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Migrant Boat Capsizes In English Channel, At Least 27 Dead; Germany Tops 100,000 Deaths And Sets New Daily Case Record; U.S. FDA Advisers To Discuss Merck's Antiviral COVID Pill; All Three Men Convicted Of Murder In Killing Of Ahmaud Arbery; Ethiopian Media: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Leading Troops From Front Line. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired November 25, 2021 - 00:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: And hello everyone. I'm Paula Newton.

Ahead right here on CNN NEWSROOM. The English channel's deadliest migrant tragedy renewing calls for France and the United Kingdom to put politics aside in the interest of saving lives.

Another day of record coronavirus cases in Germany, as that country leads a new surge ripping across Europe.

And relief for civil rights activists in the United States after three white men are found guilty of murdering an unarmed Black man.

It is believed to be the worst disaster involving migrants trying to cross the English Channel. At least 27 people including five women and a child died off the coast of Calais in Northern France Wednesday, after a boat trying to reach Britain capsize in frigid waters. Two migrants who survived are now being treated for hypothermia.

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson say they'll step up efforts to prevent migrants from making these dangerous crossings.

Now, the French Interior Minister had this to say about who bears the most blame.


GERALD DARMANIN, FRENCH INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): I want to say here that those primarily responsible for this despicable situation are the smugglers, that is to say criminals who for a few thousand euros organize human trafficking from Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, Asia.

And would then use these people to bring them to Belgium, the Netherlands, France, especially to cross the Channel and to go to Great Britain.


NEWTON: Now on Wednesday alone, hundreds of migrants attempted to cross the Channel. Have a look at this video right here, it's just one group casting off for England from a beach in France. You can see the overcrowding there.

President Macron says both countries share the responsibility of dealing with the migrant crisis and told Mr. Johnson in a phone call to stop politicizing it for domestic gain.

CNN's Nick Robertson reports now from London.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (on camera): Well, the fact that Boris Johnson chaired that Cobra meeting, that high- level Cabinet meeting so soon after the tragedy happened, really indicates the amount of political pressure he is under to solve the migrant crisis in the U.K.

In recent weeks, the numbers have spiked. British officials are not clear why. Just a couple of weeks ago, a thousand migrants approximately crossed in one day. That is a very big number for the U.K.

More than 25,000 have crossed so far this year. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking in the evening after that tragedy, spoke about trying to break the business model for the migrant smugglers.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: And it also shows how vital it is that we now step up our efforts to break the business model of the gangsters who are sending people to see in this way, and that's why it's so important that we accelerate if we possibly can all the measures contained in our borders and nationalities bills, so that we distinguish between people who come here legally, and people who come here illegally.


ROBERTSON: The prime minister also appear to accuse the French of not accepting help that the British have offered to help them on the beaches and whether -- and whether smugglers launched the vessels from, that was implicit in what he said has been under, as I say, a lot of pressure.

Just in the past week, he has announced a senior Cabinet member should oversee an effort across all government departments to see what can be done about migration.

And the Home Secretary speaking after the tragedy as well, said that she was looking at new plans -- a new government plans for emigration that would overhaul what she called a broken asylum system.

A lot of political pressure on this government deflecting some of it to the French authorities. Undoubtedly, this is an awful tragedy (INAUDIBLE) the end of a spike in migrants coming across the Channel to the U.K.

Nick Robertson, CNN, London.


NEWTON: And joining us now from Calais is Charles Whitbread. He is the founder of Mobile Refugee Support. And I want to thank you for joining us on what I know is incredibly difficult circumstances.

You know, advocates like you have been saying for some time that this tragedy was both predictable and preventable.


Explain to us the conditions on the ground right now with asylum seekers who could even at this hour be boarding some of those boats that we just saw to try and get to the U.K.

CHARLES WHITBREAD, FOUNDER, MOBILE REFUGEE SUPPORT: The conditions here in North France are absolutely awful. We have thousands and thousands of displaced people who are being forced to live in camps on the edge of the cities who are being pushed from place to place and really just being treated awfully. And really, it's a very hostile environment for anyone living in the area.

NEWTON: Do you know the circumstances around this specific incident in terms of how it happened? Or who was involved?

