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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Interview with Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska; Election Deniers Storm Brazil's Capital; China's Head-Spinning Moves To Revive Its Economy. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired January 15, 2023 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Today on the program, the first lady of Ukraine. I talk to Olena Zelenska about that frequently forgotten side of war, the human toll.

How are Ukrainians dealing with the destruction of their cities and towns? How are they fighting winter's cold as the country struggles to pump out heat? And can they ever return to life as normal?

Also, Brazil's January 8th and its stunning similarities to America's January 6th. We dig into the attack on the capitol in Brasilia with reporter Mac Margolis.

And after California continued to be pummeled this week by rivers of rain, we'll explore the astronomical cost of climate change and wild weather that is already upon us.


ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. This week, at a summit with his Canadian and Mexican counterpart, President Biden said that the Western hemisphere was experiencing unprecedented levels of migration, greater than at any time in history.

This is not hyperbole. There were 2.4 million apprehensions at America's southwestern border last fiscal year, which is about 600,000 higher than the prior year, the previous high. These numbers are likely to get worse over time, and not just in America.

The Western world faces a perfect storm regarding migration. Climate change is making equatorial regions far more prone to drought and disease, making farming and living there much more dangerous. Poverty and political instability in these regions persist, and post pandemic problems have festered, so people move toward the richer and more temperate north -- Europe and America. But the scale of migration is creating problems both of politics and

policy. The politics is obvious. Right-wing populism from Sweden to the United States to Italy is almost always linked with fears of uncontrolled immigration. It's an issue that fuels associated anxieties about culture, religion and race. If Western leaders cannot properly address immigration, Western politics will continue to be consumed with populism for a long time to come.

The policy part is equally important. The waves of migration we are watching now are making a mockery of the system of asylum that has come into being over the last decades. After World War II and in the wake of the Holocaust, countries vowed to welcome people who had legitimate fears for their lives. A body of international law developed that gave asylum seekers certain rights.

In recent years, however, millions of people have arrived at borders claiming asylum. While some of them might be genuinely victims of targeted persecution, most appear to be economic migrants, searching for a better life, fleeing poverty and disease. Some are victims of violence and gang warfare. But the same was surely true of earlier waves of immigrants from southern Italy or Ireland.

For people seeking to come to the U.S. or France, it's only rational to cross the border however they can and then claim asylum since they are more likely to be allowed in and have a chance to stay. But these new waves have collapsed the distinction between asylum seekers and regular economic migrants.

President Biden deserves credit for making an important effort to address the problem. His recently released plan tries not to reward illegally border crossing and simultaneously expands an existing parole program to include Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua, in addition to Venezuela. He's been criticized from both the left and the right. In this particular case at least this is a sign he's doing something right.

In December, Rishi Sunak, the son of immigrants, announced a new policy for Britain that more directly acknowledges that the current asylum system is broken.


Emmanuel Macron has also proposed some measures that try to manage migration into France along similar lines.

The politics of immigration is treacherous. The American right has become almost completely opposed to immigration. Having moved more sharply on this issue than any other that I can recall. There was a time that Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of the Republican Party, spoke glowingly about immigration and offered a massive amnesty to many of those living in the country illegally.

These days, 70 percent of Republicans think high rates of immigration pose a critical threat to America. Only 18 percent of Democrats share that view. It's not clear that Republicans want any solution to the migrant crisis since leaving it to fester creates problems that they can then blame on Biden. To some extent, this strategy is already working. A majority of Americans now believe that what is happening at the southern border could be characterized as an invasion.

The Democratic Party remains committed to immigration and immigrants, but it does not make enough of a distinction between immigrants who come into the country following laws and those who come in by crossing the border illegally. Everyone should be treated humanely. But those who follow the law and those who break it cannot be treated alike. The truth is that most Western countries need more immigrants.

Even though the Federal Reserve is trying to slow the economy down, the U.S. unemployment rate is at a 50-year low. By some estimates, Germany needs an additional 400,000 immigrant workers annually. A recent study by economists found that immigrants account for about 36 percent of the innovation in America.

But a pro-immigration policy is impossible if people believe that their countries are being overrun by lawless invaders, human trafficking, and chaos. In order to open the door to a new era of immigration, we will have to close it on the current mess.

Go to for a link to my "Washington Post" column this week. And let's get started.

Most of the headlines you see on the war in Ukraine are about a battle for a particular town, an additional aid package from a Western country, or another round of missile strikes. Those are all important, but they miss the humanity, the fact there are human beings living in those towns receiving that aid, being killed by those missile strikes. They're people with names and faces, mothers and fasters, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.

