Google Maps Blamed for Conflict Between Costa Rica and Nicaragua

November 5, 2010

The Internet application Google Maps has found itself in the middle of the ongoing border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Costa Rican media sources this week expressed outrage that the Google Maps image of the northeast border region shows Isla Calero, the disputed land between the two countries at the mouth of the Río San Juan, is in Nicaraguan territory.

The Costa Rican media alleges that former guerrilla leader Edén Pastora, who is heading Nicaragua’s river-dredging operation, used the Google Maps application as a justification for his incursion into Costa Rica territory. Pastora, however, has made no claims about relying on Google Maps to determine the border.

On the contrary, Pastora said in statements to the Nicaraguan press this week that his understanding of the border is based on the original text of the 1858 Cañas-Jerez Treaty.

“The maps are not going to tell me where the borders are; the treaties are,” Pastora said.

However, the international media has already picked up on the invented Google Maps scandal, prompting the company to respond. Daniel Helft, senior manager for public policies for Google Latin America, wrote on a public Google blog that while “Google maps are of very high quality and Google works constantly to improve and update existing information, by no means should they be used as a reference to decide military actions between two countries.”

Helft added, “In this instance Google has determined that there was an inaccuracy in the shaping of the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua and is working to update the information as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos sent his own letter to Google representatives on Nov. 4, saying that the contentious map is “absolutely correct” and that Google shouldn’t make “any modifications” to the border coordinates.

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