WHITBREAD: No, we, as humanitarian aid organizations are not actually concerned with this. Obviously, for us, really, this is an absolutely avoidable tragedy. I mean, the responsibility of this falls entirely on the French and British governments.

And yes, I mean, were people are able to move freely between France and the U.K., these are -- these deaths would've never happened.

NEWTON: What do you think should be done though? Just if we get into more detail about that, France and the U.K. before this tragedy were actually looking to harden their stand with asylum seekers.

WHITBREAD: Yes, -- that is -- that has been the stance from the U.K. and from the France now for many years. But the fact remains that the more the French and the British militarized their borders, the harder it will be for people to cross and the more people will risk their lives and the more they will have to resort to smugglers.

NEWTON: But the issue is neither government seems to think that the solution is freedom of movement, though, do you believe that would be the only thing that would help here?

WHITBREAD: I believe that freedom of movement is the only way that you will completely avoid these deaths. However, allowing people to have safe legal routes into the U.K., will of course -- of course, allow people to pass through without risking their lives. NEWTON: Now, the other piece of this, though, we have to say are the human smugglers, they prey on the desperation of these refugees, you know how calculated they are. What more do you think can be done to deter their actions?

WHITBREAD: Well, the fact remains that were these policies not in place, the smugglers would have no reason to be here. If people were able to move backwards and forwards, then people would not have to resort to the smugglers.

NEWTON: It seems simplistic to say that these would be the solution. So, you know, it's been more than a decade since I've covered what's going on in Calais, I'm sure the conditions are exactly the same as when I saw them more than a decade ago.

What do you think ultimately needs to be done, though, because there have been many governments in both France and the U.K. that have already tried to solve this problem before?

WHITBREAD: There has to be a reform of these policies, they have to have the change. It is the only way that this situation is going to change. Years have proved that the methods that they are employing do not work and that the situation will continue as it has done for, as you say, for decades.

Until these policies change, people will continue to risk their lives trying to cross this border.

NEWTON: As I said, it is entirely possible that people are risking their lives at this hour still to try and get from France into the U.K.

Charles Whitbread, thanks so much for being with us.

WHITBREAD: You're welcome.

NEWTON: And now to Europe's coronavirus surge, now the worst in the world and it shows no signs of slowing down. Europe just topped 100,000 total coronavirus deaths and it broke its daily case record for the second day in a row. It's a trend being seen in much of the continent.

Have a look at the map here. This is where things stand compared to the previous week, right, the head of the World Health Organization says more precautions are needed more than just vaccinations alone.


DR. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Last week, more than 60 percent of all reported cases and this is from COVID-19 globally, where once again in Europe.

The sheer number of cases is translating to unsustainable pressure on health systems and exhausted health workers.

In many countries and communities, we're concerned about a false sense of security that vaccines have ended the pandemic and that people who are vaccinated do not need to take any other precautions.


NEWTON: Now, more restrictions are being put in place to help stem this tide.

Barbie Nadeau has more for us now from Rome.


BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (on camera): Europe's COVID crisis is only getting worse causing many countries to once again waste stricter options to mitigate the spread.


NADEAU: Germany has set another daily record for COVID cases which has caused the government there to now require anyone who pulls a paycheck to be vaccinated have a negative COVID tests or prove recovery from the virus.

The new chancellor has also vowed to examine whether making vaccines mandatory which is already coming into effect in Austria in February worth doing in Germany.

Italy has also just brought in further restrictions on its Green Pass that will pressure even more people into getting a vaccine by no longer accepting a negative COVID test as one of the requirements to enter leisure venues.

Numbers are also rising in France, but the government there has said so far, they don't anticipate a new harsh lockdown, but aren't sure about further restrictions.

Elsewhere, countries that haven't been as badly hit this time around are bracing for what many feel is inevitable.

Barbie Nadeau, CNN, Rome.


NEWTON: Doctor Leana Wen is a CNN Medical Analyst and she joins us now from Baltimore.

We've just gone through what's going on in Europe incredibly alarming on so many levels. But one of the things that's been unsettling has been the waning immunity from people who are fully vaccinated.

Now, the European Center for Disease is finally recommending boosters for all adults. How important do you think those boosters are for all adults now? Knowing that they've already been approved in the United States.

LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: There is a lot of evidence for waning immunity, especially for symptomatic infection. And so, what this means is if you're fully vaccinated with two doses of Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and so forth, you are well protected against severe illness.

But that the immunity against symptomatic illness does decline over time, but it could be restored in full if you get an additional booster dose.

Now to be clear, from a public health standpoint, the people who are driving this pandemic are definitely the people who are remaining unvaccinated. Those are the individuals who are at the highest risk of getting sick themselves, spreading it to others.

However, we also know that immunity wanes and therefore getting boosters, increasing the depth of infection of protection, as well as increasing the breadth of protection, that's also important for preventing a further surge of COVID.

NEWTON: Yes, and in fact, in Europe, it is the countries that have lower rates of vaccination that are seeing the most problems.

Now, I want to go to another component, another, you know, weapon in this battle against the virus and that's the antivirals. Now, Merck's COVID antiviral pill, it shows promise, the FDA is looking at data right now deciding whether or not to authorize it.

I wanted to talk to you about the concerns that the pill could lead to the development of vaccine resistant mutations. How worried should we be about that?

WEN: Well, every treatment, every therapeutic that we have is about weighing the risks and benefits. And to be clear, there are some really substantial benefits of an anti-viral pill, because we know that some people are still going to get sick from COVID.

There are people who will remain unvaccinated and who could get severely ill. There are others who are vaccinated who might still have severe outcomes because of their underlying conditions.

So, having an oral treatment available is very important. And this Merck pill, according to their studies reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by 50 percent. So that's really good.

But there's also the concern that because what this pill does is it disrupts viral replication, there is a concern that it could introduce further mutations.

Now, Merck says that that's not the case. But this is the reason why in the U.S. we have a regulatory authority, the FDA that's going to review all the data from the company and hear from independent scientists and weigh in about the risks and benefits.

But to be clear, these types of treatments are really important because prevention and treatment have to go hand in hand.

NEWTON: You know, if I'm hearing you correctly, though, I mean, for so many months now, we've all been wanting that magic bullet, right? That when we do know that we're positive, we take a pill like this, and then we no longer have to worry. I think what you're saying is we're not quite there yet?

WEN: That's right. This is not a cure for COVID. There is no cure for COVID. What we hope for at the very best is for us to have an oral pill that we can take once we're diagnosed, once we find out that we have COVID to prevent us from then progressing to severe illness.

It looks like this Merck pill, also there's one from Pfizer, from some other companies too that are in development. It looks like they might be able to do this, but this is not a cure.

The best medicine ultimately is still prevention. The vaccines are more than 90 percent effective at preventing you from getting sick in the first place, getting the infection in the first place.

Also, a pill does not prevent you from spreading the infection. And the other thing about these pills is that they only work when given early in the course of your illness.

And so, early treatment hinges on early diagnosis. And we still have a big problem with availability of testing in many parts of the world, including here in the U.S., too.

NEWTON: Yes, and the testing does help a lot. I don't have a lot of time left Dr. Wen, but I know in your experience as a public health official, when people look at what's going on in Europe, and the fact that some are warning we could have increased cases in other parts of the world, including the United States in the next few weeks.


NEWTON: What do you do to try and mitigate the burnout, the stress that everybody feels because it is taking a toll on mental health?

WEN: I certainly understand that. So many of us have been through so much. And I think at this point, if you are fully vaccinated, and ideally, you've gotten your booster as well, I think it's very reasonable to resume many aspects of your pre-pandemic life, especially the things you most value like gathering with your friends and family once again and going traveling and even going to your favorite restaurant.

But what I would urge for people to do is continue to take precautions, including masking in indoor crowded public settings, when you might be surrounded by people of unknown vaccinations status. Wearing a high-quality mask, N95 -- KN95, KF94 also really essential in terms of protecting us.

And I think that's how we're going to get through this pandemic, resuming the things we really care about, but also using common sense protective measures that make a difference too.

NEWTON: Yes, all good advice. And I'll point out in almost two years Dr. Wen, your advice has not changed, you have been steadfast and so, we will continue to update to the situation especially when it comes to those new therapeutics. Doctor Wen, Happy Holidays to you in the days to come.

