San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Nicaragua’s Pastora Calls Google Map Scandal ‘Foolishness’

SAN CARLOS, Nicaragua – The recent media scandal over the shifting borders of Google Maps on the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican frontier is nothing but “foolishness,” according to former guerrilla leader Edén Pastora.

In an episode of sheepish apologies and hand-wringing, Google Maps last week changed its map coordinates along the disputed border region, following complaints by Costa Rica that the satellite map “erroneously” had ceded a part of Tico territory to Nicaragua. The disputed territory is a 151-square-kilometer river island known as Isla Calero, claimed by both countries.

The international media jumped on the story with more enthusiasm than accuracy, reporting that the Nicaraguan military had “invaded” Costa Rica due to an error by Google Maps.

The headlines of otherwise serious publications have ranged from the misinformed “Nicaraguan Blames Invasion of Costa Rica on Google Maps” (Slate); to the ludicrous “Commander Says Google Made him Invade Neighbor” (The National).

Even the humorless Economist got a chuckle out of “the comic border dispute” caused by the Google Map confusion. And ABC News blogged, “Google Nearly Starts a War. Seriously.”

The problem with the international reporting is that Google Maps did not nearly start a war between the two countries. Seriously.

Pastora, in an interview last week with the Costa Rican daily La Nación, did point to the controversial Google map as evidence that the Sandinista government’s river-dredging mission was on the Nicaraguan side of the border. But he never suggested that Nicaragua was basing its borders on Google Maps, or had somehow used the Internet tool as an excuse to dredge the river or “invade” Costa Rica, as many have inferred from his comments.

In fact, Pastora has insisted all along that the border is determined by border treaties – the 1858 Cañas-Jerez Treaty and the subsequent border clarifications known as Laudos Cleveland and Laudos Alexander.

“The maps are not going to tell me where the borders are; the treaties are,” Pastora said Nov. 1, two days before the polemic interview with La Nación that gave rise to the Google Maps scandal.

Isla Calero Map

The Nicaragua-Costa Rica border on Google Maps and Bing Maps. Google said it plans to make changes to its map to reflect the border more accurately. Courtesy of Search Engine Land.

The Nicaraguan Army has echoed those comments, insisting the military maps it is using along the border are based strictly on border treaties, not superimposed lines drawn by Google on a satellite image.

For Pastora, Google’s biggest error was capitulating to political pressures to change its original map.

“If the first map was a mistake like Google said, then the borders and territorial limits of all the countries it has mapped are not reliable,” Pastora said.

The former rebel leader said “there was a reason why Google had the first map.” And that reason, he said, was because it was based on the treaties, not political considerations.

Still, Pastora said, the issue with Google Maps has become an irrelevant detail in a much bigger story. And he laughs at the suggestion that he used Google Maps to plan the dredging mission, or as an excuse to move into Costa Rican territory.

“Noooo. We are basing our plans on the Laudos Cleveland and the Laudos Alexander and the Cañas-Jerez Treaty. Google was just another argument,” Pastora said.

“With Google or without Google, we know where the border is,” Pastora added. “The whole thing with Google was just foolishness by them.”

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