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At This Hour

Inside the Wild Chase to Capture Haitian President's Assassins; Soon, President Biden to Denounce Trump's Election Lies; Activists Say, 100-Plus Arrested or Missing in Cuba after Protests. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired July 13, 2021 - 11:30   ET


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Just 36 hours after a group of more than two dozen Colombians and two Haitian- Americans allegedly assassinated the president most would either be detained or declared dead.


This is how that happened, according to a source with knowledge of the operation to track them down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: DEA operation, everybody back up, stand down.

RIVERS: Night time video from around the time of the president's death quickly went viral where you could hear a suspect claiming there was a DEA operation ongoing. Later, a convoy of five cars could be seen leaving the area with ease. But down the road, a trap was being set.

As the convey traveled down Kenscoff Road, a road block was ready. Heavily armed security forces would not let them pass without a fight. Arriving and seeing they couldn't go any further, the convoy stops, part of which you could see here. Our source says the suspects jumped out and saw this building across the road. They raced toward it, immediately taking the stairs to the second floor.

It is in this building that these alleged mercenaries will begin defending themselves. But at the same moment they're coming in here, according to our source, Haitian security forces are making a crucial decision. They know that these alleged attackers have limited, food, water, ammunition and no power. So they essentially decide to wait them out.

About 12 hours later after baking in 90-plus degree Haitian heat, authorities throw tear gas in front of the building. It is enough to force negotiations. And the Colombians inside eventually send out four people, including this man, one of two Haitian-Americans who authorities have detained. He's joined by the other Haitian-American and two Haitian hostages, a pair of police officers who were at the president's house.

According to our source, at some point during the negotiations, a group of the Colombians still here come out of this building and start heading up this hill on the back side of the building. And, eventually, they make their way to a seemingly strange destination.

Just about 100 meters up the hill from the building lies the Taiwan embassy. Our source thinks the Colombians went through because it wasn't an easy place for police to enter given its diplomatic immunity.

In order to get all the way here to the embassy though, they had to walk through a pretty residential neighborhood. And according to our source, someone tipped off authorities that this group of heavily armed men was here. When they arrived at the embassy, they found a largely empty building except for two security guards whom they tied up.

Security forces quickly surrounded the embassy and then turned their attention back to the building below, where they believed a few suspects remained. It was time to go in.

A small assault team went in on the ground floor and were met with fierce fire that you can hear from the handful of Colombians that were still inside. The hour-long fire fight shattered windows, scarred concrete ceilings and walls, and in the end, the government says at least three Colombians died in the fighting.

The next day, with Taiwan's permission, authorities went into the embassy. Our source says authorities checked CCTV cameras and found nearly a dozen Colombians in a room who ended up giving up without more fighting. Nearly a half dozen still haven't been found.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Matt is back with me now. Matt, great reporting, as I mentioned. But what is the latest that you are learning about the suspects and their ties to the United States?

RIVERS: Yes. This is some reporting from our colleague, Kate, Evan Perez, last night. He reported that several of the suspects involved in this assassination have direct ties to U.S. law enforcement agencies as informants, including at least one who worked previously as an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The DEA actually confirming that, telling CNN in a statement that this person worked for them previously, not working for them anymore. But as you saw in the piece, Kate, there was at least one suspect outside of the residence, the presidential residence, saying, DEA operation. DEA says they are aware of that but emphasize that none of these suspects were here on the behalf of DEA.

But still the longer this goes on, each day that goes by, it just feels like and is true that the number of links between what happened here in Haiti with this assassination and the United States, these links just keep multiplying and it is going to be fascinating over the next few days to see what more shakes out.

BOLDUAN: Well, first and foremost, the details you have uncovered, the video you were able to get, just really remarkable. Thank you so much for the report, Matt. Coming up for us, President Biden is heading to Philadelphia expected to call out Trump's big lie and make the case for protecting voting rights. What actions, though, are going to follow those words?



BOLDUAN: In a few hours, President Joe Biden will be making what the White House is billing as a major speech on voting rights, making the moral case for more voter access to the ballot box while also targeting Donald Trump's big lie directly. The White House press secretary even saying that Biden will call out the Republican efforts in a number of states to restrict voter access as basically un- American and unpatriotic.