WEN: Thank you and to you too, Paula.

NEWTON: More foreigners are being urged to leave Ethiopia as a Civil War intensifies and now, report that the Prime Minister is on the frontlines.

Plus, celebrations outside of Georgia courthouse after a jury finds three men guilty of murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.


WANDA COOPER-JONES, MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: It's been a hard fight. But God is good.



NEWTON: The parents of a Ahmaud Arbery say justice has now been served. A jury in Southern Georgia has found three white men guilty of murder and other charges in the killing of the 25-year-old unarmed black man last year. And now, Arbery was just out for a jog when he was chased down, shot and killed.

CNN's Ryan Young has the latest from the courtroom as the verdicts were read.


JUDGE TIMOTHY WALMSLEY, SUPERIOR COUNT, STATE OF GEORGIA: Count one, malice murder. We the jury find the defendant Travis McMichael guilty.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Today a jury convicted Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

WALMSLEY: Count three, felony murder. We the jury find the defendant Greg McMichael guilty.

YOUNG: Travis McMichael was found guilty in all nine counts, his father Gregory McMichael was found not guilty on malice murder but was found guilty on all other eight counts. William Bryan was found guilty on six counts, including three felony murder charges.


YOUNG: Bryan was the man who took the video of the shooting. He was found not guilty of malice murder, one felony murder charge and aggravated assault with a firearm.

WALMSLEY: Find the defendant William R. Bryan guilty.

YOUNG: All three men left the courtroom today in handcuffs.

Arbery's mother sat in court when their guilty verdicts were read, visibly crying.

Outside the courthouse, she shared her gratitude.

COOPER-JONES: I thank each and every one of you who fought this fight with us. It's been a long fight. It's been a hard fight. But God is good.

Thank you for those who marched. Those who pray and most of all, the ones who prayed.


YOUNG: The jury made up of nine white women. Two white men and one Black men deliberated for more than 11 hours after eight days of testimony from 23 witnesses.

Earlier today, before reaching the verdicts, the jury asked to see the two video clips. One of them enhanced from the deadly February 2020 shooting.

They also asked to hear the 911 call that Gregory McMichael made the day Arbery was shot and killed.

GREGORY MCMICHAEL, ACCUSED OF MURDERING AHMAUD ARBERY: (INAUDIBLE) there's a black male running down the street.

YOUNG: During the trial, the three defendants had claimed they were trying to make a citizen's arrest of Arbery the day they jumped into a truck, chased Arbery and killed him.

They said they suspected Arbery had burglarized a nearby home construction site, referring to video Arbery wondering inside that home months before being killed.

JASON SHEFFIELD, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: They wanted to stop him for the police to detain him.

YOUNG: But the prosecution said Arbery was just out for a jog. He hadn't committed a crime and wasn't armed.

LINDA DUNIKOSKI, LEAD PROSECUTOR: Everybody in this case had a gun except Ahmaud Arbery.

YOUNG: Now, all three defendants are facing a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for their actions in the killing of Arbery.

COOPER-JONES: Now, Quez, which I -- which you know him as Ahmaud, I know him as Quez, he will now rest in peace.


YOUNG (on camera): One of the things that stood out to us Wednesday is while everyone was out front cheering, we saw each of the men who was found guilty being walked in handcuffs to separate cars to go back to jail.

We believe the federal government is also going to file charges against them and all three men, their defense attorneys plan to file appeals before another family who's been fighting for so long for justice, they feel like they finally got it on this day.

Ryan Young, CNN, Brunswick, Georgia.

NEWTON: To Germany now, their prospective next Chancellor says the "traffic light is ready to move the country forward safely and smoothly."

Now, that's the message from Olaf Scholz after three major parties cut a deal to form a new government. Now, his socialists will be joined by the Greens and the Free Democrats.

You know, they've been dubbed the traffic light coalition because the party's traditional colors are red, yellow and green. Their platform includes phasing out coal by 2030. And they are considering a COVID vaccine mandate as Germany battles a record coronavirus surge.

Scholz says this coalition is in fact the country's best bet.


OLAF SCHOLZ, PROSPECTIVE GERMAN CHANCELLOR: Today, we cannot imagine a country without the traffic light as a symbol of providing clear structure for providing a clear orientation and for making it possible for people to move forwards quickly and safely.

