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The stories on this page were first published Thursday, Oct. 4, 2001
Drug trafficking equated to terrorism in Congress
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Partnerships, called "dark synergies," exist between terrorists and drug trafficking, a U.S. congressional committee heard this week.

And the head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Adminstration said that his organization considers those in the drug trade to be a merger of organized crime and terror. The DEA chief, Asa Hutchinson,  also said that the religious fundamental Taliban controls the heroin trade from Afghanistan.

Of terrorists, he said, "We see in these [drug trafficking] groups today a merger of international organized crime and terror. While DEA does not specifically target terrorists per se, we can and will target and track down drug traffickers involved in terrorist acts, wherever in the world we can find them."

It was Subcommittee Chairman Mark Souder who described the partnerships between drug traffickers and terrorists as "dark synergies." International intelligence information suggests that such relationships currently exist between insurgent groups and drug traffickers in Colombia, Peru and Burma, he said.

The meeting was of the Congressional Committee on Criminal Justice and Drug Policy

U.S. State Department intelligence information on drug trafficking in the region indicates that the Taliban has collected at least $40 million through a tax it imposes on the opium poppy crop, William Bach from the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs told the committee. Rep. Souder and Elijah E. Cummings, both committee members, placed the figure at $50 million.

The DEA and State officials said they had no evidence clearly linking drug profits and suspected terrorist leader Usama bin Laden or his al Qaeda terrorist network. "While we do not have clear evidence directly linking drug traffickers and terrorists in Afghanistan, Taliban responsibility is obvious, particularly given its de facto control
over 90 percent of the country," said Bach.

DEA Administrator Hutchinson also expressed certainty about the link between drugs and terror in Afghanistan. "The very sanctuary enjoyed by bin Laden is based on the existence of the Taliban's support for the drug trade. This connection defines the deadly, symbiotic relationship between the illicit drug trade and international terrorism," he said. Connections between drug traffickers and terrorist movements have drawn increasing attention from the international law enforcement community in recent years. 

Bach said the State Department's concern about the trend has "heightened exponentially" in the aftermath of theSept. 11 attacks on the United 
States. Bin Laden and the al Qaeda network are considered the primary suspects in the hijackings of four U.S. commercial airliners and their subsequent crashes in New York City, Washington and rural Pennsylvania.

"The degree to which profits from the drug trade are directed to finance terrorist activities, as well as the extent to which both types of organizations rely upon the same money laundering and smuggling facilitators or systems, is of paramount concern to the DEA," Hutchinson said in a prepared statement.

Hutchinson presented the committee with a receipt which he said demonstrated the institutionalized nature of the taxation imposed by the Taliban on the opium poppy crop. The DEA administrator also
presented data which showed steady increases in Afghanistan's annual opium production and the number of hectares planted in opium poppies
through the 1990s.

In 2000, however, the Taliban banned opium poppy cultivation. The United Nations Drug Control Program declared the effort successful, and the ban was extended into 2001. Hutchinson questioned whether the Taliban is committed to the cause of reducing drug trafficking in this action.

If poppy cultivation has declined, then the availability of heroin in Southwest Asia would also be expected to decrease, but Hutchinson said that has not happened. He suggested that the Taliban has stored previous years' production of opium for future sale and is now attempting to drive up the regional price of opium through control of the supply.

Evidence about bin Laden
'clear and compelling'

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

There is "clear and compelling" information that Usama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network were involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Wednesday.

In an interview with Charlie Gibson broadcast on ABC's Good Morning America, Armitage said the United States has "presented through diplomatic channels much of the same evidence which we showed to NATO yesterday, and NATO's comments, I think, will hold for most of our friends and allies.

"It's clear and compelling information that leads right to Usama bin Laden and al-Qaida."

Conspiracy show on TV
featured airliner targeting
NYC World Trade Towers

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Consider it another case of life imitating art.

