Return to Transcripts main page
Gang Abducts 17 Missionaries in Haiti; Maduro Aide Saab Due in Florida Court after Extradition; UK Parliament to Pay Tribute to Amess, Discuss Security; China's Third Quarter GDP Growth Slows to 4.9%; Rescue Operations Underway after Deadly Floods in India; Retired Astronaut Scott Kelly is Interviewed about Space Exploration. Aired 12-1a ET
Aired October 18, 2021 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome to all of our viewers all around the world. I'm Robyn Curnow in Atlanta. Thanks for joining us.
So just ahead on the show, protests on the street of Haiti -- streets of Haiti after 16 American missionaries and one Canadian were abducted by gang members.
And the British Parliament is set to honor David Amess in the coming hours and discuss how to protect MPs from violent attacks in the future.
Plus, the latest on China's economic struggles. We'll break down the disappointing GDP numbers on top of supply chain and energy problems.
ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.
CURNOW: We are learning new details about the kidnapping of a group of missionaries in Haiti and the gang Haitian security forces say is behind it.
Sixteen Americans, one Canadian were abducted on Saturday after visiting an orphanage east of Port-au-Prince. The U.S. organization, Christian Aid Ministry, says five children were also among the group.
A Haitian security source says the gang behind the attack has a history of kidnappings.
Well, Stefano Pozzebon is tracking these developments and joins us now live. Stefano, hi. Good to see you. Just tell us more about this gang. What do we know about them?
STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: We know that this gang, which is called the 400 Mawozo, Robyn, they are one of the most feared gangs in Haiti. They have been rising in recent years, thanks to a mix of kidnappings, and they have been targeting large groups. Usually, you would expect gangs to kidnap singular travelers. They kidnappers [SIC] and attacks groups as big as this one we're talking about, with 17 people are not unusual in Haiti when it comes to this gang, the 400 Mawozo.
At this point that they control the territorial control of the area where the kidnapping took place. It's a suburb of Port-au-Prince called Croix des Bouquets, and it's where these missionaries have -- were been visiting an orphanage early on Saturday before the kidnappings took place.
It happens in many other cities in Latin America and the Caribbean. Organized crime gangs exercise a territorial control on some areas of the town. And that's where the worst happened, like in this case, Robyn, early on Saturday.
And at this point, American authorities have told CNN that they don't know the whereabouts of these 17 North American missionaries -- Robyn.
CURNOW: And we're also -- there's been reaction on the streets of Haiti. That you know, people have come out, in anger, at the announcement that these people have been kidnapped. Because Haitians themselves are having to deal with this almost on a daily basis.
POZZEBON: Precisely, Robyn. In fact, in a few hours, earlier on Monday, there will be a national strike. A strike, a general strike, sorry, of the transport union in Haiti, which have -- which was called before this latest accident [SIC] took place.
And that, Robyn, gives us an idea of how this latest kidnapping of 17 missionaries from North America has only brought to the forefront a dramatic situation that Haitians and foreigners in Haiti experience, has been experiencing every day for the last few years.
Just earlier this summer, a security source told CNN that the same gang, this 400 Mawozo gang, was responsible for kidnapping a group of truck drivers from the Dominican Republic.
So that tells you how tense the situation, Robyn, is in Haiti after years of economic crisis, and mismanagement, corruption, and only this summer, the brutal assassination of former president Jovenal Moise, leaving a vacuum, a power vacuum that these gangs have only been too eager to occupy -- Robyn.
CURNOW: It was great to speak to you. Thanks so much. Stefano Pozzebon.
So officials in Haiti are in touch with Canadian authorities, as well as with the U.S. State Department in this urgent search to locate the missionaries.
Kylie Atwood has more from Washington -- Kylie.
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A Christian aid organization based in Ohio confirming that there were 16 Americans and one Canadian, 17 in total, missionaries in Haiti who were abducted by a gang over the weekend.
Now, they were there working at an orphanage. They were missionaries, and it is up for up to buy the gang in there, and they were kidnapped when they were doing the work, leaving that orphanage, headed to a place just north of Port-au-Prince.
Now, I'm told the U.S. government, according to a senior U.S. government official, doesn't know the current location of those Americans who have been kidnapped. They're working around the clock. State Department officials, FBI officials, to try and figure out where they are. And, of course, how to secure their release.
