Nicaragua Raids Costa Rica, Blames Google Maps

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. Pastora blames Google Maps in the paper:

See the satellite photo on Google and there you see the border. In the last 3,000 meters the two sides are from Nicaragua.

(Note: I’m using the Google translation of this original article.)

The paper points out that Bing Maps shows the correct and officially recognized border. Here’s a comparison of what I believe is the disputed area:

maps-mistake

A Google spokesperson in Central America told La Nacion that the company doesn’t know the source of the maps error. Earlier this summer, Google announced that it made “significant improvements to our borders for over 60 countries and regions.” The Cambodian government has previously accused Google of being “radically misleading” in how it shows the border between it and Thailand.

Meanwhile, tension is rising in Costa Rica — a country without a military. Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla went on national TV last night and asked citizens to “be calm and firm, amid the outrage that these events provoke within us.”

(Thanks to Javier M. for the tip.)

Postscript: See our follow-up post, Google Maps: Uncle Sam’s To Blame For That Costa Rica-Nicaragua Border Error

Postscript #2: Our wording above, which implies that Pastora looked at Google Maps before moving troops into the region, may be incorrect. From reading additional news reports and speaking with journalists from the Tico Times, it sounds likely that the troops were already in the area before Google Maps was used to review the disputed border.

Postscript #3 (November 12): Google says it has fixed the border error on Google Earth and is still working on fixing it on Google Maps. As I type this, Google Maps still shows in the incorrect border.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Google: Maps & Local | Google: Outside US | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • tadeuz

    Free Costa Rica!

  • LC

    This whole blog is nonsense. Your headline continues to be misleading although you acknowledge in notes that you were wrong in the first place.

    1 – The San Juan is a river, not a lake. It flows almost all the way across Central America and was recently declared to be Nicaragua’s, with navigation rights for Costa Rica, by the International Court of Justice, the Hague.

    2 – The Costa Rican “territory” in question is a tiny island in the middle of the Rio San Juan, which belongs to Nicaragua. The island was ceded to Nicaragua by treaty hundreds of years ago and it doesn’t matter what either map says. Maps are lines drawn on paper, remember?

    3- Eden Pastora is in charge of dredging the San Juan River because Nicaragua has plans for tourism and a hydroelectric plant in the area. He didn’t “move troops” anywhere. His unarmed dredging boat was rushed by around 100 Costa Rican “police” in military fatigues, carrying machine guns and M-16s. Costa Rica continues to say they don’t have an “army” but they have military troops that have been trained by the US and Israel and are very well supplied with weaponry that any other country on earth would admit are army personnel.

    4- The Nicaraguan Navy and Army had and have troops stationed in the area to combat drug trafficking coming from Costa Rica in that area – Barra del Colorado.

    5- Costa Rica recently dredged their own Rio Colorado and pushed sediment into the Rio San Juan as well as onto both banks of the Colorado. But now they are saying that dredging the San Juan is causing “environmental damage”. To support this outrageous claim, they have video of about a dozen trees on that tiny island, that have been pushed over and a small pile of sand deposited at the base of one tree! This is the sum of their “evidence” after multiple fly-overs by helicopters with video equipment. If there has been an invasion, it has been that of the CR army into the tiny town they are now occupying on the CR side of the river.

    6 – Sediment from Costa Rica helps clog up navigation on the San Juan but Costa Rica won’t allow it to be deposited back where it came from.

    7 – Tourism is down in Costa Rica as it is overpriced and overhyped. Tourism is up in Nicaragua and is predicted to soar in the near future. This whole “issue” is nothing more than Costa Rica’s attempt to delay or sabotage Nicaragua’s legitimate uses of the Rio San Juan, as awarded to it by the International Court of Justice. Taking this “issue” to the US-dominated OAS is just another ploy to delay. OAS has already said they can’t really figure out what the issue is.

    8 – A Costa Rican squatter on the tiny island is claiming the island is his “ranch”. He is related to a known family of drug runners nearby and his complaint to the Costa Rican government is just a ruse to get nearby American and other foreign investors in tourist accomodations upset and fearful of a Nicaraguan “invasion”. It is rumored that some of those accomodations profit from the drug trade as well.

    9 – If anyone is stealing land by the Rio San Juan, it would be Costa Rica. Because of the sediment in the river, half or more contributed by Costa Rica, the delta at the outlet into the Caribbean has had its main channel shifted to what maps would show to be Costa Rica. This has moved the “border” so that what was recently part of Nicaragua now looks like its part of Costa Rica. The dedging would reopen the original channel in the river and move the border, if it is defined as the deepest part of Rio San Juan, back to where it was before sediment in the river moved it.

