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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Riots Break Out In Argentina Against President George Bush.
Aired November 4, 2005 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALEC MIRAN, CNN PRODUCER: And that was the only march that we had heard of. And then around midday, word started coming out that this other group was going to confront the police. And they gave everybody the exact corner. They wanted it known. They wanted coverage. And it was a very bizarre sort of atmosphere as they approached, because hundreds, probably -- hundreds of average Mal Del Plata residents were there, sort of, just waiting to see what would happen.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Alec, I'm going to...
MIRAN: ... but they were just waiting to see what happened. Now I guess we're all watching.
BLITZER: Alec, I'm going to interrupt you for a second because we're now seeing these live pictures coming in. Let me just set the scene. It's the top of the hour. We're watching the streets of Mar Del Plata in Argentina. This is only a few blocks away from the Summit of the Americas that is unfolding, the president of the United States and other leaders from the western hemisphere are there.
They were hoping to discuss economic, social, cultural, important issues of the day. But only a few blocks away, this is what's going on, a violent demonstration has erupted. Fires, molotov to have cocktails. You're seeing some of the fires in some of those buildings.
This looks like some of the bank areas that have been torched, in effect, by what are called the picateros, these violent anarchists, these demonstrators, protesting the economic policies of the Summit of the Americas as well as specifically, angry words against President Bush.
Very different scene. John King is joining us now with Alec Miran, our producer on the scene. John King is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. John, we see this split screen. A beautiful summit inside, the president of the United States, other world leaders, discussing important issues of the day. Outside, violence erupting. What goes through your mind?
JOHN KING, CNN ANALYST: We could go back about ten years now, and little less than ten years, because unfortunately, the violent demonstrations, have become a staple of these summits. This one, as Alec noted, much of it against globalization, the free trade policies that Mr. Bush is trying to promote at the Summit of the Americas.
It has been added to in the past two or three years because of personal protests against President Bush and U.S. policy. But what we have seen, dating back to the Clinton administration, in these summits, around the world, here in the United States, Canada, elsewhere in the world the past ten years is, you have organizations that come to protest globalization, some of them professional protestors, if you will.
This is what they do. And generally, at each of these summits, there are one or two groups, and Alec just noted, they received advance notice of where to be. They do this for the media attention. And unfortunately, the peaceful demonstrations which anyone would say are a staple of democracy often turn violent and ugly like this. And in most of the cases, somebody ends up getting hurt. Often, somebody who has nothing to do with any of this. And in a few of the past summits, there have been at least one death, I can remember, during these protests.
BLITZER: It's a serious situation. Lucia Newman, our Havana bureau chief, has covered South America, Central America, Latin America, for many, many years. She's on the scene right now at the summit in Mar Del Plata for us in Argentina.
Lucia, first of all, tell our viewers where you are, what you're seeing, and what's going on.
LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'm right now at the Sheraton Hotel, where President Bush is normally when he's not at the summit. Right here, things are very calm. That strong security that Alec was talking about also surrounds this area.
Now let me just say that what you are seeing right now, those pictures of the violence, are what everybody had hoped wouldn't happen, but most predicted would. Now, the picateros, unlike the anarchists that we saw in Quebec during the previous Summit of the Americas, are different. These are very, very organized people. They are trade union leaders or members of trade unions, most of them unemployed Argentines.
People who are very, very, very angry, very poor in most cases, and who have a reputation for getting very, very rough when they want to make their point of view known. So this sort of violence that we're seeing here is also seen in Buenos Aires, where they want to protest against the government.
These are also the people that led to the downfall President Fernando De La Rua, as you may recall, back in 2001. They're very, very powerful, but I wouldn't exactly call them anarchists. They're different from the people we saw in Quebec, Wolf.
BLITZER: Do they have -- is there major grievance economic issues or is the major grievance President Bush?
NEWMAN: They link both. They will have principally economic grievances, but they see President Bush and the United States as the root of all evil, as the cause of their woes, because they believe, in their view, that the United States imposed an economic model that has been disastrous for Argentina We're talking about free market economics. And as everyone knows back in 2001, the Argentine economy collapsed. It plummeted. Not only the Argentine peso, but it also sent million of Argentines into poverty. Whether rightly or wrongly, they blame the United States for that, and we're seeing their reaction to that right now.
BLITZER: Lucia Newman on the scene for us in Mar Del Plata. Lucia, stand by for a moment. Our producer, Alec Miran, is on the scene for us also, but he's right in the thick of things on streets of this Argentine city where these violent angry demonstrations have erupted only blocks away, a few blocks away from where the summit is taking place, where President Bush is right now, as well as other summit leaders.
Alec, update viewers what you're seeing. Because I've got to tell you, what we're seeing is not very pretty.
MIRAN: Yes, Wolf, I had been down the street a little bit off of Avenida Colon (ph), which is the main sort of battle point. I'm now back at the corner of Colon and Santa Fe, right across the street from that burning bank.
Firefighters have showed up. Firefighters are on the scene, don't know if you can see that. They'd be up the block a little bit. People are running away. Let's see what's going on here. Oh. Police on motorcycles have now shown up. Police on motorcycles.
BLITZER: We're seeing you live, Alec.
MIRAN: Appear to be armed with shotguns. Probably 20 of them are roaring down Avenida Colon. Don't know if you can see that, Wolf
BLITZER: It's a show of force that we're seeing, Alec.
MIRAN: ... riot police following them on foot. They're coming out of the corner of Santa Fe and Colon. They're going to move away from the channel 9 camera. They are all carrying -- most are carrying, you know, big sticks. Some might be carrying weapons, as well.
But they are clearly trying to push the bad element of the demonstrators down the street and away from this corner where the bank is, the building. They're just trying to move the confrontation further and further away from the summit.
