News Brief: Huawei CFO, USA Gymnastics, Hurricane Damages Puerto Rican Tombs

Dec 6, 2018
Originally published on December 6, 2018 11:48 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Authorities in Vancouver, Canada, have arrested a top executive at one of China's biggest tech companies.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. The company is called Huawei, and this executive is actually also the daughter of the company's founders. She was arrested at the request of the United States. And now she could be extradited to the U.S. for alleged violations of sanctions on Iran. China is demanding that she be released.

MARTIN: All right. We've got NPR's Shanghai correspondent, Rob Schmitz, with us to talk through this story. Hey, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right. First off, just tell us more. I mean, what more do we know about this executive, and why has she been arrested?

SCHMITZ: Well, her name is Meng Wanzhou, and she's the CFO of Huawei. And she's also the daughter of the company founder Ren Zhengfei. And Huawei is China's most important tech company. It's the world's largest manufacturer of cell towers, Internet equipment. It also makes the world's second-most popular smartphone. So it's kind of like the Apple of China.

MARTIN: Wow.

SCHMITZ: Now, we don't know the charges against Meng yet. But this might have something to do with a U.S. criminal probe into Huawei's dealings in Iran. U.S. authorities suspect Huawei was involved in defying sanctions on Iran since 2016.

MARTIN: I mean, this is kind of crazy timing - right? - because she was arrested December 1. And that was the same day President Trump met with China's leader, Xi Jinping, at that G20 meeting in Argentina to try to make a deal on trade.

SCHMITZ: (Laughter) Yeah, not so impeccable timing here. As both countries seem to work out a peaceful truce to the trade war, this suddenly happens. China, of course, is furious over this. And it's hard to think this will not have an impact on negotiations as the U.S. and China try to hammer out a trade deal in the next three months. I spoke to James McGregor about this. He's the Greater China CEO of public relations firm APCO here in Shanghai. Here's what he said.

JAMES MCGREGOR: This is usually the kind of a move China does. You know, when China has got some tough political problem going, often it ends up arresting somebody - some foreigner, some, you know, Chinese who's now got another passport - and kind of holding them hostage.

MARTIN: So Rob, might - I mean, might the Chinese be right about this? Could this be a political move by the Trump administration?

SCHMITZ: Well, if it were a political move, it'd be difficult to fathom why President Trump would order this now, when he needs China's cooperation more than ever. But from a legal perspective, we did see this coming. Back in April, the U.S. launched a criminal probe into Huawei's dealings in Iran that came after authorities investigated Huawei's Chinese rival, ZTE, over similar violations.

MARTIN: Right.

SCHMITZ: And then it banned U.S. chip makers from selling to ZTE, and that ban was later lifted by President Trump after Xi Jinping got involved. But going back to Huawei and Meng Wanzhou, she also served on the board of a Huawei holding company, more than a decade ago, that did business in Iran. So the charges might be related to that, too.

MARTIN: I mean, as we noted, President Trump and Xi Jinping had met and had sort of hammered out an incremental trade deal on some specifics. Is that just over now? I mean, is the Chinese government saying anything about this?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, the Chinese government is obviously very angry about this. It's demanding her release. You know, despite the nice, warm feelings after the meeting, you know, these two countries are still in a trade war. You know, most U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods will still rise in March if the two sides can't negotiate a deal here. But by arresting the daughter of one of China's most important companies, the U.S. is taking a big risk that China walks away from the table and says, fine, let's just scrap negotiations and continue this trade war.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Rob Schmitz, joining us from Shanghai. Thanks so much, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: The organization that oversees gymnastics in this country has filed for bankruptcy.

GREENE: Yeah. USA Gymnastics has really struggled to recover since Larry Nassar, the former team doctor, was convicted of molesting hundreds of gymnasts. Since then, the organization has cycled through three CEOs. Major sponsors have pulled away and, of course, more than 300 plaintiffs have filed suit.

MARTIN: For more, we're joined by reporter Alexandra Starr from our New York studios. Alexandra, thanks for being here.

ALEXANDRA STARR, BYLINE: No problem. Good to talk with you.

MARTIN: You have been covering this story really since the beginning. So can you tell us, was this kind of the inevitable, that USA Gymnastics would have to file for bankruptcy?

STARR: People have been talking about this now for months, so it's not a surprise. And as you said in the introduction, it's sort of, like, the latest debacle for the organization.

MARTIN: What does this mean - I mean, when we think about USA Gymnastics, its role in cultivating gymnasts from the U.S. to compete in the Olympics - I mean, the next Olympics is coming up in Tokyo in 2020, right? What does it mean for those games?

STARR: So the United States will definitely field a team in 2020, whether USA Gymnastics is the organization that facilitates all of that is in question. But certainly, the U.S. is going to be present there. And Simone Biles, who, you know, people regard as the best gymnast in history, will be there.

So we have to remember, there is a difference between USA Gymnastics and the team that it's been fielding. The women, in particular, have been extraordinary. They're the world champions, and everyone is pretty certain that the U.S. will dominate at the podium again there.

MARTIN: It'll just happen under different auspices. It just won't be USA Gymnastics?