Now, officially, the State Department spokesperson saying that they are aware of the reports not going much further with regard to details. We're waiting to see if the White House comments on this.
But the State Department travel advisory for Haiti says do not travel. That is for all Americans. They suggest that they don't travel to Haiti, particularly because of these kidnappings. That travel advisory cites kidnappings.
And we should note that kidnappings in Haiti have been on the rise in the last few months. Since July, they have risen 300 percent. And, of course, that doesn't include this latest development over the weekend, with these 16 Americans kidnapped.
Kylie Atwood, CNN, the State Department.
CURNOW: Amy Wilentz is a contributing editor with "The Nation," and a literary journalism professor at UC Irvine. She's also written two books on Haiti. She joins me now from Los Angeles.
Thanks so much for joining us. You have traveled backwards and forth between Haiti, reporting there for 30 years. The security situation at the moment, what is your -- what is your assessment of it?
AMY WILENTZ, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "THE NATION": Well, it's very bad. It's much worse than it's been, but, it is a continuing decline through the years of the presidency of the now-assassinated President Jovenal Moise, to this point we're at right now.
CURNOW: And since that assassination, it has certainly amplified, hasn't it, the security situation. The -- the degrading of the security situation.
WILENTZ: Yes, I think they feel there's a vacuum of power, a total vacuum of power, and there's also rivalries among the gangs for political power, and the power of violence, and it's very bad right now.
CURNOW: Let's talk about these gangs, because they are directly involved in the kidnapping of these missionaries. And I want to get to their specific case in just a moment. But in terms of the gangs, give us a sense of the power play between these -- these interlocking gangs and where -- and how they play within the political landscape.
WILENTZ: Well, it's -- of course, they're territorial, like any gang. So -- and there are many of them. There are big gangs and little gangs. This happens to be, the one involved in this incident, a very, very big gang. It has branches throughout Haiti. It's one of the biggest employers in Haiti right now, other than the government. And all the gangs, put together, are probably the second biggest employer right now in Haiti. And that's the kind of situation the economy is in.
But beyond that, these -- these gangs have, you know, undercover relationships with political figures, political parties, and this is not new, in Haiti, but it's way worse than it's ever been.
And these are real -- real gangs with heavy weapons and real vehicles that they can take in, anyway. They have tons of SUVs.
And, it's a very scary situation when I've been there, and that is not that recently. I was very, very worried and thought about armored cars. Now, everyone I know who's visiting is in an armored car with a bullet-proof vest. So it's not good. It didn't used to be like that.
CURNOW: And clearly, missionaries on the ground, that's not how they're operating. And they are -- I mean, these early numbers that we're looking at now, I think 17 of them; a number of children, as well. Should missionaries even be operating in this kind of environment?
WILENTZ: Well, I know that those missionaries right now, even now, would probably tell you, yes, they should be. And it's not only because they feel they have a religious mission, but it's because a lot of missionaries feel that they have a pretty good understanding of Haiti, and what's happened is the rules of the game have changed.
These people probably all speak Creole. A lot of them have probably been there for a long time, or back and forth. I'm sure, they are very surprised at this situation. This is a bigger kidnapping, and it has meaning for things beyond the kidnapping itself, and everyone is aware of that.
CURNOW: What is -- what are the broader meetings? And also, then, the bigger question is, you know, what -- what kind of ransom, if any, will be paid? No doubt, that is all part of this. And how -- and how safe are they at the moment?
WILENTZ: OK. So I think that the biggest -- they're almost like hostages, I think --
WILENTZ: -- to American policy in Haiti. And, you know, we've never seen anything like this before. I think it's 16 American citizens and one Canadian.
WILENTZ: You don't see that. You don't see Americans being kidnapped like that. Mostly, it's Haitian-Americans being kidnapped, because these gangs know very well that those people have some money, but nobody's going to pay attention.
But of course, the gang knows that people are going to pay attention to this kidnapping, and I think that it is a tool, I think -- I can't say for sure. It is a tool in a wider, ongoing situation with American backing for the current government and the previous two governments.
CURNOW: So what do they want, then?
