Return to Transcripts main page

American Morning

Castro Cedes Power; Crisis In The Middle East; Summer Inferno; Plan B, OTC?

Aired August 01, 2006 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now the celebration is taking place, some of them in Miami, where the Cuban exiles were celebrating the news and the speculation -- and the speculation, we've seen actually several times before, that Fidel Castro may have already passed away. Got reports this morning from Cuba and the U.S. Shasta Darlington live in Havana for us. Susan Candiotti in Miami.
Shasta, let's begin with you. Good morning.


Yes, we had this announcement last night. It was not Fidel Castro in person, but it was a letter written by Fidel Castro, read by his personal secretary. And he said that he needs several weeks to recover from intestinal surgery. In the meantime, he's handing over power to his younger brother, Raul. He's also handing over the communist party to his brother.

And this is the first time that Fidel Castro, who's been in power for 47 years, has handed power over to his brother. So it is causing a lot of concern, a bit of anxiousness. Although I'd say here that the environment is exactly the opposite of what you're talking about in Miami. The city is waking up. It's quiet. It's calm. People are calmly getting on the buses. They're going to work.

There's a lot of talk, but it's all very subdued. And, as you can imagine, we probably won't see anything like what you're seeing in Miami in the near future.


S. O'BRIEN: Yes, one would think. Shasta Darlington for us this morning. Thanks.

Let's head to Florida now where CNN's Susan Candiotti is standing by for us.

Hey, Susan, good morning.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad.

You know, overnight, Little Havana, and again this morning, well it had been a magnet here for Cuban exiles of all ages who say they hope that the temporary change at the top in Havana is permanent.


CANDIOTTI, (voice over): In Miami's Little Havana, the party was on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think this is a time where the Cubans from the past, the Cubans that just got here and the Cuban that are still over there need to unite and come together. This is our time and this is a time for democracy. It's what we've been waiting for.

CANDIOTTI: A statement ready on Cuban television said Castro handed over power to his brother, Raul, as the dictator underwent intestinal surgery. At 75, Raul Castro is nearly five years younger than his brother. He's vice president, second in command of the communist party and armed forces and the elder Castro's designated successor.

ROLANDO MENDOZA, HAVANA, CUBA, RESIDENT, (through translator): Nothing. No, normal. Normal. That is why we have Raul and the others who are representing them. They are just like him.

GISSEL, HAVANA, CUBA, RESIDENT, (through translator): Here we will always be the same whether Fidel occupies the presidency or not. We will always defend the same.

CANDIOTTI: Fidel Castro has ruled Cuba without interruption since the communist revolution in 1959. Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell told Larry King Monday the Cuban dictator's health problems could mean the end of the Castro regime is near.

GEORGE MITCHELL, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: He's been held together by the force of his personality and I doubt very much that his brother will have the capacity to carry it on much longer. Of course, the regime has been disastrous for the Cuban people and I think it's only a matter of time before he goes and it goes with him.

CANDIOTTI: The news that Castro is out of commission and, at least for the moment, out of power, is music to the ears of Cuban exiles here in Little Havana.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All our lives we've always wanted for Fidel to go down. I mean this is like the one moment of our lives that everybody's going crazy. It might be his brother, but this is the beginning of an end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's done, it's over, and we're starting to celebrate because Cuba's going to be free. We've been in this for 50 years almost and I hope to pray to God that that [bleep] is dead.


CANDIOTTI: Of course, no one knows for sure whether the send is near. Fidel Castro's health has been questioned and it's been said that he's been on his death bed many times before. But, for now, law enforcement authorities in Miami have activated what they call their emergency operation center to monitor events both in Havana and here in Little Havana.

Back to you, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, no surprise there. Susan Candiotti for us this morning. Susan, thanks. She's in Miami.