BLITZER: It looks like this confrontation, Alec, could get very, very ugly very soon if this show of force really materializes and the demonstrators decide to challenge this police force immediately.
MIRAN: Could you repeat that? There's a lot of sirens. I didn't quite catch that. BLITZER: I said it looks like it could get even uglier quickly as these police lines begin to inch forward in the midst of this demonstration.
MIRAN: Yes, I think it could because I don't think the demonstrators are going to give up easily. Like I said, they made two or three charges toward the police line. They were rebuffed two or three times by tear gas. They are not running away. They are moving out of the way and then they come back. So yes, I imagine it could get bad.
BLITZER: Alec, stand by for a second. John King, our chief national correspondent is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Lucia Newman is joining us from Mar Del Plata.
John, this is, from the security standpoint, protecting these leaders who have gathered at the summit, including the president of the United States and the leaders of all the countries of the western hemisphere. This is a nightmare.
KING: It is a nightmare, both a political and a security nightmare. A political nightmare in the sense that to those who oppose this agenda, many of the leaders have spoken, including President Clinton and President Bush about the wish to get closer to the people to try to explain these policies to them. And they simply cannot in this environment.
The security has become more and more extreme to the point where the leaders get nowhere near the people of the country, even peaceful people of the country who might oppose them or like them politically. But the summits have become so far removed from the streets themselves.
Now, I know, for example, from talking to some Secret Service sources that the White House was warned that this could get ugly because they did not believe, in the days leading up to this summit, that the government was doing enough to create a buffer zone to tone down protests in advance.
Now, the United States government, any other government around the world will tell, you tends to have a more extreme view of restrictions. The president of the United States travels with much more security than any of these other leaders he encounters anywhere in the world, just about.
But I do know that the Secret Service advance team that was on the ground had warned the folks back in Washington that they did not think the locals had put in a big enough, a more distant enough, buffer zone, if you will.
BLITZER: Lucia Newman has covered the story for many years. She's on the scene. We're going to go back to her in a moment. Alec Miran, our producer, is on the scene for us as well. What's happening right now, Alec?
MIRAN: Well, Wolf, I've now moved a little bit further. I'm back on Avenida Colon. Don't know if you have a graphic made up to give viewers a lay of the land. But the police have now sent out one two, three, five police vans out from the security perimeter, and they have now set up sort of a temporary base, a line of demarcation, if you will the next street up from Santa Fe. I'm trying to read it for you.
Santiago del Estero I think is the name of the corner. So they're now one block further away from the -- down the block, I can see a fire burning. It's about two blocks away. I think the violent demonstrators are just on the other side of that. They're maybe two blocks away from the police at this point.
BLITZER: And just remind our viewers, in the United States, Alec, and around the world, how close this demonstration is to the actual summit site.
MIRAN: Yes. The first choke point, or flash point, if you will, Wolf, was at the corner of Avenida Colon, a major thoroughfare, think of the Avenida Reforma (ph) in Mexico, think of Peach Tree Street in Atlanta, major shopping street. And that's about six blocks from the Hermitage Hotel, where the summit leaders are going about their business. In fact, I think the opening ceremony is just starting.
BLITZER: We're going to be showing the very contrasting from the opening ceremony of the Summit of Americas inside at that hotel. And only six blocks away, this is what is happening right now, a show of force by Argentine police as they're dealing with what are called these picateros, these trade union leaders, who are most of them apparently, according to Lucia Newman, unemployed and very angry.
John King, the relationship between the United States and Argentina, at least based on the statements that the president of the United States, the president of Argentina had this morning, seemed to be pretty good.
KING: It is a pretty good relationship, it is not a great relationship. The United States has voiced frustration with the pace of economic reform in Argentina, and President Kirchner has to play to his local audience. You saw the demonstration earlier today led by the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.
There is a great deal of anti-American sentiment in the region, in part because of what Lucia was talking about, globalization, the view that the big economy wants to have more free trade with the small economies because the big economy benefits most. That is one reason, the Iraq war is unpopular.
There's also some resentment because, when President Bush came to office, he said relations in the hemisphere would be his number one priority. And, of course, September 11th changed the dynamics completely. So some of this is anti-Bush, some of this is anti- globalization.
The thing that is striking to me, going back in time over these summits is, if you hook at this scene, Alec is down there, and I'm sure he's beginning to breathe the tear gas, which chokes you up a bit, many businesses have plywood. They're boarded up. They knew this was coming.
BLITZER: They're not all that surprised.
Lucia Newman is there for us, our veteran correspondent who's covered this part of the world for a long, long time. Right now, we're seeing -- and I want to show our viewers in a split screen, if we can, what's happening on the secretes.
But also inside, a very different situation at the summit. The performance now going on. The entertainment, if you will. What a contrast to what's going on outside. A cultural event inside, a demonstration, an angry and violent demonstration outside, Lucia. Talk a little bit about the U.S.-Argentine relationship.
NEWMAN: Well, first of all, I just wanted to say that what John was saying is very true. One of the things that happens at these summits is that there's really very little, if any, contact between the president and the people outside, with the exception of President Hugo Chavez, who's been received as a hero by a lot of those people who are outside throwing those Molotov cocktails. And it's a pity, because they are really probably the minority of all those people that were out there demonstrating, as is usually the case.
Now, as for Argentina and the United States, they have a very, you could almost say, schizophrenic relationship that's zig-zagged over the years. Washington and Buenos Aires were very close when President Carlos Mene was in the Casa Rosada, the pink house, which is Argentina's version of the White House.
But President Nelson Kirchner arrived in his administration, remember, after five other presidents took office in Argentina in only two weeks. There was a rolling musical chairs took place in 2005. Five presidents in two weeks. Nelson Kirchner now has been given a mandate to try to reverse the free market economic system that Argentina has had for now almost 15 years.