I can think of no one better to talk about the human impact of this horrible war than the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska. She joins me now exclusively from Kyiv.

Madame First Lady, welcome.

OLENA ZELENSKA, FIRST LADY OF UKRAINE (through translator): Hello. It's great to see you on the screen.

ZAKARIA: When we first met in Kyiv many years ago, it did not seem that you would be, in a sense, a kind of wartime first lady. How much has your life changed with this war? Are you -- are you able to function in any way normally?

ZELENSKA (through translator): That's a tough question. The very issue of normality is a global philosophical question. It depends on your definition of normality because our life cannot be considered normal today. If you compare what we had a year ago and what we have today in Ukraine, in the first months, we were shocked. We could not believe that such an aggression is possible. It is absolutely illogical. And it was inconceivable that it can happen in the center of Europe.

Now people are trying to go on living, working, having their children go to school. Sometimes they even make jokes and not only are they trying to survive, but live a meaningful life. All people in Ukraine are subject from time to time to Russia's missile attacks. People can now tell between the sound of a drone in the sky and the enemy's missiles.


Our children have grown up too soon and you can see a lot of young children whose eyes are those of the adult. And it worries me immensely. But in spite of everything, we are trying to be optimistic. People are getting adjusted to the new conditions, and today people have got accustomed to those electricity cuts and they find new opportunities in that. And when at 3:00 a.m. electricity appears, then life emerges anew and people start their washing machines and their coffee machines.

And there are a lot of people who have learned how to cook with no electricity, even having electric cookers. So this is a huge impact that the war has had on us, also has taught us a lot. And we are trying to preserve some sort of normality today.

ZAKARIA: When you look at the way the Russians have waged this war in places like Mariupol, where there are some estimates that one out of every four residents of that city were killed. When you look at the bombing of civilian areas, the bombing of power plants to make people lose access to heat and electricity, it seems that it is an effort to break the will of the civilian population. And it takes us back to really kind of World War II days.

Do you worry that it could succeed that just the sheer devastation of the Russian assault could break the back in some of these cities and some of these communities?

ZELENSKA (through translator): Of course that's exactly what they are trying to do. I don't think they will succeed and we understand that upon carrying on for a year, we are capable of persevering for even longer. We can endure it, but you are right in that this terrorism aims to intimidate people. Quite recently, say three days ago, there was yet another shelling of a civilian community, and the projectiles hit an open-air market with a lot of people.

And it was a sheer act of terrorism that cannot be either explained or justified. And one of the purposes that they have is to destroy the infrastructure of this country, for people to be exhausted, for people to raise their voice and say, we are sick and tired of this war, let us negotiate. Let us bring this war to the end. But they failed in this purpose.

ZAKARIA: Stay with us. Next on GPS, more of my interview with Ukraine's first lady. She's talked a lot about the children of Ukraine. I asked her about how her own children are dealing with the war, when we come back.


[10:18:09] ZAKARIA: And we are back here on GPS for more of my exclusive interview with Ukraine's first lady, Olena Zelenska. She joins me from Kyiv.

With so many men fighting now, or supporting the war effort in some way, a lot of Ukrainian women have stepped up and taken roles that perhaps they would not have taken before the war. Tell us a little bit about what you have seen about the women of Ukraine and how they have responded to this war.

ZELENSKA (through translator): You know, women have taken the brunt of this war in terms of ensuring that their families are OK, that their children are OK, that their children are safe. Mothers and grandmothers have stepped in (INAUDIBLE). Several millions of our women and children have fled from the war abroad. There are a lot of internal displaced people. More than five million Ukrainians have fled their homes and now reside in other regions of Ukraine. It is very unusual. It is not normal, and people have to endure that as well.

I would not actually single out women as a part of the population. They do what is needed. So we protect each other, we support each other. And we hope that most of the families will be able to be reunite. I would not be wrong if I say that more than half of our families are divided or separated.


There are some families where members of families are in occupation whereas other relatives are in areas of Ukraine and they have no way of knowing what happened to those under the occupation, and they are not sure whether their relatives are still alive, and they are full of hopes that they are. I can't even define this expectations, this hope.

ZAKARIA: You've talked, Madame First Lady, about the special needs of children in this situation. And I was wondering, you have little children yourself. How have they dealt with this? What have you told them that when the war started, they didn't see their father for months, even now. Do they understand it? Do they have to grow up very fast?