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Israel's security cabinet decides to expand the ground offensive in southern Lebanon. More reservists, we understand, are being called up. Now just last week an expansion of the ground war was rejected. We're going to have live report from both sides of the border. Anthony Mills is going to be following the story for us in Beirut and there you see Paula Hancocks. She's standing by in Jerusalem and she is going to start things off for us.

Good morning, Paula.


Well, the ground operation looks like it will be expanded now. The military commanders have the permission that they were looking for four days ago and were denied four days ago but now it can be expanded. Now it's interesting that over such a short amount of time there would be this kind of reversal.

But, of course, so much has happened in the political situation in four days. Condoleezza Rice has been here. She believes that she can secure a U.N. resolution later this week to sort out a cease-fire and also the international forces going to be placed in southern Lebanon. So it would suggest as though the Israeli military believe they are running out of time to try and degrade Hezbollah's arsenal and Hezbollah's threat to northern Israel.

Now we heard from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday evening. He addressed the nation. But also addressed the Lebanese people, saying he was sorry for the pain they had been feeling over the Israeli air strike. But he also said it was Hezbollah's fault because Hezbollah was holding hostage these Lebanese people. And he said that Israel had no alternative but to try and fight against them


EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIM MINISTER, (through translator): We are fighting terrorists who know no bounds. War against them will not be stopped by us until we drive them from the borders.


HANCOCKS: Olmert also said that Hezbollah had been dealt a heavy blow by the Israeli military. We know that there is fierce fighting ongoing at this moment on the border just north of the border with Israel. We know that, according to the Israeli military, up to 20 Hezbollah fighters have either been killed or wounded over the last two days. And also we're in the middle of this 48-hour suspension of Israeli air strikes to alloy humanitarian aid into southern Lebanon. But we know for a fact that the air strikes have not been stopped. Israel saying it's only carrying out air strikes if it sees a threat to its ground troops.


SANCHEZ: All right, Paula Hancocks following that story for us from Jerusalem.

And while more Israeli army reservists prepare for battle, let's see now what's happening on the other side. For that we go from Jerusalem to Beirut. That's, of course, the Lebanese capital. Anthony Mills is joining us from there live as well.

Anthony, good morning to you.


There have been further air strikes in Lebanon today in the early hours of the morning. The border crossing between Lebanon and Syria was struck for the third time. Craters gouged in the road that links Lebanon to Syria, are making it next to impossible to cross over, certainly for trucks.

There's also been an air strike in the Bekka (ph) Valley. That's east of here. In the northern Bekka Valley, around a town of Hermel (ph). And there, of course, have been strikes throughout yesterday despite the pledge for a cessation of aerial bombardments.

There were two air strikes in a region of southern Lebanon in which Israeli ground forces are active, as well as a strike on a Lebanese general's car. His aid or an army aid was killed and three soldiers were wounded. We were later told by the Israeli defense forces that that was a mistake. They thought that there was a Hezbollah officials in the car.

But, yes, the strikes have continued, albeit in a somewhat diminished fashion, giving some residents in the south the opportunity to flee. Of course it is feared that many others have remained at home because they're simply too afraid to head out on to the roads and get out.

SANCHEZ: You know it's interesting. The very first thing you mention in your report is that the Israelis are now bombing that border between Syria and Lebanon. One does wonder if you have seen, from your reporting over there, any inkling on the part of Syria to perhaps engage in this conflict between these two other border countries of theirs. Have you seen that?

MILLS: Well, within the last three weeks of this conflict, Syria has said that it would regard an increased Israeli ground invasion of Lebanon as a threat to its security. And then yesterday, of course, we heard that Syria has put its armed forces on an increased state of alert. That's because, in the words of Syria, the approaching of the Israeli army to close to the Lebanese/Syrian border would actually place that army within a few dozen miles of the Syrian capital, Damascus, and that would be perceived as a threat.