My aspiration as Chancellor is to make sure that this traffic light coalition can play a similarly groundbreaking role in Germany.


NEWTON: Now, if the coalition deal is confirmed, it would end the 16- year tenure of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Now, Sweden's first female prime minister says she still wants the job despite resigning on her first day. Social Democrat Magdalena Andersson stepped aside after the Green Party pulled out of their coalition. Andersson says she wants to lead a single party government.

54-year-old mother of two has served as Finance Minister for the past seven years. Sweden's Parliament Speaker is expected to put Andersson forward for a new vote.

Now, according to state affiliated media, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is now directing troops on the frontline of the country's civil war but no new footage, this is key supporting that claim has been released, only older images.

Meanwhile, Britain is the latest Western power to advise its citizens to evacuate while commercial flights are still operating.

CNN's Larry Madowo picks up the story from there. LARRY MADOWO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ethiopian states T.V. drumming up support for the Prime Minister's move to the battlefront. A Nobel Peace Prize winner now leading the war against the rebel coalition that wants him out of office.

The Tigray People's Liberation Front, TPLF claims to have captured two towns as they advance towards the capital Addis Ababa. One year after the conflict erupted in the north of the country.

The Prime Minister asking Ethiopians to join him at the waterfront.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Every Ethiopian from all social groups should respond to the call from the Prime Minister and join the fight.

MADOWO: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called his decision to go to the battlefront as the final fights to save Ethiopia from internal and external enemies.

He has previously asked citizens to take up arms to defend their neighborhoods and has used inflammatory language while rallying supporters to fight.

55-year-old Guita Chima Gafsa (PH) patrols Addis Ababa, and is among thousands who have joined defense groups to protect the capital from the TPLF. A construction worker by day and a self-styled vigilante by night.

I am now safeguarding my city with a stick but if it is required, they give me a weapon, I'll do the same. There is no way that the TPLF will be able to relief (PH) Ethiopia again.

MADOWO: Even athletics legend Haile Gebrselassie appeared on state media supporting Abiy's call to arms.

HAILE GEBRSELASSIE, ETHIOPIAN ATHLETICS LEGEND: This is what's expected of a real leader. And when he leads, we need to follow to the front and work from behind, preparing everything that it requires.

MADOWO: As the prospect of a military escalation hangs over Ethiopia, Germany, the U.K., France and the U.S. have all asked the citizens to leave the country.

A leader who came to power under the banner of Medemer, a term that means coming together in Amharic, now overseeing a country at risk of falling apart.

ABIY AHMED, ETHIOPIAN PRIME MINISTER: The world knows that Ethiopia is a country of great heroes that have shattered their bones, spilled their blood and paid with their lives to establish, keep and passover independence.

MADOWO: The top of U.S. envoy to the region said both sides feel they're on the verge of victory. Complicating diplomatic efforts at a negotiated ceasefire.

Neighbor has turned against neighboring Ethiopia, and the government has promoted anti-Western sentiment in the last ditch effort to reclaim the country.

Larry Madowo, CNN, Nairobi.


NEWTON: The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv is warning of unusual military activity along Russia's border with Ukraine and in Crimea, it says security conditions could change without notice.

Satellite images appear to show Russia gathering close to 100,000 troops along with tanks and military hardware in the region.

Now, meantime, Ukraine is launching a so called special operation along its border with Belarus. It's aimed at preventing a migrant crisis similar to the one that erupted between Belarus and Poland.

Still to come here on CNN NEWSROOM, China fights to control the narrative repeatedly blocking scenes coverage of the sexual assault allegations raised by tennis star Peng Shuai.




Protesters in the Solomon Islands are defying a lockdown to demand the resignation of the prime minister. Now, they set fire to buildings in the capital for a second day.

Media reports say protesters from Malaita province came to the capital, because they felt overlooked by the national government. Now, a citizen's petition filed in August called for the government to respect the rights of self-determination of the Malaita people, to limit their ties with China, and to resume development projects in that province.

Now, CNN continues -- moving on to Asia now, CNN continues to cover the story of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. Our coverage is being censored in China every step of the way.