So whether he really believes it or not, he has got to play to his audience, to his electorate. He cannot be seen as embracing everything that president George Bush has to say here. And in fact, one last very important point, Wolf. Those demonstrations that we saw earlier today that were organized...
BLITZER: Lucia, hold on for a moment. Hold on, Lucia. I want to go right to Alec Miran on the streets of Mar Del Plata. What's going on, Alec?
MIRAN: Wolf, I described to you a moment ago, there are policemen motorcycles. There are two policemen per motorcycle. The gentleman in the back has a tear gas launcher. Behind them are five, six, seven vans along with maybe 100 Argentine policemen on foot. They have just advanced about a half a block toward the demonstrators.
The demonstrators have set fires in the next block and the motorcycles and all the vans just pushed forward quickly, but now they've stopped. There's maybe a 200-yard no-man zone between -- there, the police are moving slow. Now they're running. They're running toward them a little bit, but they're very controlled fashion. There're still about 200 yards between the police and some of the fires.
Some of the those fires are getting bigger. And, Wolf, I don't know if -- we're working on a graphics on this. This is all taking place on Avenida Colon. The police line is now at the corner of Avenida Colon and Santiago del Estero. And the demonstrators are one block away at Colon and Cordoba. So for right now, it's a standoff. But the police are inching forward, even as we speak, toward the demonstrators.
BLITZER: Alec, the wire services, the Associated Press, is reporting that about 1,000, more than 1,000, of these protestors are taking part in this violent demonstration that we're seeing live here on CNN and CNN International around the world, 10,000 have participated in a peaceful demonstration earlier today.
If there are 1,000 picateros, as they're called, these militant demonstrators, you're going to need a lot more than the number of police that we're seeing to deal with this situation, I assume.
MIRAN: Yes. I think they've basically set up a holding point. You know, they've set up sort of a line of demarcation which is a block and a half, two blocks, from where it was originally. I think they're going to try to, I guess, sort of win back the city gradually.
As these things go, it's a bit of a chaotic thing. You take cover where you are. So originally, I was nearer the demonstrators, now I'm sort of behind the police line. So I'm not at a really terrific angle to see what the demonstrators are doing.
I see them in the distance, like I said, about a block away. They appear to be -- the police are moving toward them now fairly briskly. Not running, but walking. Walking with some determination. Those motorcycle policemen I told you about are still with them. You know, they're forming up.
BLITZER: Alec, let me interrupt for a second. Is there any evidence that these demonstrators are trying to move closer and closer toward the actual summit site, or are they basically staying these five, six blocks away?
MIRAN: Wolf, if that was for me, if you could repeat, because there's lots of sirens here right now.
BLITZER: I was wondering if the demonstrators are trying to get closer to the summit site, or are they satisfied apparently just being where they are?
MIRAN: I'm trying to get into a shelter.
BLITZER: Alec, hold on because you're breaking up a little bit. We're going to make sure that we've got a connection. Lucia Newman is still with us. John King is watching all of this. What we're seeing is a very angry demonstration, a violent demonstration, that has erupted at the Summit of the Americas in Mar Del Plata in Argentina.
Leaders from the western hemisphere, including the president of the United States, have gathered inside. Right now, they're being entertained in the quiet, in the calm of a hotel five or six blocks away. But outside, you see smoke, you see fire, you see violence as these demonstrators protesting the economic policies, the globalization policies, of the hemisphere, but also angry words directly aimed at President Bush himself.
Lucia, are you picking up some more information?
NEWMAN: Well, I'm, as I mentioned, at the Sheraton Hotel. I do know that the picateros, these trade unionists and unemployed Argentines, who have been organizing more and more and getting stronger over the last few years, had vowed to try to get to the summit site. They had said from the very start that they wanted to get their message through to the world leaders and especially to President George Bush, that they wanted him to go home, that he wasn't welcome here. So that's obviously what they're trying to do.
Now, the Argentine police are used to dealing with them, and they did, as you mentioned, show a lot of restraint at the beginning. But we will probably be seeing the use of force very, very shortly. Those horses that Alec mentioned. When they come out and they start going after the demonstrators, things get really, really violent here. I saw that back in 2001 when President De La Rua was forced to resign. And so the street scenes here in Argentina, this is the sort of thing that can be very violent, and it could last for hours, Wolf.
BLITZER: Are these picateros, these demonstrators, Lucia, armed? In the sense that if the police begin to move close to them, they're going to fight right back with weapons?
NEWMAN: My experience is that they are not armed with guns. With rocks, sticks, that sort of thing, Molotov cocktails. But not with firearms. At least, I've never heard of that, Wolf.
BLITZER: These are live pictures we're showing our viewers around the world right now, what's happening on the streets of Mar Del Plata, the site of the summit of the hemisphere, the western hemisphere that is. Demonstrators have been using Molotov cocktails, they've been engaged in hurling rocks, and the police are now coming in en masse to deal with this situation.
Alec Miran, our producer, is on the scene. Alec, can you hear me?
MIRAN: I can, Wolf. I'm back with you. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes, we hear you, Alec. Go ahead, tell us what you're seeing.
MIRAN: Yes, I'm -- basically, the police continue to expand their perimeter with these vans, with police on motorcycles, maybe joined by fire trucks. I haven't seen any of the water cannons. There were several water cannons stationed behind the original security perimeter, haven't seen those rolled out, but I do see a couple of fire trucks that are right up here on the frontline. I don't know if they're going to try to open up on the demonstrators with fire hoses. I suppose that's possible.
I'm standing right now in front of one of -- gosh, I must have seen three or four banks right now that have had their front windows completely smashed. This one was not one that was set on fire. You know, it was in violence that they went down the street.