We are seeing that fight clearly play out in Texas today but we're also seeing that fight continue in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where Biden is set to make his remarks.

Joining me right now is Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, he's a Democratic candidate running for the U.S. Senate. Lieutenant Governor, thanks for being here.

What do you want to hear from President Biden today?

LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): I think it is a shame that President Biden has to come to Pennsylvania. I mean, of course we're delighted to have him. But the reason why he has to come to Pennsylvania is because the Republicans need to be called out on this systematic attempt to suppress votes all across this country. And that problem is exacerbated by Democrats in the Senate refusing to collectively vote as Democrats and really push some voting rights legislation through using -- by getting rid of the filibuster.

BOLDUAN: So you're speaking there and calling out Democrats. I mean, you're talking about Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, yes?

FETTERMAN: I'm talking about any Democrat. you have a party on the other side that is absolutely committed to making sure that they suppress enough votes for them to win the next election. They see it in Texas, you see it in Pennsylvania. And when you're under that kind of a siege and they certainly are tripling down on the big lie, I think it is incumbent on our party as Democrats to step up and vote like Democrats and do what we need to do to push this stuff back, to stop it in its tracks because voter suppression is a fiction and any laws passed to combat that are a fiction as well too, and their roots are in voter suppression, pure and simple.

BOLDUAN: So, a Republican in Pennsylvania is trying to force an audit in the 2020 election result in a commonwealth now, something similar to Arizona. You have had some very choice words about this attempted move. But regardless, Lieutenant Governor, if it happens or not or moves ahead at all, do you worry this still works to undermine the confidence of voters in the commonwealth?

FETTERMAN: As I've said, my choice words, like, this is the very back of the GOP bench. Again, this is not the brightest bulb in the chandelier that is behind this. The bottom line with this plan is that the main line Republicans don't want to talk about this anymore. They don't want to run on election conspiracies. And if they end up performing an audit, that would be fine because it would just confirm what we already know that Joe Biden won.

This is all theatrics on this side. But it is not something that we need to be taken seriously, but it also works to the Democratic advantage because you cannot win in Pennsylvania talking to the lunatic fringe and you cannot win with a Newsmax candidacy statewide here in Pennsylvania, and that is exactly what this is rooted in here.

BOLDUAN: Then I'm curious to this. I mean, we know the election result in Pennsylvania is decided, Biden won and that is not going to change. No audit is going to change it. All legal challenges have been dismissed in court. So then what do you think the endgame is for Republicans that we're talking about here in the commonwealth and elsewhere and continuing to follow what is more and more transparent lie about the 2020 election?

FETTERMAN: The end game for this particular actor is basically just hoping that the former president gives them a rose for his endorsement and he's able to successfully run as the Republican nominee for governor. That's all this is about. This is just bad performance art. This is what I keep trying to emphasize to people. It's not going to go anywhere. It has no legitimacy. It has no realistic path. This is just a man who is actively fundraising off this to fill his campaign coffers as he attempts to navigate through the GOP primary cycle in the hopes of securing the former president's endorsement. It is nothing more than that.

This is not a sophisticated plan. This is just simply bad performance art through the lens of an audit that is fictional at its best.

BOLDUAN: I'm curious to hear you think what the president's remark says, you never do mince words. So, thanks for coming on, I appreciate your time.

FETTERMAN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, we are learning about dozens people arrested or missing after the biggest anti-government protest Cuba has seen in decades. We're going to Havana for a live report.



BOLDUAN: Developing at this hour, more than 100 people are reported missing or are behind bars in Cuba following the biggest anti- government protest on the island in decades.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann is joining me now on the phone from Havana, where the government continues to be forcing internet blackouts there. Patrick, what are you hearing about these people who are missing?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Well, this is from activists that have a list of names (INAUDIBLE) the Cuban government has not said how many people have been arrested, how many people have been injured, whether police or protesters. We've seen some pretty horrifying videos of people being hurt in confrontations with police in the last several days.


And this crackdown continues on despite the White House's calls that protesters' right to speak their minds should be respected.