ZELENSKA (through translator): You know, all children in Ukraine understand what's going on, including mine. You cannot conceal anything from them. And we are not trying to do so because they live in the same information phase as all of us.

In our family they are trying to cope some normal life. Mother works, children study, and that supports us, because study is a purpose of their life. That's what keeps your life together, just something that does not allow you to get desperate.

I've tried to cuddle my children to calm them, to reassure them. But children should live a well-organized, well-structured life, and I'm trying to bring in this order into their lives. Understand that sooner or later, everyone stops thinking that they do not know what's going on and what will happen tomorrow, and whether they should put a lot of effort into, say, university studies, studies at school. But we should not be -- we should not give up because we know that

Ukraine, after the war, will need educators, young people that would be restoring our country and restoring normality in the country and in our town.

ZAKARIA: When I've talked to your husband about your relationship, he has always emphasized how important it has been for him, and how it was very hard in the beginning when you didn't see each other. Do you now have the ability to live a slightly more normal life where you see your husband, you know, on a regular basis, even daily?

ZELENSKA (through translator): I can't see him daily, as is the case with many other Ukrainian families. When I come to the office, I can come to see him. In his office today, we had lunch together with some of the families. It matters when children have got this opportunity, not often enough unfortunately. Sometimes you say it's cool when your husband is a president, you can see him on the TV screen and you can make sure that everything is OK with him.

But we do miss one another, and the family, and I do miss my husband, and we hope to be together again to have our usual family evenings when you do not have to look at the watch every minute, and you know that you've got all the time in the world, that you can discuss, stay with children as long as they want, not as long as you are allocated. These are huge trials, but I think we are going through them in a dignified manner.


ZAKARIA: Madame First Lady, you know, I know how valuable your time is, and you're very kind to spend a little bit of it with us. I hope I will see you again soon in person.

ZELENSKA (through translator): It was my great pleasure.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, in an eerie echo of the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, Brazil's key political offices were stormed by protesters on January 8th. We will explore why it happened and what it may mean for that country's newly elected president, when we come back.


ZAKARIA: A week ago on January 8th, a mob in Brazil's capital Brasilia stormed the Congress building, the Supreme Court, and the presidential palace. The images are reminiscent of those that emerged from the attack on the U.S. Capitol two years ago on January 6th.


The protesters in Brazil, like their American counterparts, believed the recent presidential election had been stolen. They were supporters of the right-wing populist former president Jair Bolsonaro, who lost in the October election to leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. So what happens next for Latin America's biggest democracy? Joining me now is Mac Margolis. He spent four decades reporting on Brazil and the rest of Latin America. Today he is a contributing global opinion columnist for "The Washington Post." Welcome back.

First, give us a sense of how much this does follow the Trump playbook, that is to what extent was this -- were these protests and violence the outcome of a process of denying the election victory and ginning up a certain kind of anger and enthusiasm with the idea of actually somehow changing the outcome?

MAC MARGOLIS, CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Well, this was basically copy and paste. Bolsonaro, the outgoing president, was very fond, almost fawningly so of Donald Trump, and spent a lot of time observing him and watching the way he ran the White House. And Bolsonaro has basically followed that lead.

The protesters basically said that, as you mentioned, they believe the election was rigged. Therefore, stolen, and they won't accept it and they wanted intervention, preferably military intervention to reverse the situation.

ZAKARIA: I want to ask you about the feelings that this election was rigged. Was some of it furthered by the fact that Brazil has completely electronic voting? I remember when it was unveiled, it was seen as this great leap forward. Brazil was becoming even more high tech than most western democracies.

As far as I can tell, it works very well. But you can imagine that it can easily be used to kind of create conspiracy theories or fuel them.

MARGOLIS: Exactly. Brazil, as you mentioned, is incredibly wired. There is a smartphone for every Brazilian, maybe more. They are constantly online, and they are quite taken with social media. And so a rumor spreads very quickly.

You know, couple this with the discredit that exists of conventional media, and you have -- and Bolsonaro I have to say was a master at orchestrating discontent. His campaign, if you recall, four years ago he rose not on conventional media at all but on Facebook lives, and Twitter and such. And that has been the case ever since.

So it wasn't a hard leap, really, for him to suggest that the electronic box that people deposit their votes was somehow suspect, because there's no paper, right? There's no way he said to audit the votes. That was easily disproven.

The -- Brazil has been voting electronically for about 20 years or more, and there hasn't been a hitch in the losers except for in very rare occasions of -- not made peep at all about that outcome. Bolsonaro really played this up.