WILENTZ: You know, it's complicated. Do they -- I don't know what side they're on. Are they on the side of the current president?
I think the president -- prime minister, the de facto prime minister. I think he would like the Americans to come in with boots on the ground to deal with this situation. And that, I think, is a possibility.
I mean, it's like -- it's almost like a demand for American intervention. Yet, I know that the gangs don't want to be taken in, and they don't want to be arrested, and they don't want to be killed. So it's complicated. It's very complicated.
CURNOW: Meanwhile, the future of these 17 people on the ground is pretty uncertain at the moment. And not a lot of information on how they're doing.
Really good to get your expertise and your analysis. Amy Wilentz, really appreciate it. Thank you.
WILENTZ: Thank you.
CURNOW: And a criminal case playing out in the U.S. could have major consequences for former American oil executives held in Venezuela.
In the coming hours, this man, Alex Saab, is due in a Florida court after his extradition from Cape Verde. He's accused of money laundering and for working as a financier for Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro.
And pro-Maduro forces didn't waste time retaliating. Lawyers for these men, the so-called Citgo 6, say they've been moved to a notorious Caracas prison. The former oil executives include five U.S. citizens and a U.S. resident. At least one said he is, quote, "very worried" about what could happen after Saab's extradition.
For the latest, I'm joined by Rafael Romo, tracking events from Mexico City. This is also a very messy case. The U.S. are determined to prosecute Alex Saab. Why are they going after him, in particular?
RAFAEL ROMO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He is a very close businessman to president Nicolas Maduro, and he was in charge of doing many transactions on behalf of the Venezuelan government to procure food and other basic necessities for the entire country.
And what the U.S. government is saying is that, if he was taking advantage of his position to make money for himself, creating ghost companies in different parts of the world. That's the reason why the U.S. wants him prosecuted and also his native Venezuela.
Now, the group of 5 U.S. citizens and one permanent U.S. resident were imprisoned only hours, Robyn, after this businessman, close to President Nicolas Maduro, was extradited from Cape Verde to the United States, which leads many to think that it was a retaliation move by Venezuela's socialist regime.
The group is known as the Citgo 6, because they're all former executives of Citgo Petroleum Corporation. And they were arrested in 2017, in Caracas on embezzlement charges, which they deny, and had been under house arrest since May.
Two attorneys who have been working and they told CNN on Sunday, that they're now being held at El Helicoide prison in Caracas, the capital. And this is very concerning for their families, because this is the same prison where former defense minister and general, Raul Isaias Baduel, considered by many a political prisoner, died Tuesday of COVID-19.
Now, according to the Coalition for Human Rights, an NGO, 20 inmates have tested positive for the virus at the prison, where the Citgo 6 are now being held and, as you can imagine, Robyn, the family of Jose Angel Pereira, one of the six, posted a video. They're very worried.
In the video, he says he was afraid of taken to prison again. It would be under the worst conditions possible. Pereira also said that he wanted to record his testimony because he was very worried.
Now just a few hours ago, President Maduro said that because Alex Saab was extradited, the negotiations between the government and the opposition are, for the time being, suspended -- Robyn.
CURNOW: So what happens next?
ROMO: Well, it remains to be seen. One thing does not have anything to do with the other. But President Maduro's blaming the United States for stopping the negotiations.
It is very important for the United States to have Alex Saab in their custody, because he is someone who's part of the inner circle. And so you can imagine a scenario where he's going to be interrogated by U.S. officials, and he knows the ins and outs of a totalitarian regime, and this makes Venezuela and President Maduro himself very, very uncomfortable.
CURNOW: Rafael Romo there in Mexico City. Thanks so much.
So members of Parliament will pay tribute to British MP David Amess in the House of Commons in the coming hours. They're also expected to discuss what can be done to prevent a tragedy like his murder from happening again.
Sir David was fatally stabbed while meeting with his constituents on Friday on Leigh-on-Sea in England.
Now, police are treating the case as a terrorist incident. The suspect was arrested at the scene, and a government source says he is a 25- year-old British national of Somalia heritage name Ali Harbi Ali.
Amess's family, meantime, has released a statement about his brutal killing. They said, quote, "The family would like to thank everyone for the wonderful, wonderful tribute paid to David following this violent day. It truly has brought us so much comfort. The support shown by friends, constituents and the general public alike has been also so overwhelming," they write. "As a family, it has given us strength."