Peng disappeared from the public eye for more than two weeks after allegedly saying she was sexually assaulted by one of China's most senior communist leaders.

CNN's Will Ripley has our story.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You can see that as soon as you started talking about this story, Erin, it went to color bars. (voice-over): When China's communist rulers don't like the message --

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This broadcast is not being aired in China. It's being censored.

RIPLEY: -- they silence the messenger.

(on camera): They have an army of censors waiting to push that button.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: They don't want the people there to see it.

RIPLEY (voice-over): CNN coverage of tennis star Peng Shuai blocked inside China.

JENNIFER HSU, RESEARCH FELLOW, LOWY INSTITUTE: It really tries to control the story, control the narrative.

RIPLEY: Controlling the narrative means scrubbing social media. Peng's explosive post on November 2, accusing a retired Chinese leader of sexual assault, erased within 30 minutes.

Look for the story on China's leading search engine, you get this message: "Sorry, no relevant results found."

This scandal, so politically sensitive, a high-profile state propagandist referred to it on Twitter as "the thing people talked about."

Inside China, state media staying silent. No mention in the mainland's TV or digital media. Outside, those news outlets eagerly tweeting updates and images of Peng, in English, on a platform not blocked in their own country. An irony not lost millions following the story outside China, some even mocking the state media tweets.

Peng is seen smiling, but not talking, at a tennis tournament; having dinner with friends and a Chinese sports official, who just so happens to mention the exact date several times.

CNN has no way to independently verify these videos, or this email, supposedly from Peng to the head of the Women's Tennis Association last week, claiming everything is fine. A computer cursor visible in this apparent screenshot.

The head of the WTA telling "OUT FRONT" he's not convinced.

STEVE SIMON, CHAIRMAN & CEO, WOMEN'S TENNIS ASSOCIATION: I'm just struggling to agree to that, and don't believe that's the truth at all.

RIPLEY: The WTA demanding direct, uncensored communication with Peng, the organization's repeated calls and messages to the tennis star unanswered.

HSU: China is well-known for coercing statements to show that everything is fine. RIPLEY: China's narrative bolstered by the International Olympic

Committee. The IOC handed out this single image of a video call Sunday, along with a statement summarizing the call, claiming Peng it is "safe and well," totally ignoring her painfully detailed allegation of sexual assault.

With billions of dollars in ad revenue on the line, critics call the IOC complicit in China's apparent silencing of a three-time Olympian, who many fear is being held under duress; censored by China's authoritarian government, which blames hostile forces for politicizing the issue.

When CNN goes to the next story, our signal returns.

As China waits for the news cycle to move on, the pressure keeps growing. The world keeps demanding answers.


NEWTON: And Will Ripley joins me now live from Hong Kong.

Will, good to see you, as this story continues to create controversy. I'm really glad that in your report you pointed out the fact that, look, while inside China, the censorship is doing what it normally does, outside, outwardly, China is really making a point to put their opinion of the story, and try and put out their line.

Having said that, what do you think is motivating that? Is it solely the Olympics? Because you and I both know, China has been much more vocal and strident in the last few years, in terms of getting their opinion out there. Is it really solely the Olympics that they're so sensitive about right now?


RIPLEY: Well, certainly, the Olympics are a huge concern, and an immediate concern, because of the fact that there's not only money on the line, but prestige, and some sort of Olympic boycott, and there are growing calls for that, Paula. As well, would be highly damaging and embarrassing for Beijing, which is trying to put on the best possible show as they can, and also trying to avoid any sort of controversy, which includes keeping journalists and everybody who's coming in for the Olympics in a hermetically-sealed bubble. Which also continually keeps them away from interacting with anybody in the general public, or causing any trouble.

Because they are literally escorted from point A to point A, and cannot leave that, because of the pandemic protocols in place and that zero COVID strategy inside China.

But in terms of why they are using the outside media, notably, platforms that are blocked inside China, like Twitter, to put the message out there.

It's really this kind of -- this dual-prong strategy of this authoritarian government. Inside the country, they ignore the story. They erase the story from the Internet, which they have a huge amount of control over.

But in countries with free and open Internet like democracies, they are very active on social media, not just Twitter but Facebook. In this case, they're doing it to try to push the Chinese government's narrative out there.

