Michael Holmes has more from the Gaza border.

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MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hamas had called for today's protest to be peaceful, for the first time deploying hundreds of marshals to keep protesters back from the border fence and possible death.

The men from Hamas crowd control trying to keep protesters back have had some success but, the longer it goes on, the harder it's going to be.

In the end, it didn't work. Hundreds broke through; tires were set ablaze and rocks thrown towards Israeli troops on the other side. Tear gas, lots of it, came from the Israeli side and there was some live fire as well.

Israel says it only uses such measures when an imminent threat is perceived. The Palestinian ministry of health says a year of weekly protests like this has seen nearly 270 Palestinians killed and thousands wounded, as they protest the loss of Palestinian homes in the Arab-Israeli War of the 1940s.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We're here to get our land back, our homes. I'm participating to get it back.

HOLMES: These protests are a test for Hamas: turn out a crowd big enough that shows support for --

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HOLMES: -- the cause but, at the same time, exercise enough control over that crowd to minimize violence and casualties.

Hamas also looking for Israeli restraint and so how this day ended would likely impact the success or otherwise of Egyptian mediated talks between Hamas and Israel. Too high a death toll from Israeli fire and Hamas said it would retaliate. And for Israel's part, excessive violence would show a lack of Hamas will or ability to tamp down the violence.

And it appeared to work, at least to a degree. Casualty numbers far less than in previous demonstrations even though, at the end of the day, Palestinian medical authorities said there had been hundreds of injuries, many from bullets but most from tear gas.

Here, a boy overcome by gas quickly recovered. Those truce talks now continue. Hamas wanting Israel to ease restrictions on Gaza in a number of areas. Israel wanting quiet from the Gaza Strip and an end to rocket fire into Israel and protests like these along the border.

The days ahead will determine which direction this ongoing conflict goes -- Michael Holmes, CNN, Gaza.

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ALLEN: In Venezuela, another weekend of dueling protests. Thousands of people were out in force as the country struggles to recover from recurring power shortages. Jorge Luis Perez Valery has more for us from Caracas.

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JORGE LUIS PEREZ VALERY, JOURNALIST: These demonstrations are taking place right when the country's situation has been worsening in recent days due to several blackouts that are not only affecting their electricity service but also their basic services like the water supply.

This has been the reason why so many opposition followers are going to the streets, they went to the streets today, following Juan Guaido, the leader of the opposition, the president of national assembly, who is being recognized as interim president by the United States and several other countries in the world.

He is asking them to go to the streets every time they have fear in the public services because they make the Maduro's government look responsible for the situation. On the other hand, we had the government of Maduro also protesting in the streets, calling the followers to go to the avenues and the streets in mainly Caracas because they consider that they have this press.

Also (INAUDIBLE) the United States, the country that they are making responsible for the situation (INAUDIBLE) the crisis, not only public services like electricity services but also in other services like health care, water supply.

They insist that this is because of the United States. But this is also happening amid an important announcement from the International Federation of the Red Cross that said yesterday that finally international humanitarian aid is going to arrive into Venezuela in the upcoming days.

They are saying that they are going to benefit around 650,000 people in this country from this aid. And an important thing here is that they are saying they are not going to allow any interference, not from the government of Nicolas Maduro, not from the opposition leaders like Juan Guaido, the president of the national assembly, who is being recognized as interim president by the U.S. and most democracies in the Americas -- Jorge Luis Perez Valery for CNN, in Caracas.

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ALLEN: The CEO of Facebook wants governments to take a more active role in policing the Internet. In an opinion story published Saturday, Mark Zuckerberg called for stricter regulation of harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.

Both U.S. and European regulators are already scrutinizing his company over data-sharing deals. And that could lead to record fines for Facebook.

The Rolling Stones are postponing their upcoming North American tour due to Mick Jagger's health. The 75-year-old singer's doctors have apparently advised him to hold off touring until he receives treatment for an unspecified ailment.

The band was due to begin their 17-date concert trek April 20th. Jagger's doctors say he is expected to make a complete recovery.

It has been 60 years since the Dalai Lama fled Tibet and went into exile. The Nobel Peace Prize winner became one of the great voices oof Buddhism. But to the Chinese government, he was a wolf in monk's robes. Here's CNN's Kristie Lu Stout. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's been 60 years since the Dalai Lama last set foot in the land of his birth, Tibet. He was identified as the new Tibetan leader by a delegation of monks when he was only a child and he was given full status as Dalai Lama at the tender age of 15, a process that was sped up --

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STOUT (voice-over): -- as Chinese troops marched over the highlands into Tibet to take control in 1950.

Chinese leader Mao Zedong offered autonomy but demanded obedience from people in the region. The Dalai Lama took part in a series of peace talks with Communist officials but then there was an unsuccessful armed uprising against the Chinese in Llasa on March the 10th, 1959.

And the same year this photo was taken, showing the Dalai Lama on his throne in Llasa, he fled across the Himalayas into India. Since then the Dalai Lama has lived in exile in Northern India.

In 1989 he won a Nobel Peace Prize for his dedication to the non- violent liberation of Tibet. The Dalai Lama has always said he has only ever wanted enough autonomy to protect traditional Buddhist culture in Tibet.

Chinese authorities insist he is a separatist, trying to establish an independent Tibet, calling him a wolf in monk's robes.

Beijing says the Tibetan region has been China's territory for centuries and denies any oppression since 1950, saying living standards have greatly improved for the Tibetan people.

In 2008, there were days of demonstrations, which turned into riots in Llasa. That led to a crackdown in which Chinese state media says 20 people were killed. Tibetan exiles say it was more like 150.

In 2011, the Dalai Lama announced plans to devolve his power to an elected leader of the Tibetan exile movement. A few years later, in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, he explained.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Might you be the last Dalai Lama?

DALAI LAMA: Possible, last Dalai Lama. It is how I feel. I personally feel better the people should take full responsibility.

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STOUT (voice-over): Beijing says any new Dalai Lama chosen in Tibet would have to be approved by the Communist government, leading the current Dalai Lama to speculate his successor could come from outside of China.

In 2016, CNN's Matt Rivers was one in a group of journalists who were able to make a rare visit to Tibet on a state-controlled trip.

Buddhism is one of five officially-recognized religions in China but under tight government supervision and surveillance. And that is very much the case for the 6 million to 8 million Tibetan Buddhists, many who have left the region.

There have been campaigns to get people to denounce the Dalai Lama and, in response, forms of protest include scores of self-immolations. But the Dalai Lama, now well into his 80s, remains the most influential figure for Tibetans, even though he has long said he is devoted to serving all of China's Buddhists.

The Dalai Lama is unlikely to be able to visit the land of his birth again in this lifetime -- Kristie Lu Stout, CNN, Hong Kong.

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ALLEN: And that is CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for watching. I'm Natalie Allen. Our top stories right after this.