Well, I want to bring in our CNN European affairs commentator, Dominic Thomas.
Dominic, hi. Good to see you.
So the death of Sir David has touched many. His family have outlined that, but will it change anything, even as security is to be debated in Parliament?
DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Yes, Robyn, thank you for having me on, on this -- on this sad occasion.
Yes, I think at this particular stage, it would be impossible to not revisit the entire way in which these 650 members of Parliament. let alone other government officials, are protected in the United Kingdom.
Now, you know, there's nothing new about this. We all know the long history of politicians being attacked, whether through bombing, through knifings. Some have died. Some have not.
But I think that there's a new kind of quality to this, and a regularity. It's a cross-party issue. We know, of course, that in 2016, a Labour politician was murdered in the U.K.
So I think on this particular occasion, they're going to have to do that. The important thing to think about here, too, is just the context, really, of the U.K. and to -- and to look at this sort of, you know, fine line between deploying a sort of more expansive security apparatus, and maintaining access to politicians to their constituents, which has been a very important thing historically.
CURNOW: Yes, I mean, many MPs see themselves as the life blood of British democracy, a direct democracy with the constituents, with the people who vote them in.
So then we, of course, as we know, they've been verbal about saying they don't feel comfortable. Some of them are feeling scared, but is there anger, as well?
THOMAS: Yes, of course, there is anger. There's frustration. I mean, there's anger, of course, at the -- at the level of violence and that these individual perpetrators who need, you know, of course to be fully accountable for these absolutely despicable acts.
But I think there is also a broader political climate in which forms of respect and stability and so on in politics have been eroded in recent years. It's absolutely unambiguously clear that social media bears a responsibility, as all online activity does, in radicalizing people, in pushing people towards these acts of violence.
We've seen that in the United States. We've seen that in the U.K., and in mainline Europe more recently. And it is clear that this age of practice of meeting one on one, privately and in small groups, with constituents with no real security checks and so on, is something that's problematic and something that needs to be rethought of.
But having said that, there's a way of life at issue there, too. And we know that in the U.K. for example, the majority of police officers are unarmed. The majority of politicians in mainland Europe and in the U.K. do not have expensive security details, if anything at all.
So I think that we're at a sort of new age where these practices have to be revisited and where a sort of more holistic review cf the ways in which one can engage with constituents and can take place and how the in-person interaction has now reached a danger threshold. That means it can no longer be ignored, or downplayed.
CURNOW: And you make a good point here. It's not just also about the U.K. lawmakers feeling vulnerable, is it? I mean, social media totally at the top of many people's concerns, divided politics, extremism, and intolerance on the left and on the right. Has it made some European politicians feel unsafe?
THOMAS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, it's actually extraordinary, really, when you sort of compare the ways in which some countries go about protecting their politicians.
I mean, the United States would be the epitome of this. We know all about the Secret Service, how they're immediately deployed even when presidential nominees, candidates, campaigns, reach a certain threshold. And large meetings, town hall meetings, stadium meetings and so on have brought along with them a broad security apparatus.
Some of them are sponsored by the state. Some of them are paid for privately.
We know in the U.K. about the expansive protection of diplomats of the royal family and so on.
But when it comes to mainland Europe, absolutely, as politicians head into elections, as politicians walk the streets, campaign, attend public venues, there is a heightened awareness of the ways in which the public space has become an increasingly dangerous space.
And not just for politicians. For artists, for activists, for writers, for intellectuals, for university professors, for people working in the media, of course, as well are under increasing attack in what has become a growingly and increasingly toxic environment, fueled predominantly by social media and then, of course, by certain politicians that, of course, have added fuel to the flames.
CURNOW: What's interesting about the conversation being had around the death of David Amess, the tragedy, you know, front and center, of course. But this was -- this was being called a terror attack by a Somalia national. That, in many ways, is -- is just part of the conversation.
There is the assessment that the risk is not just now about terror attacks. It is about a broader section of society. Like I said on the left, or on the right, internally, who are also threatening local politicians. This is not just about an ideology that is -- that is twisted.
THOMAS: No, it could be anybody.