STARR: Well, we can't be sure. But what we can be sure is that Team USA will be represented.

MARTIN: What do you think - you and I have touched on this before in covering this story. When USA Gymnastics has been grappling with all this, trying to come to grips with the crimes committed by Larry Nassar, how does it affect parents who are trying to decide whether or not to get their kids into this sport?

STARR: That's an excellent question, Rachel. And it's something I've been thinking a lot about. You know, one way this bankruptcy proceeding could affect gymnastics in the United States - I don't think it's going to affect the very elite, the Simone Biles, you know, the team that is going to go to the Olympics. But in terms of the pipeline and development, I wonder if some parents will elect not to put their children into this sport.

And also, are there going to be kind of the regional competitions, the national camps, that have worked over the years to develop that nascent talent? Is that going to proceed with this organization filing for bankruptcy? That's an open question.

MARTIN: Yeah. What does this bankruptcy mean for the victims who filed suit against the organization?

STARR: So what it does is it puts a hold on those lawsuits. So at this point, they were in the process - all of these gymnasts who have filed suit, they were in the process - in the course of filing these suits and it going to trial, they were getting depositions. They were getting emails and documents. All of that comes to a halt. So we'll have to see what happens.

MARTIN: So we don't know if they're going to get the money that they're filing suit for, the damages.

STARR: Or their day in court - when is that going to happen?

MARTIN: Right, OK. Reporter Alexandra Starr, she covers USA Gymnastics. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

STARR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: A lot of damage in Puerto Rico has been repaired more than a year after Hurricane Maria hit the island.

GREENE: Yeah, but there are also still so many open wounds after all this time, and one of them is hard to see. In a town in the western part of the island, there is a cemetery. It's locked, and inside are hundreds of broken graves.

MARTIN: NPR's Adrian Florido talked to people whose relatives lie in that cemetery. Adrian joins us now to talk about this. So Adrian, the cemetery's in a town in Puerto Rico's central mountain range. It's called Lares, is that right?

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Lares. Yeah, Lares.

MARTIN: Lares. What happened there?

FLORIDO: Well, Hurricane Maria dumped so much rain on this town - and really, all of Puerto Rico. But in this town, specifically, there was so much rain that it triggered a landslide at the cemetery, the only one in town, which is built on a hillside. And it damaged nearly 1,800 tombs. It ripped a lot of them apart. It cracked them open. It sent a lot of caskets tumbling down the hill. And the damage was so bad and there were so many open graves that Puerto Rico's health department said the cemetery had become a health risk and ordered it closed.

And so what that meant was that there were - there was no more place to bury the dead in this town and also that people just couldn't visit the graves of their loved ones. So let's listen to this man I met named Sotero Viera, who, eventually, he got so mad at not being allowed in that he forced his way past a worker who was trying to keep him out.

SOTERO VIERA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: He says - he's saying, you know, you can call the police. You can call the governor. You can call the president, but I'm going to go check on my daughter's grave.

MARTIN: So I mean, what are those people left to do? I mean, this guy is just defying the orders to try to get in there. But what are others resorting to?

FLORIDO: Right - because it's been so long. It's been more than a year at this point. And people are furious that it has taken so long for the government to address the situation. And you know, what you have is a lot of people in this town thinking that their loved one's remains may be exposed to the elements. But at the same time, they aren't allowed in to check and see how - check on the conditions of the tombs.

And so some people have taken to drastic measures. That man we just heard from, he actually ended up pulling a permit to have his daughter's remains exhumed and reburied in a private cemetery in a different city.

MARTIN: Wow.

FLORIDO: Yeah. Actually, the mayor of the town, Roberto Pagan Centeno, says that that is his plan, too. Listen to him.

ROBERTO PAGAN CENTENO: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: He says, we're going to have to exhume all of the bodies in the damaged tombs and take them to a new cemetery that he wants to build, but it's not clear when that's going to happen.

MARTIN: Gosh. So I mean, have they given any explanation as to why it's just taking so long?

FLORIDO: You know, it's so hard to sort of - to sort of figure out what exactly has gone wrong. But the mayor says that his town just doesn't have the money or the expertise to do this. He says he's not getting much help from the island's central government. And the help from FEMA and the federal government has also been slow.

MARTIN: So Adrian, you are just about to wrap up a year covering Puerto Rico, living there, telling those stories. What does this particular story tell us about recovery on the island?

FLORIDO: Well, you know, it tells us that - well, I mean, over the past year, the recovery from Hurricane Maria has been very patchy recovery. And repair projects that aren't seen as priorities aren't getting the first dib at what are still pretty limited resources. Puerto Rico is in bad financial shape. And federal grants are just starting to arrive. And obviously, the focus for a lot of the past year has been on improving lives for those who survived the hurricane - fixing the power grid, running water, people's roofs - all important things.

But there's also an emotional aspect to the recovery. And you can see that in the emotional trauma that this ordeal at the cemetery has inflicted on this one town.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Adrian Florido in Puerto Rico. Adrian, thank you so much for sharing your reporting.

FLORIDO: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHILANTHROPE'S "FLKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.