As Lucia indicated, we did not see any armed demonstrators. They all carried sticks about three feet long, a little bit thinner than a baseball bat. They had rocks. They were shooting basically heavy- duty concussion fireworks at the police, originally, to try to provoke something, one would assume. But they are not armed aside from the Molotov cocktails.
BLITZER: What is it like, the air? We're seeing pictures of some of these demonstrators with handkerchiefs over their mouths. I assume the air from the tear gas and the smoke must be getting to these individuals right now. You're right in the middle of it. What's it like?
MIRAN: Well, the original volley of tear gas -- and John King may be able to add a little perspective to this because it was akin to the amount of tear gas that was being fired a summit that we both attended in Quebec City a few years ago. You know, huge volleys. It's basically -- the first volley, a round of volleys at the corner of Colon and Corriente (ph) cleared the street.
I didn't have a gas mask on at that time. I have one with me, but almost fell running down the street, because the stench is so strong that it really sort of makes you dizzy. I put my gas mask on after that and it helps a lot. When they burned that bank building, I think that fire is now out, that made the air very acrid. So it's -- I guess that's sort of what it's like now.
BLITZER: We're showing our viewers, Alec, some new video that we're just getting in from these demonstrators. We see a lot of red flags, clearly suggesting, Lucia Newman -- what, is there a socialist or a communist bent to these demonstrators? Is that what we should interpret these red flags to be?
We may have lost Lucia Newman for a moment. But John King is with us. John, you're a veteran of the tear-gassing, going back to an earlier Summit of the Americas. What's it like to be in the midst of that?
KING: As Alec said, it's very acrid. It immediately starts to burn your eyes. I was outside for more than an hour in it in Quebec, which was the surprise. You see these black fences, the steel fences in the streets. Those were first used in Quebec. And these police agencies meet after every one of these summits and they share notes and everything. And they've begun to move the perimeter back because of the Quebec experience.
The protestors -- and there were more of them in Quebec, at least from what I can tell watching the pictures here -- they actually broke through the perimeter, a small group of them, and they were throwing these cans that were filled with shrapnel at the police. And so you see the police in the heavy riot gear here.
The first wave of the police in Canada were not prepared for the attacks, if you will, of the demonstrators. The perimeters have been move back since. Looking at these live pictures here, as Alec noted, it appears that tear gas has dissipated. If they fire heavy volleys of tear gas to deal with hundreds of protestors, you will be able to tell immediately. It will cloud up your screen, and it will stay in the air.
Many of the demonstrators now, though, again, some of them are from organizations that have done this now for years at these summits or they work with those organizations. They have the Internet, just like we do. Many of the demonstrators will have tear gas as well, or at least bandanas that they will wear around their face when the tear gas starts.
BLITZER: Lucia Newman, it looks like there're some real experienced demonstrators and some real experienced police in dealing with these kinds of demonstrations. On the streets now of Mar Del Plata in Argentina, where the Summit of the Americas is taking place, leaders from the western hemisphere, including the president of the United States, inside right now, only five or six blocks away.
We saw a lot of red flags among these demonstrators, Lucia. I assume that means that these are socialists or communists, many of them?
NEWMAN: Wolf, a lot of these are from -- or, almost all of them are from left wing organizations or organizations that are affiliated with socialist movements. Back when what John was saying, these are experienced demonstrators. But they're not like the ones in Quebec, because in Quebec, as John will remember, a lot of the demonstrators had tear gas masks, they were very well prepared, very sophisticated stuff.
These are, if you like, more humble demonstrators. They had bandanas, they're carrying lemon and vinegar to help counter the tear gas. But they do have months and years of experience on the street fighting the police, going out there sometimes very, very violently indeed. So it can get just as bad as it did in Quebec.
BLITZER: How good, Lucia, are the police in dealing with crowds like this, with demonstrators like this?
NEWMAN: I don't know how you can measure good or bad, but they certainly have a lot of experience. And they start off softly, and then they can get really, really rough, just as the demonstrators do.
BLITZER: Talk a little bit about what that means, "get really, really rough." Do they start clubbing the demonstrators, or do they go beyond that and actually start firing weapons at them?
NEWMAN: Well, during the 2001 riots that led to the demise of the President De La Rua, there were at least a half a dozen people killed during those demonstrations, allegedly in the hands of the police, who do use truncheons and clubs, especially the ones on horseback.
They've got the horses, which often run over the demonstrators. Maybe not on purpose, but it happens. And in the turmoil, people get hurt. They also have tear gas canisters, rubber bullets. I'm not there, Alec can perhaps tell us better exactly, what kind of ammunition the riot police are using. But people do get injured, the police as well as the demonstrators.
BLITZER: All right, let's go back to Alec Miran, our producer who's on the scene. He's covered a lot of these kinds of demonstrations over years.
Alec, I remember when you were in Tiananmen Square many years ago. But talk a little bit about the kind of weaponry, ammunition, or gear that the riot police have showed up with.
MIRAN: Well, let me -- I'll talk about it in two phases, Wolf, if we could. The police have established a perimeter about three blocks outside of what I'll call their (inaudible). They've now moved out to confront the demonstrators, push them away.
These police have large vans, probably nine or ten large vans. That's how they transport the police. I assume they have some weaponry inside, but we also saw a line of police on motorcycles. There were two police officers on each motorcycle, one in front who's the driver, the one behind had a tear gas launcher. So clearly, they wanted to keep mobile if they have to move...
BLITZER: Alec, I'm going to interrupt you for a second. The president in getting into his limo. Those were live pictures we were just showing our viewers there. There is the president getting into his limo to take him from one hotel in Mar Del Plata, Argentina, to his hotel, presumably to get ready for tonight's activities.
