Lib Dem Voice

Map error causes military invasion

No, this isn’t a plot from a political satire but it’s a bona fide news story:

An error on Google Maps has caused an international conflict in Central America.

A Nicaraguan military commander, relying on Google Maps, moved troops into an area near San Juan Lake along the border between his country and Costa Rica.* The troops are accused of setting up camp there, taking down a Costa Rican flag and raising the Nicaraguan flag, doing work to clean up a nearby river, and dumping the sediment in Costa Rican territory.

La Nacion — the largest newspaper in Costa Rica — says the Nicaraguan commander, Eden Pastora, used Google Maps to “justify” the incursion even though the official maps used by both countries indicate the territory belongs to Costa Rica.

The area is correctly mapped by Microsoft.

* Other reports are that Google was consulted only after the troops got to the location, being then used to establish which side of the boundary the troops were actually on.

Hat-tip: Campaign Reboot


I think in truth this was at very most an excuse and in reality an irrelevance, as can be evidenced by the fact that Nicaraguan troops are there to this day (long after google maps have corrected the error) and that Costa Rica (sans army) is having to petition the ICC to remove them (they initially sent police to evict them but the police didn’t fancy the task of arresting a heavily armed foreign battalion). In actuality this is a dispute that has been raging for over a hundred years. In part it is over whether the boundary should be organic (and shift with the river) or explicit, but in the main it is over who should be allowed to control traffic on the river. An ICC ruling in 2009 stated that it was Nicaragua who held the responsibility for keeping the river navigable; Nicaragua therefore claims that in order to do so they need facilities for dredging on both sides of the river. Costa Rica counters that the river can be easily dredged from facilities based solely on the Nicaraguan side and that dredging is merely an excuse for the annexation of territory. The reason this matters is because China, Iran and Venezuela are keen to give Nicaragua money to build a canal link between Atlantic and Pacific to rival the Panama Canal (and thus avoid US control) using the San Jose but are unwilling to proceed until Nicaragua can demonstrate that it firmly controls the waterway. More here:

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