Also, of course, Syria is a staunch backer of Hezbollah in its conflict with Israel and this could also be seen as a unified stance, if you will. A stance backing that of Hezbollah and really an effort to bolster Hezbollah's ranks certainly with this increased state of alert. And maybe drawing Israel's attention away somewhat from its conflict with Hezbollah to the suggestion, at least, that if certain red lines are crossed, at least from Syria's perspective, then it could conceivably, yes, enter the fray.


SANCHEZ: That certainly would escalate things now wouldn't it? Anthony Mills is following the story for us there in Beirut, Lebanon. We thank you. We'll certainly be getting back to you.

Soledad, over to you.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the heat wave now. It's been frying the Midwest. Now it's got the east coast boiling. Temperatures are forecast to hit triple digits today. A heat emergency is already in effect here in New York. CNN's Allan Chernoff has more.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Waiting for the subway coming from Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood gives you a pretty good idea of what it must feel like even further underground.

How hot do you think it is down here?

COLETTE BRANDENBURGH, NEW YORK RESIDENT: I don't know, maybe 110 degrees. It's horrible. It's horrible heat.

CHERNOFF: Down here the air seems sticky. Like a subway sauna.

You must love playing music to be playing down here today.

FINGERS MCCLEARY, NEW YORK MUSICIAN: You see the sweat? You see what I go through here?

CHERNOFF: How hot is it down here? It's so hot that even the subway station is sweating.

But the heat was no laughing matter at an international scout jamboree in Maryland where 20 children were treated for heat exhaustion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They felt faint. They felt nauseous.

CHERNOFF: The heat wave that began in California has already been blamed for dozens of deaths across the nation. In Chicago, city workers went door-to-door to check on the elderly. Thermometers hit triple digits across the Midwest Monday and forecasts called for the worst of the heat waves to travel to the east coast today. That could put a strain on power systems. In Washington, D.C., Monday, a transmission line monitor caught on fire. And New York City's Con Edison is still working to repair power lines that were fried during a recent heat wave causing blackouts in some neighborhoods.

For those venturing outside, water is the answer. Drinking it, spraying it, splashing in it or getting pampered with it.


CHERNOFF: And here in Central Park, of course, you can see the beautiful lake right behind me. That's supposed to be only for boaters. But on a day like this, well, maybe we'll see a few swimmers as well.

Back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: I don't think that water is all that clean. I hope we don't see any swimmers. Allan Chernoff for us. Allan, thanks.

Let's get to the forecast. Chad's got that. He's at the CNN Center with the latest.

No swimming, Chad.


SANCHEZ: Things have certainly gotten hot as in problematic for actor/director Mel Gibson. We understand now that he's in rehab this morning. He checked himself in following Friday's arrest on suspicion of drunk driving. Authorities in Los Angeles released Gibson's mug shot last night. That's what it looks like. Gibson apparently made some anti-Semitic and sexist comments during the arrest. That all reported. He has apologized, by the way, for the comments.

The sheriff's deputy who arrested Gibson tells the Associated Press, and we quote here, "I don't take pride in hurting Mr. Gibson. What I had hoped out of this is that he would think twice before he gets behind the wheel of a car and was drinking. That would be my hope that this would accomplish that. I don't want to ruin his career. I don't want to defame him in any way or hurt him." That's what the police are saying this morning. That's one of the new updates on the story which so many people have been following.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, and it remains to be seen if it does hurt him or not. I mean big picture hurt him. He goes off to rehab. Is that going to be the final word or . . .

SANCHEZ: And it's like you said earlier, it's not so much the DUI, it's the comments that he made.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, the anti-Semitic stuff you can't fix in rehab.

SANCHEZ: How do you get away from there?

S. O'BRIEN: And most people tend to get a little more honest about what they're thinking when they're drunk, I would think.

SANCHEZ: Exactly.

S. O'BRIEN: And not the opposite.

SANCHEZ: As my father always said.