THOMAS: It could be somebody who simply, you know, invokes an allegiance to a particular cause, but then we obviously find out that the -- that the real engagement of that cause is very limited, but it is something that has pushed somebody from being a passive observer to becoming radicalized or to taking action.
And of course, it does not have to be motivated by a particular ideology. We know historically that there have been histories of bombing politicians, some of them organized by -- by groups, by organizations, by paramilitary groups, and so on.
But we've moved here to the -- kind of the lone individual. And the lone individual, in many ways, is far less predictable, far more complicated to monitor, and -- and also can come up from anywhere.
And these particular meetings, these surgeries, these sort of variations of the U.S. town hall meeting that can take place in any context with no security there are, of course, now, I think, increasingly dangerous environments. And I don't see how they can go ahead without these politicians having some kind of protection during these meetings, or greater vetting of the constituents that come in and -- and meet with them.
CURNOW: And of course, that's not lost on anybody that he was stabbed and killed in a church.
Very good to see you. Thank you for your astute analysis, as always. Dominic Thomas, appreciate it.
THOMAS: Thank you, Robyn.
CURNOW: Still ahead, China's economy grew at its slowest pace in a year. Is the swift rebound beginning to lose steam? We'll talk about that next.
CURNOW: Welcome back. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton is now recovering at home after spending five days in a California hospital. He was treated for sepsis after a urinary tract infection spread to his bloodstream.
Clinton was seen walking out of the hospital on Sunday morning, along with his wife, former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. He gave a thumbs up when someone asked him how he was feeling.
Well, China's economy grew only 4.9 percent in the third quarter, its weakest expansion in a year. The country has been able to rebound from pandemic difficulties but seems to be losing steam amid a multitude of problems, including supply chain issues, COVID outbreaks, and an energy shortage.
Well, let's go straight to Kristie Lu Stout. Kristie's in Hong Kong, and she can break down all these numbers for us. And, of course, the reaction.
KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi Robyn.
Well, this was widely expected. As expected, China's latest GDP report is signaling a clear slowdown in economic growth. Today, China reported third quarter GDP growth of 4.9 percent, compared to the same period a year ago. And that is a sharp slowdown from 7.9 percent GDP growth that had posted in the previous quarter.
Look, China is confronting an array of economic challenges. There is weak consumer spending, due to those flare-ups of the Delta variant across the country.
There's also the ongoing energy crisis, which is worsened. This is caused because of the record high price of coal. China relies on coal for its energy needs. As a result, there have been widespread power outages that has forced China to ration electricity in some 20 provinces. It's also forced factories to suspend production. And that has led to a decrease in industrial output.
On top of that, China is confronted with yet another challenge. That's the Evergrande debt crisis. Evergrande is the Hong Kong listed property firm, China's most indebted property developer, saddled with $300 billion worth of debt, and concern about its fate has weighed on global markets.
It has also triggered fears about spillover contagion into the property sector in China, which comprises about 30 percent of China's GDP. Now, the head of today's third quarter GDP report, a number of analysts and economists across the region, revised downward their economic forecasts for China for the year, including Aiden Yao of Axa Investment Managers. Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AIDAN YAO, ECONOMIST, AXA INVESTMENT MANAGERS: I think the data suggests that, actually, multiple things are facing the Chinese economy at the moment, some of which are temporary. Some of them are probably more long-lasting. I think the key long-term challenge is the housing market crackdown.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STOUT: Now earlier today, we did hear from the spokesman of China's National Statistical Bureau, who said that he believed that China's property market will maintain steady growth.
Last week, we heard from the premier of China who said, yes, he acknowledged there were these economic challenges that China was facing right now. He said that China has the tools to cope with these challenges and believes that the country will be able to achieve the economic goals for the year.
Back to you, Robyn.
CURNOW: Thank you so much for that. Kristie Lu Stout, live in Hong Kong.
So coming up on CNN, days of rain have led to deadly floods and landslides in southern India. We'll have a live update from the CNN Weather Center on where the rain might let up.
CURNOW: Welcome back to all of our viewers around the world. I'm Robyn Curnow. You're watching CNN.
Rescue operations are underway in India after deadly flooding in the state of Kerala. At least 21 people have been killed after landslides were triggered by days of rain.
