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Jo Stuart
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These stories first were published Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2001
Air tickets on their way up for the holidays
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

There's no place like home for the holidays, particularly when you see what is happening to air fares. The traditional high season surge is reflected in air ticket pricings available via Internet pages.

Continental will charge $573 for a San José-Los Angeles-San José roundtrip leaving Costa Rica Oct. 30 and returning Nov. 10. The flight is routed through Houston.

But the same trip taken two months later is nearly double the cost. A flight leaving San José Dec. 30 for Los Angeles and a return flight Jan. 10 costs $1,033.90. 

A series of flights were checked Tuesday on Web pages maintained by major airline companies, and both Continental and United seem to be planning business as usual in the face of a major downturn in tourism.

Costa Rican officials put the downturn at about 17 percent in public statements this week. But those involved in the industry here said they believed the downturn to be much worse.

Fear of traveling triggered by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States seem to be the culprit, although the U.S. economy began to weaken well before then.

American Airlines was the only company checked that seemed to have the Yuletide spirit, and that may have been a clerical error. A Los Angeles roundtrip flight via Dallas-Fort Worth cost only $628.30 if begun Dec. 30 to return Jan. 10. That's lower than the month previous and much lower than the following month where prices are more in line with other carriers.

The aviation Web pages provided some curious information. Delta, for example, said that its Web page does not provide quotes for flights into and out of Costa Rica. The company runs a popular San José-Atlanta non-stop route. However, company officials here said that Costa Rican pricing was available on the Web. 

Martinair said on its Web page that it did not have flights to and from Costa Rica. It actually maintains a lower cost San José-Miami route.

The Mexicana Web page did not operate correctly with either Netscape of Microsoft Explorer. Quotes could not be obtained.

Mexicana is an important airline for Costa Rica because it crosslists some flights with United. In addition, reports have surfaced in Costa Rica of U.S. tourists driving several hours south to begin their air flights in Mexican border cities in order to avoid Los Angeles International. Those who do so fear terrorism. Travelers returning that way would have to put up with long delays at the U.S.-Mexico border due to tightened security.

Other travelers said they could save significant amounts of money by traveling from San José to Tijuana and then taking a taxi across the U.S.-Mexico border.

San José to Los Angeles and return
on the 10th of the following month
Flight leaving
Oct. 30
Nov. 30
Dec. 30
Jan. 30
via Miami
one stop
via Houston

San José to Minneapolis and return
on the 10th of the following month

Oct. 30
Nov. 30
Dec. 30
Jan. 30

On the subject of terrorism, one hotel owner said he heard of Canadian tourists taking a Japan Airlines 
jet from Vancouver, British Colombia, to a connection in Mexico City simply to avoid a stopover in the United States now that the country is involved in a hot war with Afghanistan.

The U.S.-based airlines are to be the beneficiaries of a $1.5 billion bailout plan now before the U.S. Congress and backed by President George Bush. The current ticket prices probably predate any bailout proposals and the Sept. 11 attacks.  And, like all air ticket pricing, they are highly changeable.
However, the prices on the Web seem to mirror at this moment what professional travel agents also could  find for a low-cost flight from San José to the United States and return.

A word about web pages

American Airlines (www.aa.com) maintains a slick Web page that allows a visitor to price trips quickly and easily.  Continental (www.continental.com) also maintains an adequate Web page where visitors can play with dates and times to obtain the lowest-priced fare.

United Airlines (www.ual.com) is another story. The Web pages are very slow to load, perhaps because programmers packed too much material on each page. A visitor must first select the flight and then search again for a price on this Web page. What is a two-step process elsewhere is a three-step process with United. The page crashed five times while an A.M. Costa Rica staffer was obtaining information for this news story. Several times it appeared the main server was down. Some delays ran as long a five minutes while a page loaded. 

The less said about the Mexicana Airlines page the better (www.mexicana.com.mx). The Web page never functioned correctly. When a fare was sought, the reply from Mexicana's computer continually demanded to know origin of flight and destination even though those facts had been inserted in plain language, with three-letter airport designations and in about every other manner that could be devised. The Web pages simply would not deliver a price. 

Few signups force Association of Residents to cancel Carnival trip
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The Association of Residents of Costa Rica has canceled its trip to the Limón Carnival next week because of low signups.

Only three couples signed up for the three-day, two-night trip compared to 15 couples who signed up last year, according to Ryan Piercy, executive director. He said the association had no choice but to cancel because otherwise the group would have had to pay for hotel rooms up front in the hopes more people signed up.

He attributed the low turnout to a general lack of enthusiasm to travel because of the terrorist tragedies in the United States and the war being waged against Afghanistan.

