Saturday, November 06, 2010

Nicaragua invades Costa Rica, Acts Like a Jerk, then Blames Google Maps

Going around the geography blogosphere including sites like, the Map Room, and Basement Geographer is the story of a brief invasion of Costa Rica by Nicaragua.  This was not a harmless "Switzerland invades Liechtenstein" story as Nicaraguan forces took down a Costa Rican flag and took sediment from a river and dumped it onto Costa Rican soil.  The troops then returned to Nicaragua.  However, a diplomatic row has begun with Costa Rica's president urging calm and vowing "justice" will be done.

What makes this story of interest to the geography blogosphere is that the commander of the Nicaraguan troops blamed his actions on Google Maps and it misplacing the border.

Border comparison in the location where Nicaragua invaded Costa Rica.  Google has it wrong while Bing has it right.  Image from: Search Engine Land.

Google in turn is blaming the error on receiving bad map data from the United States State Department.  The State Department has not released any statement as of the early morning of November 6, 2010.  Meanwhile Google says it is working with the State Department to fix the border.

Such a shame I warned about bad maps being more than simple mistakes but things that could negatively impact diplomatic and military operations.

However, the Nicaraguans are not in the clear.  Their own geographic organization recognizes the disputed area as part of Costa Rica.

Costaricangauzette sent me this map with the red circle showing Nicaragua knows the area of action is Costa Rican.
So what happened?  The fact that the Nicaraguans quickly blamed Google Maps implies they probably did plan the mission with Google Maps and not their own.  I suspect that the Nicaraguans wanted to flex some muscle and thought Google's error showed that they area was disputed and gave them an excuse to be jerks (seriously, do Central Americans militaries need to concern themselves with anything but counter-narcotic and counter-insurgency operations?).

Is it also possible that they thought Google Maps was correct and innocently failed to do any further research?  Yes.  In Iraq I was shown a presentation by an Iraqi geographer who used Google Maps and Microsoft Paint to make his maps.  Sometimes it is amateur hour for those who have the guns.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

I did find this article (check out post script 2) which appears to lift "blame" from Google and put it in a more appropriate spot.

Something I discovered to be fascinating in all of this was how small the area is, only about two miles at its widest point by my measurement.

Still pretty cool.