The Indian military is flying in emergency supplies and personnel to the hardest-hit areas.
Well, Pedram Javaheri is here for more on this. Pedram, hi. What more can you tell us?
Robyn, this is the fourth consecutive year we've seen this take place in this very state. The state of Kerala, certainly seen flooding from 2018 to 2019. Back again in August of 2020 and now in October 2021. Very similar setup, tremendous amount of rainfall, in a matter of just a couple of days.
Kind of culminating what has been a soggy monsoon season, which brings plenty of beneficial rain across this region. But, as we say, too much of a good thing quickly becomes a bad thing. And that is almost always the case across portions of the Indian subcontinent, and the latter portion of the summer months, into the autumn season here as the monsoons really pick up intensity.
And you kind of see the damage that has been left behind here. And the culprit, a storm system parked across portions of the Arabian Sea. Kind of enhanced that monsoon moisture. But it had already been firmly in place.
And the past area (ph), in the past 24 hours, show you the placement of the withdrawal of the monsoons, which typically take us through November, before they move out of the southern portion of India.
And certainly at this point, had lined up in place across portions of Kerala, where we saw the highest amount of rainfall in recent days.
Some models, some estimates putting as much as 200 to 300 millimeters of rainfall across this region, in a matter of just two to three days. And we know across this area of India, about 90 percent of our annual rainfall does come from monsoon season.
So we do expect heavy rainfall, but again, when you pick up a substantial amount in just two to three days, it leads to flooding. And unfortunately, models do suggest that another next couple of days have got round of rainfall still in the forecast. Generally, 60 to 80 percent chance. We don't expect the intensity to be quite as heavy as it had been for the last couple of days.
But, still, any additional rainfall here could be problematic. But let me show you what's happening a little farther toward the north and east. Because if you want to see significant rainfall, this area is as wet as it gets anywhere on our planet right now, with the amount of rains that are forecast in Bangladesh.
One of those areas we look at very carefully, because not only its population density, but also, along the coast of much of this nation, about 80 percent of it, in fact, sits in a floodplain, about nine meters above sea level. So very much prone to flooding.
When I talk to people about Bangladesh, it's as fascinating as a country as it gets, because of population density. A hundred and seventh million people in about 150,000 square kilometers of land. That's about half the population of the United States within an area the size of the small state of Iowa. So kind of puts it in perspective of what we're talking about.
You see significant weather here. A lot of people stand to be impacted, in a very small area. It is very densely populated, and again, rainfall, still, poised to continue over the next couple of days across this region before conditions improve. So moisture going to be prevalent, at least, through mid-week there, Robyn.
CURNOW: Pedram Javaheri, good to speak to you. Thanks so much.
So the winners have been announced for the first Earth Shot prize, an environmental protection award founded by the Duke of Cambridge and naturalist Sir David Attenborough.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended the awards on Sunday. Their five winners included Costa Rica, and the city of Milan, who were chosen out of 15 finalists.
Each winner will receive nearly $1.5 million and access to a global network of support to help make their ideas to save the environment a reality.
And space travel seems to be the hot new trend this season. Coming up, we'll talk with a veteran astronaut about the worldwide space race and whether he believes in aliens and flying saucers.
CURNOW: It's been a big week in outer space. On Wednesday, Captain Kirk, William Shatner, became the oldest person to fly to space, at 90 years old, aboard a Blue Origin spacecraft.
And another historic first for a Chinese astronaut, who's part of a three-member crew orbiting Earth for the next six months. Forty-one- year-old Wang Yaping is now the first woman on board the nation's space station. And soon, she will be the first Chinese woman to conduct a spacewalk, as well.
And retired U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly first went to space more than 20 years ago. Between 2015 and 2016, Kelly also spent a year aboard the International Space Station.
He's been at the Dubai 2020 Expo, and he spoke with CNN's Scott McLean about the latest science, living without gravity, and sending tourists to space.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I just wonder if you think that all of this focus that we have right now on space tourism and commercial flight is sort of detracting from the broader goals that humans have in space?
SCOTT KELLY, RETIRED NASA ASTRONAUT: I know it's cliche, but space is pretty big, and I think there's room for both. You know, I think, you know, governments can do the hard stuff: you know, go back to the moon, go to Mars.