    10 – Neither of your maps is particularly enlightening. The Google map shows where the river’s deepest channel goes now, after having moved from the position shown in the Bing map. Neither shows the fact that the whole fan-shaped delta area is full of channels of varying and changing depths. Nicaragua plans to dredge the original channel, in which case the Bing map would be correct – for the delta. BUT this “conflict” is not about the delta at all. It’s about that tiny island, Calero, that Costa Rica is now claiming as theirs and is calling the posting a few troops there an “invasion” of Costa Rican “territory”.

    This a classic case of making a mountain out of a mole hill.

    Why? Costa Rica got used to thinking of tourism in the area as “theirs”. One of their newspapers even had an article saying that Nicaragua wants to attract “our” tourism. Now that tourists want someplace new to go and someplace cheaper to go, they have turned to Nicaragua. This whole “flap” is about Costa Rica trying to sabotage Nicaraguan plans for tourism on the river and a hydroelectric project near the delta.

    The whole cheezy myth that Costa Rica has no army and might need the US to send in the marines to protect it from this “invasion” is just another excuse that the US could use to start a proxy war against Nicaragua, like they did 30 years ago with the US-funded Contras.

  • CommonSense

    LC, ………this article is hardly “nonsense”. Perhaps the few grammatical translation errors are your issue?

    “The lady doth protest too much” ….Shakespeare

    Your lengthy diatribe is too much in defense of Nicaragua.

    Costa Rica placed cement landmarks (majones) in this area years ago to delineate the boundary between Costa Rica and Nicaragua based on the treaty from 1888 made by both countries for the boundary lines of this area .
    http://google-latlong.blogspot.com/2010/11/regarding-boundary-between-costa-rica.html

    Nicaragua could have officially contested the majone landmark placements years ago, but never did.

    Nicaragua used the error in the recent Google Maps to enter Costa Rica territory with military.

    Costa Rica used swat police forces when Nicaragua was active in this area with dredging equipment and dumping the silt into the Costa Rican environmental protected area. Yes SWAT police forces nowadays have machine guns and other special equipment.

    Nicaragua is using drug traffic as an excuse at this point and it is an unverified defense. If there is a drug traffic problem, Nicaragua could have officially requested from Costa Rica a joint effort to thwart any drug cartel in the nearby area, but they did not use such diplomatic measures.

    The Nicaraguan military went well past the majone landmarks that delimit Costa Rica’s boundary. They set up the Nicaraguan flag and their armed military was camped on Costa Rica soil. Nicaraguan leaders have claimed the land as theirs based on Google Maps and their replies to all the recent publicity.

    It is Nicaraguan leadership buffoonery at work as usual.

    Time to impeach a few leaders in Nicaragua, but that won’t happen, will it?

  • Big Dude

    Actually, Nicaragua is telling the truth. Costa Rica is trying to stop Nicaragua from dredging the river San Juan which belongs to Nicaragua. The little piece of land being disputed, is on Nicaragua’s side of the border and Costa Rica wants to claim it as their own. Upon my reviewing the history and old maps of this region, it appears that Nicaragua is telling the truth and said territory belongs to Nicaragua.

    The government of Nicaragua have asked the government of Costa Rica to work together to do the measurements of where the border is between both countries, but the Costa Rican government refuses to do so. Hmmm…I wonder why?

    In the past, Costa Rica has stolen land from Nicaragua and Nicaragua will not allow this to happen again. As for the troops in that area, Costa Rica began to send large amounts of their armed personnel that look like armed troops near the border, so in response Nicaragua sent their troops, because they thought Costa Rica was going to attack them. Nicaragua was the first to announce that they were going to take Costa Rica to the International Court, upon hearing this, Costa Rica first went to the OEA, but they got no where there, then they sued Nicaragua at the International Court first. Currently, Nicaragua has its troops in that disputed area and are dredging (cleaning) the river of San Juan, in which the International Court ruled in 2009, that this river does belong to Nicaragua and it has sovereign over it. Costa Rica can use the river for commerce or tourism, but are not allowed to have armed personnel on the river.

    Also, LC made the BEST explanation of all the commentators.

    The fool commentator that calls himself Common Sense calls Nicaraguan Leadership “buffoonery”, yet you need to look at the US and see the REAL BUFFOONS that are leading the USA and destroying the USA from within. Lets see…Iraq war…Afghanistan war, pakistan war..devaluing the dollar?
    Whose the REAL BUFFOON…you BUFFOON!

    I say we should have had impeached Georgy Bush years ago and now obama? And you have the audacity to criticize Nicaragua? Atleast, Nicaragua is not responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people through illegal stupid wars that the US is guilty of.

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