There they're two hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States. Tight security, incredibly tight security, for all these leaders, especially for the leader of the United States.
I interrupted you, Alec, but go ahead. Alec, go ahead, if you can hear me.
MIRAN: Yes, Wolf, but anyway, behind -- I said there was sort of two phased thing. Earlier, when we were sort of surveying the police set up behind the official barricade, there were waves of police, something like I've never seen before. There was a front line of about 100 police in -- with riot helmets, shields, you know, those big plastic shields and truncheons.
Behind them was a line of police with -- some of them with shotguns, some with tear gas rockets. Behind them was another line of this time mounted police, probably 80 horses total. We haven't seen the horses in the street yet. Behind them, there was another line of policemen. And behind them maybe 200 or 300 more body -- with body armor police. So they were really ready. They were really prepared for this.
BLITZER: I assume they were expecting it. We just saw -- if you saw the upper left-hand corner of the screen, you saw the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice literally running or walking quickly, John King, getting into her limousine to take her.
We're showing live pictures from various different sites at the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina. You see the police en masse, you see the demonstrators and you see the summiteers, the leaders trying to go about their business amidst these extraordinary circumstances.
KING: And many have questioned in recent years whether it's even worth it to hold these summits because of this scene you're seeing, the dichotomy that you'd mentioned, the cultural presentations inside while you have chaos in the streets outside.
We live in a world, as we are showing our viewers with the amazing technology just here in THE SITUATION ROOM, where the president of the United States could talk with most of these leaders sitting in the Oval Office, through a video conference, on the telephone if he had to.
The leaders will tell you there is nothing like the face-to-face meetings, that you develop a rapport. Many of these leaders have tense relationships with the United States right now. But you might solve one problem and at least discuss another problem.
The president at this meeting will run circles around President Chavez. The leaders will tell you that hands-on diplomacy is critical for when there is a crisis down the road and you need to pick up the phone and have somebody, whether he's a friend or a tentative friend, help you out in a jam.
But many others say why bring them all together if this is a side product, if you will, of any summit, whether it's the Summit of the Americas, the IMF meetings, World Bank meetings around the world, or the G-8 Summit, the group of eight. Those are the summits -- those three in particular are the ones that draw the most of these anti- globalization protesters.
BLITZER: All right. Let's go back to Alec Miran, our producer there in Mar del Plata. This is live coverage you're seeing here from THE SITUATION ROOM at CNN. We're broadcasting these images here in the United States as well as around the world on CNN International. Our viewers are getting a sense of what's happening only blocks away from where the summit itself was taking place.
Only moments ago, the president, the secretary of state of the United States got into their respective limousines and left the actual site of the summit to go back to their own hotels to prepare for tonight's activities. Lucia Newman, are you still with us?
NEWMAN: Absolutely, Wolf.
BLITZER: What are tonight's activities?
NEWMAN: Well, the president is on his way back to where I'm speaking to you from, the hotel which is very, very strongly guarded, as well. And this evening, there will be a gala dinner as usually happens during these summits. Kept very, very far away from the people, from the people outside, both the demonstrators and perhaps people who might even want to greet the regional leaders who are here.
This is a matter, of course. Hopefully by this evening, these demonstrations will have died down, the air will be clearer. But surely all the regional leaders who were there and President George Bush in particular who has been the target of these demonstrations are keenly aware of what has been happening. And it must give them a bitter taste in their mouth, Wolf.
BLITZER: These are live pictures of the president's limousine, John King, that's trying to make it's way through the streets of this city from one hotel to the president's hotel, the Sheraton hotel, where he's staying. I suspect that motorcade, John -- and you and I have covered a lot of motorcades, we've been in those motorcades. Those Secret Service guys are not very happy about what's going on right now.
KING: Well, most of those people seem to be waving friendly, but the Secret Service doesn't like anybody close to the president's limousine, because it only takes one to jump out in front of it or to make a run at the car. The president seemed quite secure there.
He -- if you talk to him in a calmer moment, he says that he enjoys being out closer to the people. He has a -- it's a somewhat off-color moment. Sometimes his motorcade goes by someone who uses a gesture that is not so police. The president likes to say they think I'm number one. I think most viewers can understand what I'm trying to say.
He makes jokes about this, and he thinks it's a good thing to be out on the streets, but certainly the Secret Service gets very tense in this environment. Some of the other countries complain about all the security the president of the United States brings with him, but the Secret Service will say it's necessary.
A few vehicles behind the president's limousine is what is called Roadrunner. That is a communications vehicle, in which it's a relatively small van, but the Secret Service has that packed with communications equipment. And trust me, they are in touch not only with their colleagues all around the city -- and when Alec Miran is on the street there, you can be sure there are plain-clothes U.S. folks on the ground who are relaying back where the president's motorcade should and should not go anywhere close to.
BLITZER: And the president's Cadillac limousine is especially brought from the United States to these events. There's the president right now walking into his hotel. Dana Bash is our White House correspondent. She is joining us, as well. The president walking in, shaking hands with somebody, Dana. I don't know. Let's listen to see if we can pick up what he's saying.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To your right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you?
BLITZER: The secretary of state following the president, Condoleezza Rice. Other White House aides walking into this area right now. What's going on, Dana? I know you're at that same hotel right?
BASH: Yes, and Wolf, I've just -- I've been in touch with some of the senior officials traveling with the president. It is unclear how much he knows right now about some of the riots that we've been talking about on our air.
Certainly Mr. Bush is well aware of the potential, as you all have been talking about, of this happening. He even talked earlier -- very early this morning when he was with the host, the president of Argentina, and he made clear that he guessed that it's very difficult for these countries to host him.
And we understand seeing what's going on now why that is. But again, unclear at this point, Wolf, whether or not the president is aware that some of the massive demonstrations have actually turned violent at this point.
