Google Maps war? Nicaragua vs. Costa Rica

How did I miss this? Did you know this was going on in the past week?A war has broken out because of a Google Maps error!! Seriously!

Somewhat. I was amazed and not slightly cynical when I first came upon this story on Search Engine Land. But as most territorial disputes go, it’s not that simple. In this case, a Nicaraguan Commander Eden Pastora was quoted in La Nacion as using the discrepancy shown in the Google Map (correct boundaries shown by Bing) as a justification. But the key word there is “justification”– As in, this is a long, long running dispute, and this is just one kink in the chain:

Meanwhile in the last week or so, ccording to the Miami Herald, Nicaraguan troops have crossed into land that belongs to Costa Rica– who “claims that Nicaragua’s efforts to dredge the San Juan River, a Nicaraguan waterway that parallels the border between the two countries, has ‘flagrantly” crossed into Costa Rican territory.” They have further claimed that “the dredging has caused environmental damage,” saying that “Costa Rica is not trying to change the current delineation of the border, or to take over any part of the river that belongs exclusively to Nicaragua. “But that doesn’t mean that Costa Rica will allow Nicaragua to incur on its territory. … We will not accept unilateral changes of the boundary.” Further according to AP, “Nicaragua’s ambassador, Denis Moncada, said [Costa Rican foreign minister] Castro’s allegations were “out of line [and that] “Nicaragua will continue to exercise its sovereignty and defense, the cleanup of the San Juan River and the fight against drug trafficking on our border.”

Google has also put up their own response to the topic– basically saying that it’s the fault of the US Department of State, from whom they received the particular map. Meanwhile, really nicely put together is the Ogle (which is “Charting the effect of neogeographical tools like Google Earth on science and society”) post on the same topic. It presents the story using some older maps and mentions a very interesting point by Nicaragua’s President Ortega about how a border that is delineated by a river can be interpreted– is it always the course of the river, which can dwindle over time? Or is it the originally established boundary of the river, which can then become dry land still controlled by the original owners.
I’m voting for borders set by coordinate systems– but I guess the whole problem is that these things aren’t being set today, they were set by people who didn’t foresee such issues as rivers drying up, and we’re left to deal with the problems!  And this time we can’t even turn to satellite imagery for help!


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