S. O'BRIEN: Loosens up the tongue. We'll see. We'll see. We'll see.

Still to come this morning, the so-called morning-after pill may soon be available without a prescription. Up next, we'll explain why it's causing quite a controversy. And when you might see it in a drugstore near you.

SANCHEZ: Also, a new twist in the doping case against Tour de France winner Floyd Landis. We're going to tell you all about that one.

S. O'BRIEN: A federal judge forces a football stadium to sideline security patdowns. We'll take a look at what it means for spectator security. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: The so-called morning-after pill may soon be available over-the-counter to women who are 18 and older. Elizabeth Cohen live at the CNN Center in Atlanta with more on the FDA's plan for the Plan B contraceptive.

Hey, Elizabeth. Good morning.


Soledad, here is the woops scenario that this pill addresses. A couple has sex and then they realize that they weren't using birth control or perhaps the birth control that they were using didn't work and so they go to this drug which is called Plan B. And the way that it works now is you have to get it by prescription from a physician and you take it in two doses. They're high doses of birth control pills and you take it within 72 hours of having sex. And some women say, look, it's hard sometimes to get ahold of a doctor to get that prescription within 72 hours, especially if that sex that you had was over a weekend.

So now, surprisingly, after three years of considering whether or not to allow this to go over-the-counter, the FDA has said that they'll talk to Barr Pharmaceuticals. That they will actually agree to have a conversation with them. But there is one big condition. And here it is.

The big condition is that the FDA says that they will only consider having this go over-the-counter if it is sold to women over age 18 and Barr Pharmaceuticals, which makes Plan B, has to have a detailed enforcement plan about how to make sure that it is sold only to woman over the age of 18. Under this plan, a woman's ID would be checked in the same way that IDs are check to make sure that cigarettes aren't sold to minors. And so they have to come up with a plan to make sure that this drug wouldn't be sold to minors.


S. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about how Plan B works. I mean is it more like contraception or is it more like an abortion in pill form?

COHEN: That is the crux of this whole issue as to whether this induces an abortion or provides birth control. And really it depends on when you think life begins. It gets that philosophical. Most of the time this pill works by preventing a woman from ovulating in the first place. By preventing that egg from releasing. And most people would consider that contraception. That's, after all, what a traditional birth control pill does and millions of women take that and it's considered contraception.

But in some cases, if a woman has already ovulated and that egg has been fertilized, and so you have a fertilized egg siting in a woman's body, and then you take Plan B, well what happens then is that the drug prevents that fertilized egg from embedding, from implanting in a woman's uterus. Some people would consider that an abortion. Other people would consider that birth control.

S. O'BRIEN: It's not been held up because of safety concerns. So why has it been something that's been there and just discussed over the last two-plus years.

COHEN: Right. If this was just about medical and scientific years, it would have been resolved in the past three years. It was three years ago that Barr Pharmaceuticals asked for it to be put over- the-counter. It's really become a political hot potato. As a matter of fact, the FDA at some point has said, we're postponing this decision. We're deciding basically not to make a decision. And that's why it's surprising that now they've decided to actually have a conversation with Barr Pharmaceuticals.

S. O'BRIEN: And why would that be? Why did they decide now?

COHEN: Well, a lot of people would say it's because Andrew von Eschenbach, who is now acting commissioner of the FDA, that he's up for confirmation. There are confirmation hearings that are happening today. And some senators have said, you know, we're going to hold this up until you make a decision about Plan B. So some people see a definitely political motivation here.

S. O'BRIEN: Political more than medical maybe. Elizabeth Cohen for us this morning at the CNN Center. Thanks, Elizabeth.

COHEN: Thanks.

S. O'BRIEN: Rick. SANCHEZ: Here's a follow (ph). American cyclist Floyd Landis may have a tougher time now trying to hanging on to his Tour de France title. As you know, lab tests showed that he had an abnormal level of testosterone in his body during the race. Landis insists that he has never taken performance-enhancing drugs and that those hormone levels are just naturally produced by his body. But according to "The New York Times," lab tests now show some of the testosterone in his body is synthetic. Results from a second sample taken at the same time are expected some time this week.