The Cuban president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, made it very clear that these protesters are criminals and they are trying to bring down the government. And what we see as a result of that really is a widespread crackdown not just in Havana but across the island.

The question now is what comes next? The internet has been down (INAUDIBLE) not working has led to the unprecedented protests of people posting videos, doing live streams of themselves as they left their homes to go out and protest what many people say here are just unlivable conditions, blackouts every day, a lack of medicines.

So, despite the calls from Washington and other places that these protests go on, frankly, the Cuban government has decided that they won't.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Patrick, thank you so much for your continued reporting. I really appreciate it.

Joining me now for more on the situation there is Ricardo Herrero. He's Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group. Thanks for being here?

I mean, what do you think? What do you see in this moment? Do you see this as an inflection point for Cuba?

RICARDO HERRERO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CUBA STUDY GROUP: I mean, certainly, it's an unprecedented moment, right? I mean, we've never seen protests at this scale and magnitude of people calling for the right for self-determination of expressing their very strong grievances with the poor way that their government has mismanaged their economy, COVID lockdowns as of late, and many, many other aspects of Cuban society.

These are organic. I mean, to some extent, whether there is some orchestration coming from some other place, it's hard to argue that most of what we're seeing on the ground is organic, a reflection of real grievances. And that is something we can expect to go away soon, because, really, in all likelihood, if governments don't act soon, chances are, a month from now, we're only going to see greater feed scarcity, we're only going to see greater COVID outbreaks, we're only going to see greater currency shortages and a lot more desperation. BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, I'm really starting to hear from a lot of different corners here that essentially something has got to give. I mean, do you think this is going to -- everything that you're playing out if the government continues to crackdown, continues to force these internet blackouts, continues to not offer assistance, do you see this leading to another mass exodus from the island?

HERRERO: I mean, that's certainly is the risk, right, because these are not organized movements, right? There is no leadership. There's no hierarchy. There's no organization. There's no strategy. It's just people taking to the streets for the most part to really express their frustrations.

And it is very possible that if we don't see action from either the Cuban government -- well, if we don't see a change in the dynamic between the U.S. and Cuba, in particular, since the Cuban government has repeatedly cited the role of the Cuban embargo and creating these hardships on the island, it is very possible that situation could grow so dire that people take to the seas in rafts.

We've already seen maritime migration increase almost fivefold in the course of this year and there's no reason to expect that that won't continue to grow as we go into this very hot summer in Cuba.

BOLDUAN: And, look, the Biden White House has said as recently as March that a shift of Cuba policy was not a top priority for their administration. Miami Herald, though, has this new headline and editorial today saying Cuba cannot stay on Biden's backburner any longer. What would you like to see and hear from President Biden right now?

HERRERO: That's absolutely correct. You know, the longer it takes for the United States to act, the more costly this situation becomes for the Cuban people. We think that it is fundamental for the Biden administration to send a clear message to the Cuban people, not just of support for the right of determination but also that they will pursue a constructive policy that seeks to empower them, that seeks to remove external obstacles to then be able to get their hands on basic needs, on resources, on contacts, to have communications with the outside world, to have medicine and all sorts of medical supplies to address the COVID crisis on the island.

Biden needs to send a clear message that they're seeking to dial down the heat and pursue a policy that is going to support the Cuban people, and help put them in a greater position to demand greater freedoms from their own government.


But we have to acknowledge this change can only come from within. Calls for military intervention are completely irresponsible, no less irresponsible than calls for combat, as we've heard come from the Cuban government over the weekend. We need to dial down the heat.

And there's a lot that this administration can do. This administration has already -- the president himself has recognized that the current policy which remains the Trump administration maximum pressure policy, does nothing to advance democracy or (INAUDIBLE) Cuba, nor does it do anything to reduce the suffering of the Cuban people.

That policy is now of this administration. They need to --

BOLDUAN: And it's now their choice. And it is now on their -- well, like it or not, it is now on their front burner. Ricardo Herrero, thank you so much for being with us.

HERRERO: Exactly. Maintaining this pressure --

BOLDUAN: Ricardo, I'm so sorry, we've just run out of time. Thank you so much.

John King picks up after this.