BLITZER: Where you are, Dana, can you see any aspect of these demonstrations? Is the air thicker?
BLITZER: Of can you breathe anything differently as a result of some of the tear gas and molotov cocktails that we've seen?
BASH: No, we're pretty far away, I would say maybe between a mile or two miles away from where that is happening. And there's absolutely no evidence at all where we are. Look, this is a very, very secure area where the president is staying, and where some of his -- the delegation is staying. It really takes awhile to get into the, you know, checkpoint after checkpoint. And so they're pretty far away from where we are at this point.
BLITZER: What is the president's itinerary schedule for the balance of today?
BASH: He's got a dinner with the world leaders, the 33 other world leaders who are here, of course, for the Summit of the Americas. And that is what his plan continues to be. Again, it is really unclear whether or not that will change. Likely, it will not change.
They will go on with the schedule as planned, this massive dinner to meet and greet each other, to talk about some of the issues, certainly that they've been talking about during the day, whether it's trade or Democratic reform or anything like that. But it is a dinner that's supposed to happen in about two or three hours from now, not too far from where we are.
BLITZER: In all the briefings that you had, Dana, leading up to this Summit of the Americas from Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser and other top officials, what did they say in anticipation of violent demonstrations erupting?
BASH: You know, the problem -- and I think you've been talking about this a little bit. The problem for the president when he travels to these areas, is that certainly the Secret Service is very, very involved with the security. But at a certain point, they do have to leave it up to the host government in terms of security. And you see Secret Service around here, but we do see a very heavy local police presence. And that is something that the White House has to take into consideration.
s Look, it's always a possibility that some of these protests, which have in this case called thousands of people who have been marching in the streets -- there's always a possibility that they could turn violent. It's something that they anticipate and something that they hope won't happen, which is why the president tries, as I think John King was talking about, to do this at a minimum.
He understands the disruption, if you will, his presence causes in these areas. This is a town -- this is a town of I think about 600,000 people. And it is absolutely -- besides the police and of course, the demonstrators, it is pretty much dead. It's a ghost town and that is because people leave because of the heavy security that happens when the president comes, and of course, the other 32 world leaders who are visiting here, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to queue up that sound bite, Dana, when the president sort of anticipated precisely this earlier today, that statement he had with his host, the president of Argentina. And he said it's not necessarily easy to host me, referring to George W. Bush, the leader of the United States. We'll get that sound bite and we'll play it for our viewers. Alec Miran is on the scene for us, right in the thick of things. Is it calming down. Is it staying the same, Alec, or getting worse?
MIRAN: Well, Wolf, I have a couple of updates for you, and I have someone here to give us a little perspective. The situation is this. The demonstrations pulled back about eight or nine blocks from the original clash site. The police who I described to you earlier on motorcycles have withdrawn.
We're not sure exactly where they were withdrawn. There's still a couple of police stands, but it's not as heavy of as a presence as it was.
The demonstrators are still on Avenida Colon, this major street in a very, it's a very affluent area of Mar del Plata. I'm joined now by Jose Armijo (ph), who ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH). MIRAN: OK, Jose, tells me he got split up, he was closer to the demonstrators. They're about four blocks from where we are now. We can see tires burning in the distance. Let me ask Jose if he has an idea of how many demonstrators there are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH).
MIRAN: Jose estimates that there's probably about 200 demonstrators who are still here on Avenida Colon, still fighting fires. I haven't seen any windows broken in quite awhile. We're standing at a major intersection where they had a major bonfire and there's just charred boards and furniture, a very acrid smell in the air.
So, it's not over yet. It's not clear where the police and the federal police have gone. But they pulled away from being in the, in your face mode, with the demonstrators. We can see that there's a police helicopter hovering above the line of demonstrators. And that's maybe ten stories up. The police choppers covering them.
BLITZER: Alec Miran is our producer on the scene of the streets of Mar del Plata in Argentina, where the Summit of the Americas is taking place.
A summit that is being married clearly by these violent demonstrations that have erupted over the past hour, hour and a half, or so. Tear gas, bonfires, hurling of rocks, getting ugly over there.
Dana Bash, our White House correspondent is about a mile and a half or so away from the situation. She's at a very secure area, where the president himself is staying. Dana, this summit is designed to do what?
BASH: The summit is designed to gather all the leaders, really from the Western Hemisphere, to meet and talk about issues they all need to discuss, primarily from the president's perspective, it is trade.
And that is part of the reason really, the main reason why we are seeing these demonstrations, which of course have at least in some parts, turned into riots.
The president has been pushing this free trade of Americas, something that would allow free trade all the way from Alaska down here to Argentina. It's been stalled for quite some time, since 1994. It was actually supposed to go into effect this year.
Part of the reason it's stalled is because there's not a lot of appetite for that kind of a free trade agreement in this part of the world, and that is part of what we're seeing, in terms of the protest.
People saying that it simply does not work, that kind of free trade. But something I should mention to you, Wolf, what the president is actually doing right now, is he is going for the class photo of these 34 world leaders, to meet and to get their picture taken and then actually they're going to start some of the plenary sessions.
This is running a little bit late. He's actually at the Hermitage Hotel, which is where the sessions are taking place. I should also tell you that I just got an e-mail from our person in the pool, in the travel pool, as you know, it's a very small group of journalists who can actually go around the with the president. She says that they didn't see or hear anything as they were going by. She says it's unclear, probably unprobable that the president saw anything.
BLITZER: I suspect that John King, you covered the White House for a long time. I suspect that word of this kind of demonstration, even though the president and his aids were there, not necessarily feeling it or seeing it or hearing it, they get that word very quickly.