Can it be both?

S. O'BRIEN: The plot thickens.

SANCHEZ: Yes, exactly. It's either fake or not fake.

Well, still to come, tax cheats out of control. Andy's "Minding Your Business" with a look at who's abating their taxes and the shocking amount that they are getting away with.

Also, how is the Bush administration reacting to Israel's expansion of the ground offensive in Lebanon that we've been reporting to you this morning. We're live from the White House and we'll get that for you. Stay with us.


S. O'BRIEN: Do you ever wonder how much money the government loses from people who cheat on their taxes? It is a big, big, giant figure. Andy Sewer is "Minding Your Business," going to tell us what it is.


S. O'BRIEN: $70 billion?

SERWER: $70 billion.

S. O'BRIEN: That's just in the fraud?

SERWER: Yes. That is according to a Senate report. A story in "The New York Times" about this, this morning, talking about how much the super rich, wealthy Americans are avoiding in paying taxes. Illegal tax shelters overseas. That's what this report focuses on. Seven cents of every dollar paid legally is now not paid in taxes. In other words, for every dollar paid, seven cents goes offshore and is not paid. And that adds up to a lot of money. That's the $70 billion.

Senator Carl Levin and Senator Norm Coleman are on this committee that issued this report. Senator Levin saying it's like fantasy football. An 18 month investigation, 74 subpoenas, 80 interviews, 2 million documents. They focused on at least four very wealthy Americans. Some of them were victims and some of them, well, they're not cooperating with the government. First of all, Woody Johnson. The owners of the Jets and part of the Johnson and Johnson family. He bought the Jets in 1999 and incurred a huge tax bill because he had to sell assets. He was steered into some offshore shelters by a group called the Quallis (ph) Group. A tax advisory. And his accountant sent an e-mail around saying, gee, I just hope Woody doesn't get cold feet or have the IRS select his return for an audit. Kind of a damning e-mail I would say.

SANCHEZ: And an offshore shelter is when you make a business that really doesn't exist.

SERWER: Right. A shell company.

SANCHEZ: Just so you can show . . .

SERWER: That's right. They're not all illegal, but Senator Levin says, you know, very often they are. Why don't we assume that sending money offshore is probably used to evade taxes. Haim Saban, another wealthy American. He was the person who put together the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and also the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sold the Family Channel. Made a whole bunch of money. He was caught up in this. Well, both Woody Johnson and Saban are settling with the IRS.

The Wyly brothers, a couple of wealthy Texans, who were big contributors to President Bush's campaign, have declined, at this point, according to this story, to cooperate with the government. So their problems, presumably, are ongoing.

S. O'BRIEN: So offshore legal or not legal?

SERWER: It depends.

S. O'BRIEN: Not that I have a dime to put in an offshore account.

SERWER: I was going to say, a little interest there. It depends.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, yes, I'm just trying to figure it out.

SERWER: It really depends.

S. O'BRIEN: I mean, is it legal or not?

SERWER: If you're shipping off tons of money overseas and avoiding all taxes, you can assume that it's not legal. I mean if you're involved in a complicated art deal or real estate. If your accountant says it's above board, it may be. But, you know, always assume the worst in these instances.

SANCHEZ: And especially if where you're shipping it off to you find out is basically a P.O. Box somewhere.

SERWER: Right. And so often is, Rick.

SANCHEZ: In an island, right.


SANCHEZ: All right, thanks.

Security patdowns may soon be a thing of the past at at least one NFL stadium. Ahead, we'll tell you about a controversy and what it means for fan security. It's just one of those constitutional rights issues.

And then later, whose land is it anyway? We're going to take a look at the history of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict and why it's so important in the Middle East. Stay with us. This is AMERICAN MORNING.