A March pilot of the television show "The Lone Gunman" featured a passenger jet being secretly programmed to crash into the World Trade Center.

The show aired as a rerun in Costa Rica on cable just a few weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States where two passenger jets did plow into the World Trade Center towers.

The fictional episode did not involve Muslim terrorists. Instead, the bad guys were shadowy U.S. government officials who controlled the plane from afar with a secure computer linkup.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Wednesday that U.S. security officials never extrapolated any patterns from a series of aircraft related incidents stretching back as far as December 1994 when Algerians hijacked a passenger jet with the intentions of flying it into the Eiffel Tower. They were stopped on the ground when the aircraft was refueled.

The Times did not mention "The Lone Gunman" show, nor has the contents of the initial episode for the short-lived X-Files spinoff been mentioned extensively elsewhere.

The eposode was jarring in retrospect because it aired here only a few weeks before the terrorist attacks.

"The Lone Gunmen" features three conspiracy fanatics who were sometimes characters on the X-Files. They are computer geeks and publish a little-read conspiracy newspaper called The Long Gunman, a reference to the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.

The pilot or first epidsode of the Friday night show on the Fox Network. first aired March 4. The show was written by Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan, John Shiban and Frank Spotnitz and directed by Rob Bowman, according to a fan Web site at:


The show has since been canceled by Fox. That had been announced in May, but episodes aired as summer reruns.

'Lone Gunman' stars include Zuleikha Robinson, Dean Haglund, Tom Braidwood and Bruce Harwood. The three male leads play computer experts and conspiracy theorists.

In the World Trade Center episode, the three main characters are Richard "Ringo" Langly (Dean Haglund), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood). A small group of U.S. Department of Defense operatives plan to crash a jetliner into New York City's twin towers in order to keep tensions high and increase arms sales.

Two characters board what they believe to be the targeted airline flight and find out 22 minutes from New York City that the pilots cannot control the craft. Thanks to their associates on the ground and a stolen, high-powered computer chip the characters are able to override the ground signals controlling the aircraft. The pilots regain control just in time to swerve and miss the World Trade Center by a few yards.

"The Lone Gunman" is owned by 20th Century Fox Television and 1013 Productions. Like the longer-running X-Files, the show has accumulated fast fans who have protested the termination of the show. 

Of course, on Sept, 11, the terrorists were on board the aircrafts that hit the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon in Washington. There was no ground-based computer control.

However, the television show is among other facts that contradict statements such as the one by Jane F. Garvey, the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, who said in testimony before a House subcommittee Sept. 20: "This is a whole new world for us."

Clearly the use of aircraft as weapons was considered in fact as well as in art long before Sept. 11.

Costa Rica seen being hit hard by international economic slump
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

An international credit-rating agency has singled out Costa Rica as being among a handful of Latin American nations that will bear the brunt of economic reverses caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Costa Rica relies on tourism, has high external debt and is faced with low international coffee prices, said Standard & Poors in a report titled "Recent Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Will Put Latin American Economies Under Additional Pressure." The report was written by New York analyst Jane Eddy.

The terrorist attacks will put additional pressure on Latin economies and might affect future credit worthiness, said the firm. Standard & Poors is a leading international arbiter of credit. A lower rating from the company translates into high interest costs for both corporations and countries.

"While Latin American . . . ratings already incorporate their exposure to confidence-sensitive flows, the current shock, which will deepen the economic slowdown, poses a greater challenge to these countries," said the company, adding, "The heightened prospects of economic recession globally will compound the weak conditions in Latin America."

The firm said that it was not contemplating any credit-rating changes now but suggested that the response by leaders in each country might have an effect on future ratings.

Costa Rica was singled out along with Brazil and Panama as countries with significant debt abroad. The company said that these countries with "large external financing gaps" might be more vulnerable to significant increases in the cost of borrowing.