ZAKARIA: When you look around Latin America, what is striking is the level of public discontent. If you look at the kind of people who get elected in Colombia, former radicals associated with terrorist groups. In Chile, you know, leftists. If you look at the violence in Peru, which has had its own version of this, except in that case, it was kind of left-wing populists. Put it in context, what does this -- what does this tell you?

MARGOLIS: This is -- this is an ongoing drama, and I think people are -- everywhere are trying to figure this out. The easiest conclusion is that Latin America swings back and forth, ideologically from right to left. That the new crop of governments that have come in tend to the left, but in fact I think that misses the point.

This is not a new pink tide that we have seen before. This is really an anti-incumbent fury of a populist that is tired of the political class. The political class is discredited across the region -- across the world, I suppose. But they're looked at particularly in a bad light in Brazil and in other countries.


So it doesn't take long for a president to win to then turn into public enemy.

ZAKARIA: Mac Margolis, always a pleasure to have you on.

MARGOLIS: Thank you very much.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, Xi Jinping has surprised the world lately, ending COVID restrictions suddenly, and then taking some unexpected steps to revive China's economy. Markets are cheering, but should they? We'll discuss after the break.


ZAKARIA: It's fair to say China's strict zero-COVID policy tanked that country's economy. And as China emerges from lockdown, it needs to restart its economy. To do just that, President Xi Jinping appears to be reverting to an old playbook that he had tried to get away from. What does this mean for China's future and for the world? Joining me now is Lingling Wei.


She the chief China correspondent for the "Wall Street Journal." Welcome, Ms. Wei. First, I've got to ask you, because you've reported so well on this, what is your sense of why Xi Jinping so abruptly and dramatically ended the zero-COVID policy? Because it happened just so much faster and so much more completely than anyone expected.

LINGLING WEI, CHIEF CHINA CORRESPONDENT, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Sure, it's great to be here, Fareed. That's a great question. The very abrupt and unprepared U-turn on a policy that had been in effect for three years was largely driven by the mere fact that zero-COVID no longer worked.

The virus infections were getting out of control. And on top of that, we have seen over the past months a very unprecedented way of protests breaking out all over China, and urgent pleas from local governments basically telling Xi Jinping that, you know, local governments are running out of money, because of, you know, all the requirements imposed on activities, et cetera. So all those reasons combined that triggered Xi Jinping's very sudden decision to abandon zero-COVID all together.

ZAKARIA: You reported on how Foxconn, this huge producer, manufacturer who makes the iPhones in China, sent a letter up to the Chinese communist party saying, you guys, if you don't end this policy we are going to -- China is going to lose its credibility as a key supplier in the global supply chain, and that this seemed to have an impact.

So I guess the big question is, because everybody has been wondering, is Xi Jinping, like the old communist party, technocrats, willing to adjust based on new data, based on information, or has he become more like Mao, a kind of emperor who does not change? It feels to me like your reporting is saying that finally there seems to be some course correction taking place in Beijing.

WEI: There has been quite a big difference under Xi Jinping's leadership as compared to previous Chinese leadership. So, what is notable throughout this recent, you know, process of abandoning zero- COVID is that there has been no active policy debate over how to get out of this policy. Everybody was waiting to hear what the top guy had to say.

And in terms of the course correction, I think the jury is still out. Because, you know, he definitely has unwind some of the policies he has implemented over the past few years from, you know, the private sector crackdown, the property sector, you know, crackdown to the most recently zero-COVID, in a bid to rescue the economy from collapsing.

However, you know, public sentiment, private sector sentiment has already been badly battered by the policies of the last few years. And, you know, based on our conversations with private entrepreneurs in China, you know, talk is cheap these days. They want to see more concrete action. You know, will the government start fostering a new generation of Jack Mas? Will the government, you know, really start to embrace private tech sector again?

ZAKARIA: And that's where I want to go because, you know, there have been -- as you say, there has been a lot of different talk. You have communist party officials saying the attack on big tech is over. There are others saying, you know, we want people to start buying houses again.

What a lot of people are wondering is, is the Chinese government now just trying to get growth at any cost, or is it genuinely now in favor of using the private sector and celebrating and encouraging the private sector?

WEI: Well, what we have seen so far are really big efforts, right, trying to get the economy going again. As you said, you know, getting growth at all cost. But we haven't seen any generating signs of a fundamental course correction, empowering the consumers, empowering the private sector, lessen the role played by the state sector in the economy. We haven't seen any of that. Now, under Xi Jinping, for him, the very big objective, policy objective, is to really fortify China's economy, you know, as China engages in this greater competition with the United States.