Garbage might also have been a factor. Limón had been threatened with a health shutdown unless municipal officials figured out what to do with the 
garbage generated by the week-long festival that starts Friday. Then municipal trash collectors 

walked out for a week-long strike. Municipal officials pleaded poverty to both situations. Published reports suggested that the carnival might be canceled.

A third night of bombing
see below

A settlement has been reached with municipal workers, and the carnival is going on as scheduled. but the negative publicity might have affected signups for the trip.

Those who went on the trip last year were a mix of people, nearly all who lived in Costa Rica, said Piercy. Even more wanted to go because the association office received 10 telephone calls right up until the day before the trip began, he said.

He said he expected a similar flurry of calls this year, although the trip has been irrevocably canceled. He urged association members to book their trips earlier in the future.

A third night of attacks rocks cities in Afghanistan
By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Witnesses reported explosions and anti-aircraft fire in Kabul and other Afghan cities as the United States carried out a third straight night of air attacks against the Taliban and suspected terrorist targets. 

The latest raids struck at targets in at least four cities: Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat, and Kandahar. Power was cut in Kabul shortly before the attacks began. The Afghan Islamic Press Agency also reports bombardment in three northern Afghan cities.

The nighttime attacks followed a daytime raid Tuesday on Kandahar, where the headquarters of the ruling Taliban is located.

The Taliban's envoy to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said Tuesday that both Osama bin Laden and the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar have survived the U.S.-led attacks. He also said that  both are still in Afghanistan.

U.S. and British forces began their air campaign against bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist network Sunday, shortly after dark in Afghanistan. Bin Laden is accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the attacks have damaged air defenses so much that raids can now be flown around the clock. The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard  Myers, said the United States has established "air supremacy" over Afghanistan. Taliban officials say the strikes have killed dozens of people in several Afghan cities. They say the Mullah Omar's home was hit while he was away.

In a separate development, the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance says about 40 Taliban commanders have defected to its side and closed a main road linking northern and southern Afghanistan. There is no independent confirmation of the opposition's claim.

Bush will limit
info to Congress

Special to A.M. Costa Rica 

WASHINGTON President Bush has decided for national security reasons to dramatically limit the number of people in the U.S. Congress who can receive administration briefings that include classified information on the war against terrorism.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters Tuesday that from now on only eight members of Congress will receive this information. 

They are the four leaders of the House and Senate, and the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

The decision, Fleischer said, reflects "the fact that our nation is now at war and the rules have changed. It's a reflection of the reality that the disclosure of information in a time of war is far different from an inadvertent disclosure at a time of peace. It could literally mean the loss of lives of people who are embarking on missions."

Bush made the determination "that in a time of war, the usual rules do not apply," and he "wants to make certain that every step is taken so that there cannot be a loss of life as a result of an inadvertent release of information," Fleischer said.The President stated the new policy in a memo to members of his Cabinet who routinely brief Congress about military and intelligence matters, said Fleischer.

The memo states that 'this administration will continue to work to inform the leadership of the Congress about the course of and important developments in our military, intelligence, and law enforcement operations. At the same time, we have an obligation to protect military operational security, intelligence sources and methods, and sensitive law enforcement investigations,'" Fleischer said, in reading from the memo.

Canada warns
citizens overseas

 By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Canada has warned its citizens about the possibility of increased dangers for those living abroad. 

The message went to all Canadian diplomatic missions for distribution to citizens. It said that military action by coalition countries, including Canada, against Afghanistan "may result in strong anti-Canadian sentiments and retaliatory actions throughout the world."

In the message, diplomatic officials urged Canadians who have not registered with the government as living abroad should do so online. The consular Affairs Web site is at www.voyage.ge.ca.

For those without Web access, the government said that the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade's Operation Centre can be reached at this telephone number: (613) 996-8885.

"Canadians should monitor local developments and news broadcast carefully and follow the advice of local authorities," the warning said. "There could be increased delays at airports and other transportation facilities. Please plan accordingly."

Travel reports are available for Canadians online at www.voyage.gc.ca/destinations/menu_e.htn

Investigators make separate arrests in drug cases
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rica's police agencies made two major sets of drug-related arrests Monday and Tuesday.

Police arrested three citizens of Belgium Tuesday morning in Santa Cruz and Playas del Coco, both Guanacaste, and in San José. They said the three men were involved in a drug ring that was involved in the trafficking of cocaine through Belgium, Spain, England and Morocco.

The men here are suspected of investing the drug money into tourism complexes in order to legitimize the money, said the Judicial Investigating Organization, quoting police in Belgium.