". . . Costa Rica's exposure to the vagaries of international markets in 2002 poses some problems," the company said, noting that "Costa Rica's gross external financing requirement for the year equals approximately $3 billion and reserves total $1.3 billion."   In other words, the country has less than half of what it will need to spend internationally in 2002.

Exports of goods and services, income and financial transfers do not represent a significant percentage of the economies of some countries, said Standard & Poors. This source is 14 percent of all the money in the national economy in a country like Argentina and 13 percent  for Brazil, the rating firm noted. And that means these countries will be affected less by a downturn in the world economy.

But for Costa Rica, said Standard & Poors, exports of goods and services, income from abroad and financial transfers make up about 50 percent of the national economy. Therefore, it said, the country is much more vulnerable to an international economic downturn.

". . . while the downturn in the world economy will have an unequal effect on production, growth rates in all countries will lessen to a marginal or significant degree due to lower inflows, especially from exports, compounding the drop in domestic demand, said Standard & Poors. 

"Other downward economic pressures derive from the high prevailing interest rates in many of the countries due to the credit squeeze, the need to support weakening currencies, and other related problems. Moreover, weak consumer confidence has prevailed in the region for some time, and unemployment rates are in, or approach, double digits in several countries."

Historic lows in coffee prices also have had a negative effect in Costa Rica, Colombia and  El Salvador, the report said. The negatives include less job creation and less income from foreign sources.

Countries that rely on tourism will be hard-hit, the company said, specifically listing Costa Rica along with the Caribbean nations, Belize and Panama. In Costa Rica the amount earned from international tourism is about 13 percent of all the money coming into the country from abroad. 

"The policy response to the economic downturn and adverse market conditions is critical," said Standard & Poors. ". . . The ability of Latin American governments to garner the needed domestic political support to take and maintain appropriate economic and financial measures will be key."

Another similar view

Meanwhile, Fitch, another credit-rating agency, warned of further debt defaults and possible ratings downgrades by its analysts among Latin
American companies.  Prospects of a slowing global economy and decreased desire to take chances made "the outlook for corporate credit quality in Latin America increasingly negative,"  Fitch said in a report last week.

Fitch said it was particularly concerned with the Latin American aviation industry and said it was placing all such firms under rating scrutiny. Fitch came out with the report in the wake of a default by Sanluis, the Mexican autoparts manufacturer, to pay outstanding eurobond and Euro commercial papers because of a negative outlook for automotive sales in the United States. 

Danger warning is renewed for citizens traveling overseas
Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON The U.S. government has renewed its travel warning in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks in the United States.

The latest warning, issued Friday, said that the government has "continuing concern based on threatening rhetoric from extremist groups and the potential for further terrorist actions against American citizens and interests."

The U.S. State Department urged citizens abroad to review their circumstances and to take any measures they deem necessary to ensure their personal safety. The department said it will continue to develop information about potential threats to U.S. citizens overseas and will share credible threats with them through its consular information program.

That information may be found on the Web at: http://travel.state.gov

The government reiterated its earlier warning that it had received information in May that American citizens may be the target of a terrorist threat from extremist groups with links to Usama bin Ladin's Al-Qaida organization.  These individuals have not distinguished between official and civilian targets, the department said.

Coincidentally, A.M. Costa Rica published that earlier announcement in its edition that went public in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, the day of the attacks.

The government continued to stress that U.S. military sites in Japan and Korea were specifically described as targets in the information it received.

"In light of the above information, U.S. government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert," the announcement said. "U.S. Government facilities have and will continue to temporarily close or suspend public services, as necessary, to review their security posture and ensure its adequacy.  In those instances, U.S. Missions will make every effort to provide emergency services to American citizens."

The government said that U.S. citizens planning to travel abroad should consult the Department of State's public announcements, travel warnings, consular information sheets, and regional travel brochures, all of which are available at the Consular Affairs Internet web site listed earlier.. 

American citizens overseas may contact the American Citizens Services unit of the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for up-to-date information on security conditions, the announcement noted.