So the policies we have seen over the past few years really have been aimed at doubling down the role of the state, the role of the government in running the economy. You know, so for the long run, yes, we might see some, you know, rebound in economic activities in the coming months. But a lot of long-time structure issues haven't been resolved.

ZAKARIA: Does the government seem willing to spend in order to get the economy moving?

WEI: Yes, Fareed. That's basically the old playbook, right, for Beijing. When things go bad, they relied on state-led banks, state-led construction firms, state-led engineering firms. You know, restart spending big ticket infrastructure spending again. However, I would just add that, you know, the room for that kind of stimulus is also getting much narrower these days than say 10 or 15 years before -- or 15 year ago because, you know, China's government, especially local governments, already have been too indebted and also the return from that kind of investment is also diminishing.

ZAKARIA: Lingling Wei, pleasure to have you on.

WEI: Thank you very much for having me.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, the wild weather in California. Events like this are dangerous, disruptive, and very expensive. I'll dig into the staggering costs of climate change when we come back.



ZAKARIA: And now for the last look. Until just a few weeks ago, the biggest weather story in California was the state's years-long drought. Reservoirs had been drained close to empty. Crops were devastated, and officials were asking residents to conserve water in all kinds of ways.

Today, California has the opposite issue. Too much water. In a matter of days, a series of brutal storms rocked the state, dropping more than a dozen inches of rain in places. San Francisco has clocked its third wettest 15-day period in recorded history. And the rain hasn't stopped.

Now, that sounds like good news, and in some sense of course it is but there is a problem. The damage in the Golden State from this outbreak of H2O looks like it may cost more than $1 billion. And these destructive storms are not just happening in California. The state's chaotic start to the new year continues a broader trend of costly weather events in recent years. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration documented 18 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2022. These events resulted in the deaths of at least 474 people and caused more than $165 billion in total damages. And these billion- dollar events are now happening more frequently in the United States, too. Around every 18 days, compared with every 82 days in the 1980s.

Two events in 2022 in particular stood out for the sheer scale and cost of their destruction. In mid-September, Hurricane Fiona crashed into Puerto Rico bringing with it 30 inches of rain, widespread blackouts and further damage to the territory's infrastructure already reeling from being hit by Hurricane Maria in 2017 which caused more than $100 billion in damage.

Also in September, Hurricane Ian, the most intense storm of the season, was also the most expensive, raining down an eye-watering $113 billion in damage along with its 115-mile-per-hour winds. The cost of Ian's destruction rivals some of the biggest storms in recent memory, including Hurricane Katrina. It was also Florida's deadliest storm in nearly a century.

And these were only the events in the United States. Last year's flooding in Pakistan caused more than $30 billion in damage and economic losses, according to the World Bank. And while Europe's summer heat wave had a big human toll, with statisticians estimating around 20,000 excess deaths caused by the rising mercury, it also had an economic cost. Researchers estimate that heat waves in Europe over the past decade have lowered GDP as much as 0.5 percent.

Such extreme weather events highlight the gravity of our current climate fight. You see when we talk about climate change, we often talk about ways to prevent future climate change, failing to consider the damage unfolding right in front of our eyes.

When big storms hit, communities regroup and rebuild, often without any concern for the next billion dollar weather event around the corner. In many cases, our typical post-disaster recovery plans failed to earmark enough investment in adaptation and prevention likely dooming those communities to relive the nightmare again at some point.

Then there's the case of one Florida town where efforts to become more resilient to threats were rolled back in a matter of years. After being brutally beaten by Hurricane Michael in 2018, officials in the town of Mexico Beach, Florida, vowed to rebuild in a smarter way. Building codes were changed to require new houses to be built higher. Two years later after a number of complaints about cost from residents, the new building code requirements were walked back with local building requirements barely inching above the states.


One floodplain management consultant told the "Miami Herald" that it was hard to watch a community that learned the hard way and made the right decisions, suddenly backpedal because their memory became so short. The fact is that too many homes are built in harm's way. There should be clear disincentives to build in floodplains, drought-prone areas and wildfire zones.

Until now, it hasn't been politically viable to tell communities not to rebuild after such trauma. But taxpayers may soon tire of footing the bill as storms grow stronger, wetter, and more destructive. Costs will only continue to rise with sea levels.

Climate change is here, and it's already doing big damage. We need to adapt to this new reality before the bills get even bigger and more frequent.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.