KING: He would get the word from his aides at some point. And usually, he will have a very brief conversation with the Secret Service. The body agent who travels with the president is getting constant updates from the other agents, not only in the room, but especially if they're preparing for a motorcade movement. That agent is getting an update, before he will let the president step out the door to go anywhere near that car, he talks to other people to make sure, is it OK to step outside? What are we going to encounter?
They have alternative routes planned all the time. They will do a number of things. Sometimes they use a decoy limousine. The president's not even in his limousine. We don't see that in this case. There's no question, he would have a brief conversation with his body agent, that would simply say, sir, some problems in the streets. We'll let you know if there's an issue, but let's go.
Then of course, later, as Dana notes, other aides who are watching what we're watching back at the hotel, there are embassy officials on hand, they will get him more comprehensive information once he gets to a place he can sit tight.
BLITZER: And we're continuing out coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM, these are live pictures that we're showing our viewers here in the United States and around the world, live pictures of the demonstrations taking place in Mar del Plata in Argentina.
A show of force by the police after demonstrators began hurling rocks, throwing molotov cocktails and lighting fires at various businesses on these streets, in this Argentinean city.
Alec Miran is there. Alec, how close are you to the scene right now?
MIRAN: We are three blocks from where the -- from where the clash first broke out. I talked to a colleague of mine from Level (ph) network news stopped by. He said the demonstrators now are about ten blocks down.
We can see smoke in that direction. We can't get in our car and he said there are still quite a number of police making sure that they don't advance. Haven't seen any more tear gas. Haven't seen any more clashes. Police are slowly, slowly trying to push these demonstrators, probably about 200 is what Jose Armijo estimated.
Trying to push them slowly back up this five-lane boulevard. Like I say, the police -- yes, the police helicopters still hovering. I'm not right at the clash point, it's moved away from me. We may get in our car and see what's happening up there a little bit.
One thing that's a little bit surreal and a little bit, I don't want to say alarming, but hundreds if not thousands of what I assume are normal, everyday Mar del Plata citizens are out looking at the damage and walking up toward the potential flash point.
You know, it's their city and they want to see what's going on. But, if there's another round of tear gas, if there's anything that happens to the police and demonstrators, those people will be -- you know potentially in a bad spot. That's one thing that worries me a little bit here on the ground, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right Alec, stand by.
Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner is checking the situation online. Jacki, give us a little sense of what's going on in the streets of Mar del Plata.
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we just have a very simple map we wanted to show you, some of the streets that Alec was talking about. He talked about Colon. That's the main avenue right here, you can see that.
Now where he is, Santiago del Estero, that's that intersection right there. And then the flash point he's talking about is one block away, right there at Colon and Santa Fe.
As far as we can tell, at the end of Colon, right down here, is where the president is staying. It seems like it might be this area right here on the water. It's tough to tell because it's hard to get a street map of that particular area.
But, it looks like that's about as far away as the president is if that's where he's staying, not necessarily the Sheridan where's he going to be, but the hotel where he is actually staying, Wolf.
That gives you an idea of the distance away from what's going on.
BLITZER: Very good map you have over there, Jacki. Thank you very much.
Lucia Newman, are you still with us?
NEWMAN: Yes, Wolf, here I am.
BLITZER: Are you surprised by this, what's going on?
NEWMAN: Wolf, I'm not. I've been to every single Summit of the Americas, as well as to the WTO. These sorts of things happen all the time. This was very well announced, that there was going to be a huge demonstration.
We will knew that the picateros and others that have a reputation for getting violent, would be here as well. Obviously the police were prepared, very, very well prepared.
Let me say that when the APEX summit took place last year in Santiago, Chile, there were demonstrations, not as big as these. What tends to happen, and I don't want to get alarmist either, but they seem to go and come back, go and come back. They come in waves. A lot of these people came all the way from Buenos Aires. The drove all night or took the train here all night. Someone said earlier today, they want to get their money's worth.
BLITZER: Lucia, how big of a city is Mar del Plata? Because, in recent years, with all the anti-globalization protests that have affected a lot of these summits, I thought they were trying, these summit leaders, to move into remote areas so there wouldn't be the kind of urban settings that we're seeing right now.
NEWMAN: Wolf, this isn't remote enough, as we obviously saw. This is a five-hour drive from the capital, Buenos Aires, a huge city, a major metropolis in Latin America. So, anybody who wanted to get here could, either by bus or by train. That's exactly what they've done. It's a fairly small city, it's a seaside resort. I think something like 200,000 people live here year around, and that swells during the summertime. It's a very, very beautiful seaside town but obviously it's been marred by the summit and by the violence we've seen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lucia, stand by. John King is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us. Remember in Canada, that summit -- was it Calgary they wanted to move one of those summits because they didn't want to be in a major city where this kind of ...
KING: They moved the leaders up to Kananaskis, up into the mountains. I may be mispronouncing that, but the leaders actually met up in the mountains just so they could keep the protesters away and they kept most of the press corps a considerable distance away.
One other quick point. As you watch the looting pictures, the groups that are peacefully demonstrating condemn this forcefully because they believe it distracts any sympathy from their cause. They believe these trade agreements, the organizations protesting peacefully, are big conglomerates that cut these trade deals and then hire workers in these developing countries for low wages, no labor rules, no environmental rules.
That is the key protest of many of the anti-globalization forces, that the big guys win under these trade agreements, and the little people get the short end of the stick, if you will. And you see this looting. It is very hard to build sympathy for your cause when you see pictures, like on the screen here, of people just destroying businesses randomly and looting and starting fires.
So we should make the point as we watch this horror, the chaos in the streets, that the great number of people who organize these protests will quickly condemn this, that they believe it hurts their political cause.
BLITZER: We're also seeing now a picture of the president of the United States, meeting with some of the summiteers, some of the other summit leaders. Alec Miran, you're still with us, right?
