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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:


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.

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