Envoy to solve latest Google Maps border dispute?

A Nicaraguan general accuses Google Maps of displaying erroneous borders between his country and Costa Rica. Now the secretary general of the Organization of American States has to sort it out.

I have never been a Nicaraguan general, but I imagine that the job has its fun parts.

So one might just put it down to naive enthusiasm that Eden Pastora--such an idyllically peaceful name for a general--might have accidentally wandered with his troops into territory that would seem to be owned by its neighbor, Costa Rica.

And yet, no. General Pastora doesn't blame general euphoria. No, he blames Google Maps.

The dispute that has ensued over Google's version of the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border has become rather serious. So much so that the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, is flying to the area to help ensure that a cartographic mess involving Google doesn't become a graphic mess involving dead bodies.

The Google Maps tale, originally offered by Search Engine Land, reads almost like a scene from the wonderful 2001 movie "No Man's Land."

You see, Costa Rica and Nicaragua aren't necessarily in agreement about who owns the areas near the San Juan River. But the Costa Ricans claim that both countries are in possession of maps that delineate a currently tolerated border, which was allegedly agreed in treaties as long ago as 1858 and 1888.

In the interests of peace, here is a lovely picture from San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. At least I think it's Nicaragua. CC Thombo2/Flickr

The Costa Rican paper La Nacion quoted General Pastora as saying the Google Maps version showed that his area of encampment was on Nicaraguan soil. "Esta clarito," he declared.

Costa Rican experts who spoke to La Nacion seemed, surprisingly, in agreement that Google's version was erroneous, while Bing Maps' was correct. The paper also quoted Nicaragua's ambassador to the Organization of American States as saying the local maps can be confusing.

However, Laura Chinchilla, Costa Rica's first female president, who must feel slightly perturbed, as her nation doesn't have what might officially described as a permanent army, is not happy. She reportedly declared on national TV: "The Armed Forces of Nicaragua crossed the border and remain until this day on Costa Rican territory on the Island of Calero, in the province of Limon. There they set up military encampments, raised the Nicaraguan flag."

Google was accused earlier this year of showing a radically misleading version of the border between Cambodia and Thailand. And CNN says the company is looking into the Nicaragua-Costa Rica issue.

Given that Google Maps do occasionally lead people up garden paths and even highways , it is hard to imagine that fine generals rely on the service, especially in sensitive areas.

Who would be surprised, therefore, if General Pastora might have been attempting to attain a certain heroic status by conquering a little pastoral foreign land? And who would be surprised to hear that the Nicaraguans have requested that the Google Maps version stays as it is?

I would have suggested that the two sides play a game of soccer to settle this little fracas. And then I remembered that Central America hasn't always been politically lucky, where soccer is concerned. In 1969, Nicaragua's near neighbors, El Salvador and Honduras, got into a war that was somewhat inspired by a soccer game between the two countries.

So one can only wish Jose Miguel Insulza--and Google--luck. Insulza, at least, may not need it. He is a Chilean politician, whose nickname is, um, El Panzer.

 

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