Meanwhile, Monday at Juan Santamaría Airport, agents said they arrested a Colombian man who was carrying 34 latex packets of heroin in his stomach. He was about to leave on a trip to Atlanta, Ga., in the United States.

The Guanacaste arrests were initiated by the Costa Rican anti-drug investigators working with judicial investigators and Security Ministry agents, said a police statement. They identified the three men, all 

between 30 and 35 years, as Martin Weiss, Cristopher Snauwaerth and Koen Van Holutte. 

Police in Belgium have asked that the men be detained. There 18 persons have been arrested.
Police entered three bars and two living units in Santa Cruz to arrest one man, and they entered three living units in Playas del Coco to arrest a second. A third was arrested in La Uruca, San José.

In Santa Cruz police seized two properties and five vehicles, plus they froze accounts in different Costa Rican banks.  The men were jailed in Liberia where they will await extradition proceedings initiated by Belgian authorities.

Police arrested the Colombian man at the airport Monday morning while they were checking out the passengers on the Atlanta-bound air flight. The man entered the country Sept. 26 at the end of a trip that started in Boston and passed through Atlanta..

The man, identified by the surname Echeverry was x-rayed at San Rafael de Alajuela Hospital and submitted to treatment to eliminate the latex packets from his stomach, which took place about 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, police said

Arias will be speaker
for Democrats Abroad

Oscar Arias S., 1987 Nobel Peace laureate and former president of Costa Rica, will be the guest speaker Monday, Oct. 29, at the lunch meeting of Democrats Abroad of Costa Rica.  His talk "Achieving Peace through Justice: A Long-Term Vision" will be followed by an audience discussion. 

Arias, who holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Essex, England, and in law and economics from the University of Costa Rica, is internationally respected as a spokesperson for the Third World.

"He has championed human development, justice and demilitarization in his global defense of democracy and liberty, said Jerry Ledin, club president. "He understands the threats faced by all nations today and is committed to an era of peace and prosperity for all humankind."

Arias won the Peace Prize for his work in developing a Central American peace plan that was responsible for resolving the war in Nicaragua.

The meeting of the Democrats will be on the fifth floor of the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, with a social hour beginning at 11 a.m. Lunch follows at noon and then the Arias presentation and discussion. Reservations are required (3,000 colons for members and 4,000 colons for guests) and can be confirmed by calling Ruth Dixon at 494-6260 or Ledin at 290-5798. 

All in the community are welcome, said Ledin.

Intel competitor
unveils new chip

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

Advanced Micro Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., introduced a new computer chip called the Athlon XP Tuesday. The company is a competitor of Intel, which has chip manufacturing facilities here in Costa Rica.

The company said it packed half a million more transistors onto each Athlon XP chip, while reducing power consumption by 20 percent over previous generations of the Athlon. The company said such PC vendors as Compaq Computer, Fujitsu and MicronPC would sell computers run by the chip.

Information about the new chip is available at the firm's Web site: http://athlonxp.amd.com/

The new chip was being interpreted as yet another attack by Advanced Micro Systems in what has become a battle of chip manufactures for a diminishing market share.

Hurricane Iris kills
divers from U.S.

As many as 20 people are feared dead in Belize, as Hurricane Iris battered the coast of the Central American nation, capsizing boats and flattening buildings.

Officials say the victims were killed Monday when the powerful storm, packing 225-kilometer per hour winds, overturned their boat in Belize's Big Creek area. Many of the victims were U.S. citizens. Their vessel had been chartered by a diving club in Richmond, Va.

Helicopters and rescue boats have mounted search and rescue operations in hopes of finding survivors.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Iris has now weakened and become a tropical depression. There are, however, concerns it could reach hurricane force again as its remnants move through the Pacific. 

Iris was the most powerful storm of this year's Atlantic season. 

The system toppled trees, tore off roofs and destroyed homes in Jamaica. It  also caused the deaths of a woman and her two daughters in the Dominican Republic on Saturday.

The Red Cross says about 15,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Belize. The agency says it will conduct an aerial survey to assess the     storm damage.

Colombian officials hope
rebels will free hostages

BOGOTA, Colombia Colombian officials say they hope six people being held by suspected leftist rebels will be freed once their captors learn about a guerrilla agreement to end roadside kidnappings. 

Interior Minister Armando Estrada says those responsible for Sunday's abductions may not have known about the agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. 

On Friday, the two sides agreed to a nine-point accord that includes a FARC promise to end so-called "miracle fishing," in which rebels set up roadblocks and kidnap people who may bring a sizable ransom. 

The Colombian army says FARC apparently broke the agreement when rebels carried out the abductions in Colombia's southern Narino Department. Two police officers were among those seized. 

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