Companies like, you know, SpaceX, Blue Origin, other -- maybe others that, you know, are just getting started can, you know, take over access to lower Earth orbit, and you know, build a space station. And then that, you know, frees up the resources for the governments to do the harder things.
MCLEAN: Should we be sending people to live on other planets?
KELLY: I would see someday people living on Mars. Now me, personally, having spent nearly a year in a module inside, would not want to spend the rest of my life on Mars. But I would certainly be willing to visit, as long as I had a pretty good chance of coming home.
MCLEAN: Even if it took you a year or two to get there?
KELLY: I can do two years, no problem.
MCLEAN: Russia is planning to start their own space station, China is doing its own thing. The Emeratis are sending a probe to Mars. Do you think that the era where everyone was sort of a big happy family of earthlings out in space, do you think that era has passed?
KELLY: No, I think we -- it still kind of exists on the International Space Station. I have spent 500, over 500 days in space with cosmonauts, Russian guys. You know, people that their government, their country, we sometimes don't get along with very well. Sometimes we get along with them better. But it never goes -- earthly political tensions never transmit to space.
Because what's important to us is, you know, supporting each other, being friends, helping each other with our jobs, and literally relying on each other for our lives.
MCLEAN: But if the Russians leave, you might not have that same kind of dynamic. With countries that maybe don't get along on Earth, up in space.
KELLY: I don't think they'll leave.
MCLEAN: You think that they're bluffing?
KELLY: Every few years they say they're going to leave, and so far they haven't.
MCLEAN: Do you think that the United States should be inviting China onto the International Space Station?
KELLY: That's a complex question.
KELLY: That's a political question. Because there's -- you know, our government has, you know, issues with human rights violations, you know, issues with, you know, technology transfer or -- So that's the challenge there.
MCLEAN: The government has similar issues with the Russians.
KELLY: Our government does.
KELLY: Yes. But --
MCLEAN: Alexei Navalny, Exhibit A.
KELLY: Yes, exactly. But I am not -- I don't work for the government, so it's not for me to decide.
MCLEAN: But just broadly speaking, though, wouldn't it be nice for sort of global cooperation, to have everyone on board and kind of put their Earth differences aside?
KELLY: I think it would be, yes. But that's not for me to decide.
MCLEAN: Got you. So if you were making the decisions, you'd invite the Chinese?
KELLY: I'm not saying that. I would have to look into it more and understand more the issues involved.
MCLEAN: Do you believe in UFOs?
KELLY: You mean like aliens, flying saucers, no.
MCLEAN: Why not?
Kelly: Because I don't believe in it. I think the distances are too great. The physics involved are, you know. The nearest earth-like planet, if we went as fast as we could, it would take 80,000 years to get there.
MCLEAN: So you haven't seen any piece of video that convinces you otherwise? Everything is explainable?
KELLY: When you're flying in space, when you're flying in an airplane, there are a lot of optical illusions. So I think -- I'm not saying that people, especially the military people, that claim to see something that doesn't make sense as far as their understanding of technology. I'm not doubting that that's where they think they saw.
But I'm very skeptical that that is some kind of alien spacecraft. I think it's a little outrageous, to be honest with you.
MCLEAN: Someone asked you on Twitter in January if you'd run for the U.S. Senate in Texas versus Ted Cruz, and you said maybe. Were you joking?
KELLY: Yes, I was joking.
MCLEAN: You're never running for the Senate?
KELLY: I was joking. My brother is the senator. That is not me. Sometimes confused with me, but he's the U.S. Senator from Arizona.
MCLEAN: But I just want to clarify, 100 percent, you will never run for U.S. Senate?
KELLY I will never say never on just about anything. MCLEAN: You might run for U.S. Senate in Texas?
KELLY: I'm not saying that.
MCLEAN: Should they take it down from your Wikipedia page?
KELLY: Someone should probably remove that from my Wiki -- Wikipedia page. Definitely not in 2024.
CURNOW: Thanks for watching CNN. I'm Robyn Curnow. I'll be back in 15 minutes' time.
CURNOW: Hi. Welcome to our viewers around the world. I'm Robyn Curnow. You're watching CNN. Just ahead, already struggling with --