They've also been accused of engaging in disinformation campaigns against democracies like the United States, Taiwan, Australia, the European union countries and others, where they put in these stories that are actually intentionally meant to sow seeds of unrest and distrust in those democratically-elected governments. And put pro- China stories into the mix, as well.

NEWTON: Yes, as we continue to follow that, obviously, many still worried about Peng Shuai, her whereabouts daily, and of course, those allegations that still are unresolved.

Will, thanks for the update on the story; appreciate it.

Now, Latin America's recent elections point to an authoritarian trend. Coming up, a look at what it may mean for democracy in the region.


NEWTON: The head of the European Union's observer mission said Venezuela's elections last weekend were held in better conditions than previous races, but she declined to say whether the vote was free and fair. That lackluster assessment underscores the status of representative government in Latin America, in fact.

Matt Rivers explains.


MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you are a fan of democracy, November has been a very bad month in Latin America. The latest example, Venezuela, which held local and regional elections on Sunday.

President Nicolas Maduro claiming victory for his party, which won 21 of 24 state governorships. He says the result is "because of our hard work, and our honesty."

Critics, though, said the outcome is already determined. The vote can't be trusted, they say, in a country where Maduro controls state institutions. Allegations of coerced voting and violence against opposition members during yesterday's vote have already surfaced.


And then, there's Nicaragua, where on November 7, President Daniel Ortega won another term, in what can only be described as sham elections.

His regime unleashed a campaign of political terror back in June, arresting any prominent would-be opposition candidates and tossing them in jail.

"Those in jail are sons of (EXPLETIVE DELETED) of the imperialist Yankees," he says. "They're no longer Nicaraguans."

We even tried to get into Nicaragua ourselves, to see what was happening there, but authorities deported my team and me after just a few hours.

In his victory speech, Ortega spoke about journalists like us: "These scoundrels want to come cover the elections? We already know they're employees of the American intelligence agencies."

So, Ortega wins a fourth consecutive term, and Nicaraguan democracy is on life support.

(on camera): But it's not just those three countries that are having problems. This is a map from Freedom House, a pro-democracy research group. And each country is given a score that measures its liberal democracy. Green means an improving score, and as you can see, there's not a lot of green on this map.

From 2019 to 2020, nearly every country in Latin America and the Caribbean either became less free or stayed the same. There are signs of creeping anti-democratic norms all over the place.

(voice-over): Like in Latin America's largest country, Brazil, led by right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro, who, earlier this year, reminded many of the country's dark days of military dictatorship. He'd approved a military parade on the same day that lawmakers were voting on a controversial change to the country's voting laws. The law didn't pass, but Bolsonaro has since suggested he won't respect next year's election results.

"From what I see," he says, "I will not accept any election results that do not declare me the winner. My mind is made up."

A dictatorial declaration, the kind of language some say is also coming from another country, El Salvador. Currently run by "world's coolest dictator," Nayib Bukele. Not my words, of course. He wrote that himself on his Twitter bio earlier this year.

The millennial president might have been joking, but his attacks on democratic institutions and the opposition are no laughing matter and have some concerned that he could be Central America's next strongman.

What's happening in these places might not stay there.

DAVID ALTMAN, PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF CHILE: There is a threat of contagion, of diffusion, of these authoritarian trends.

RIVERS: Across 18 Latin American countries, only 49 percent of people said democracy is the best form of government, according to a late 2020 poll by Latinobarometro.

MARTA LAGOS, FOUNDER, LATINOBAROMETRO: For the next four years, yes, you might get very worried, because things can get way worse. You know, we will have all these monsters that will appear here and there.

RIVERS (on camera): But Marta Lagos also told me that she's actually really hopeful about democracy in Latin America, that so many people actually still support democracy, even after all of the corruption and economic hardship, and even violence that so many countries in this region have dealt with recently.

As one expert told me, where it's bad, it's really bad. But with thriving democracies in places like Costa Rica and Uruguay, if you are a fan of democracy, he says there is still a lot of hope to be had.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.


NEWTON: I'm Paula Newton, and I will be back to the top of the hour with more CNN NEWSROOM. WORLD SPORT is next.