MIRAN: I am, Wolf.
BLITZER: Is there any indication that any of these protesters have been arrested?
MIRAN: Haven't seen any of that, haven't heard of any of that. Like I mentioned earlier that behind the barricade as we're now approaching the original barricade, there are -- there were, and I think there still are several detention vans for lack of a better word. If the protesters presumably had broken through the fence, which they did not, those vans were waiting for them.
And one thing to note is that in addition to the hundreds of police who are behind the barricade here at the corner of Corrientes (ph) and Cologne (ph), which is the original flash point. A water canon has been moved up to the front line.
The demonstrators are now just to recap, you know, ten, 12, 14 blocks up the street. So the area where the original clash took place, which is where I'm standing now, is quiet. The police are still in huge force because their fence here because, their goal, of course, is still to keep the demonstrators from permeating this shield.
BLITZER: And as we continue our live coverage of the demonstrations unfolding on the streets of this Argentinean city, we're also seeing what they now call the class photo. The leaders of this summit, they have gathered for this photo opportunity for a picture, John King.
You've covered that there. You see the president, sort of lower right-hand side of the screen. A lot of people are going to be wondering where Hugo Chavez is. We see Vicente Fox, the president of Mexico all the way the bottom row on the left-hand part of the screen.
But a lot of men, a few women, representing their countries at this summit of the western hemisphere. This is a stark contrast, John, to what we see on streets, this class photo.
KING: It is, and it plays into the dichotomy and the political coverage. And the Summit of the Americas, as Dana noted, is largely an economic group to discuss trade. Literally it is what is sounds. It runs from the tip of Canada all the way down to the tip of South America, including the Caribbean nations, as well.
So you have a number of very strong economies here, none stronger, of course, than the United States but also a number of very poor countries. And from looking at the picture here, I'm trying to get a sense of where President Chavez is. He is, of course, the nemesis of President Bush at this summit. And he was at that public demonstration earlier today, today and encouraging the anti-American sentiment. The one leader from the region not at this summit, of course, is Fidel Castro.
BLITZER: He's never invited.
KING: Never invited, because as the president is fond of noting, the president would say all of these countries are democracies. Now, some are more Democratic than others, if we went through a country by country analysis, but Mr. Castro is never ...
BLITZER: We can see him in the back row, sort of to the right hand side Hugo Chavez. He's pretty far away from the president of the United States, diplomatically positioned away. There is Hugo Chavez right in the middle of the screen on the top row. And the president, if the camera continues to pan, there he is on the bottom row. So they're not that close. But the president did say if they did encounter each other during the course of the summit, he would be polite.
KING: He said the American people expect their president to be polite and, look, let's strip away the diplomacy. There's an economic relationship. We may not get along very well, the United States, with the government of Venezuela, but we do buy quite a bit of oil from the government of Venezuela.
So there's an economic relationship despite the political tension.
BLITZER: Well, it will be interesting to see if the president of the United States is polite and if the president of Venezuela will be polite, as well.
And we'll keep looking at these pictures of this -- these are live pictures coming in from Argentina right now, the leaders of the Western Hemisphere.
Now they're breaking up this photo opportunity. It's called the class photo.
Only about a kilometer, or kilometer and a half away, this has been the scene of what's going on. Pretty angry demonstrations on the streets of Mar del Plata in Argentina.
There is the president of the United States.
Earlier today, when he met with the president of Argentina, he indicated that it was never easy to host this kind of summit, especially a summit involving the president of the United States.
Listen to this little excerpt of what Mr. Bush said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will, of course, be polite. That's what the American people expect their president to do, is to be a polite person. And I will -- you know, if I run across him, I will do just that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Well, that was a reference to what he would do with Hugo Chavez in case their paths were to cross.
There's another statement that the president said at that photo opportunity with the president of Argentina in which he said to the president of Argentina, it's not easy to host a president of the United States. Maybe he was referring to these images that we're seeing right now, at least in part angry anti-American demonstrations, but also going beyond that, anti-globalization, anti-economic demonstrations.
Some of the free trade agreements that the summit stands for in the Western Hemisphere clearly something that these picateros, these trade union opposition leaders, if you will, they strongly oppose.
These are the images. This is new video that we're just getting in.
You see these protesters really going in and destroying these shops, these buildings, some of the banks, some of the retail outlets that have made Mar del Plata a beautiful city.
It's going to be damaged now as a result of this demonstration.
Very predictable, John, I suspect, given the nature of politics in this part of the world.
KING: The protests predictable.
And the class photo and the business as usual, if you will, going about your business also predictable, because most of these leaders probably have no idea the scope of what's happening in the streets, but they're well aware that there's something going on in the streets.
BLITZER: Listen to this, John. This is new video that we're just getting. But you get a sense of what happened.
Alec Miran is our producer. He's on the scene, he's been watching this since it started. He's joining us on the phone once again.
Alec, it looks like there's a lot of destruction in the downtown area of this beautiful Argentinean city. How bad is it when you see it up close?
MIRAN: It's bad, Wolf.
The demonstrators (INAUDIBLE) flash point. Like I said, there was this huge volley of tear gas, maybe 20, 30 tear gas shells, canisters fired by the police.
The demonstrators, as they fled the tear gas, they did one of two things, it seemed to me as an observer. They either with their sticks or with rocks they found, they -- you know, they started beating on plate-glass windows, banks, travel agencies. I saw a candy store that had its windows broken. And the other thing they did was throw molotov cocktails.
So, yes, there's quite a bit of damage, Wolf. Only one building that we saw that appeared to have been set on fire, which was that bank. Don't know how bad the damage was, haven't been able to get in there yet. You know, and most of it would just seem to be, you know, frightful (ph) I guess, for lack of a better word. They would break the windows and then run away.
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