Fox and Bush will meet
again today in Washington

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Mexican President Vicente Fox is expected to meet with President Bush today in Washington to reiterate Mexico's support for the U.S.-led international fight against terrorism. 

White House officials say President Fox will underscore Mexico's "solidarity and steadfast support" for the United States following the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes. The White House also says Bushwill thank Mexico for stepping up its cooperation with the United States in the wake of the attacks. 

Later, the Mexican president is scheduled to travel to New York City to meet with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and see first hand the World Trade Center disaster site.

President Fox pledged his country's unconditional support to the United States after the attacks occurred. He also promised to work closely with U.S. authorities to ensure security along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Critics in Mexico and elsewhere have accused the Mexican government of failing to take a stronger stand in support of its northern neighbor. Some say condolences to the United States were undercut by remarks from Mexican Interior Minister Santiago Creel, who emphasized Mexico's traditional policy of non-involvement in foreign affairs. 

Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda also issued a call for solidarity, but members of the Mexican Congress subsequently asked for his resignation and condemned any policy that would plunge Mexico into war. The terrorist strikes occurred four days after President Fox wrapped up a state visit to the United States.

Fox promises he will
open files on massacre

Mexican President Vicente Fox has commemorated the 33rd anniversary of a student massacre by promising to open secret government documents on the event. 

On Oct. 2, 1968, police fired on a crowd of largely peaceful demonstrators gathered in the capital's Tlatelolco Plaza for a pro-democracy rally. 

The government of then-President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz put the death toll at around 30 people. Others, however, say as many as 300 people were killed. The incident happened 10 days before Mexico was set to host the 1968 Summer Olympic Games. 

Diaz Ordaz's administration also blocked access to the documents, which are believed to contain information on who ordered the shooting and how many people died.

President Fox says his government recognizes Oct. 2, 1968, as one of the most important dates in Mexico's struggle for democracy. He also says Mexicans enjoy greater freedoms today because of the protests.

New ambassador picked
for position in Caracas

President Bush says he plans to nominate the U.S. State Department's director of Cuban affairs to serve as ambassador to Venezuela. 

Bush's intended nominee, Charles Shapiro, has worked in various posts at the State Department's Washington headquarters. They include the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs and Office of Andean Affairs. 

Shapiro, a career diplomat, has also served in Trinidad and Tobago, Chile and El Salvador. He has held his current post as director of Cuban Affairs since 1999. 

Shapiro has an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree from Georgia State University. 

His nomination was announced Wednesday at the White House and requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate. 

Coast Guard liberates
hijacked yacht in Haiti

The U.S. Coast Guard says it has stopped an attempt by eight Haitians to hijack a yacht and force the boat's French skipper to take them to the United States. 

Coast Guard officials say they intercepted the vessel off Haiti's north coast Tuesday, four days after the skipper called the French embassy in Port-au-Prince to report the hijacking. Officials say the Haitians forced themselves onto the vessel at the small island of Ile a Vache, off the country's southwestern coast. 

U.S. authorities say the Haitians have been sent back to Port-au-Prince, along with 59 others who were intercepted at sea last week as they tried to reach the United States illegally. 

Hundreds of illegal Haitian immigrants try to slip into the United States each year from the Caribbean nation, which is one of the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. They often risk their lives traveling by sea on overcrowded vessels. 

Television station owner
arrested on bribery count

A Peruvian judge has ordered the arrest of a television station owner following allegations he took bribes from the country's former spy chief. 

The judge acted this week after Peru's Congress released an undated video that appears to show Panamericana Television owner Ernesto Schutz taking bribes from Vladimiro Montesinos. Authorities believe Montesinos may have been trying to buy favorable television coverage for his ex-boss, disgraced former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. 

The former president left office last November and sought refuge in Japan amid a corruption scandal involving Montesinos, who is currently jailed in Peru. 

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