November 08, 2010

Did Nicaragua Really Invade Costa Rica because of Google Maps?

An interesting article about the power of maps. As the story is reported, Nicaraguan troops mistakenly entered Costa Rican territory because of the placement of the border on Google Maps.

I'm a bit suspicious, as it seems likely that officials in the area would have a good sense of where the lines of a disputed border were. Using a Google Maps border, particularly with low resolution data, seems more like a cover story than something that might actually happen. But who knows? Thanks to Zach Underwood in passing this along.

In any case it again highlights the power of maps in general and Google Maps in particular. Google has no official standing in terms of recording international borders or naming but exerts a tremendous amount of power, nonetheless.

In a much more prosaic example, the University of Kentucky has been listed as Transylvania University (an actual university, also located in Lexington) for a least ten days. A static image is below, or you can go directly to Google Maps (which may change). I will state for the record that Floatingsheep was NOT involved in this little map hack, we just happened to notice it ten days ago. We prefer that you not try to fix as we're curious how long it will remain.

University of Kentucky as Transylvania University
(you may need to click on the image to see a larger version)


  1. No, Nicaragua did not "invade" Costa Rica at all. They simply reclaimed an island in the middle of the Rio San Juan that was ceded to Nicaragua by treaty hundreds of years ago.

    This island was being used by a close relative of a known drug trafficking Costa Rican family. He claims Nicaraguan soldiers tore down his flag, which no one can verify was ever there and wouldn't make the island Costa Rican territory if it was.

    After the action was all over, the captain of a dredging boat, Eden Pastora, who is not in the military and does not speak for the Nicaraguan government, but loves the limelight, taunted a Costa Rican newspaper that even google supports the Nica version of who this island belongs to.

    Costa Rica recently lost in the International Court of Justice, in their attempt to claim the river. They were awarded navigational rights only. They have also been losing tourism market share to Nicaragua. Being sore losers on both counts, Costa Rica is now seeking to create an "international incident" in order to retry the case in the court of public opinion, which they dominate.

    The so-called "commander" Pastora has no troops to command. Nica troops were already in the area to combat extensive drug trafficking coming from Costa Rica. No Nicaraguan troops crossed the river into bona fide Costa Rican territory, but President Chinchilla's hysterical comments about the "invasion" of Costa Rican "territory" have been repeated ad nauseum all over the world.

    It's just a ruse to delay or sabotage Nicaragua's legititmate use of the river and/or to provide an excuse for another "intervention" by the US military. Costa Rica continues the myth that they have no "army", yet they were able to send 100 US-trained and equiped men in army fatigues, carrying machine guns and M-16s to accost the unarmed dredging boat and stop the "invasion" of a handful of troops on the island owned by Nicaragua, but claimed by a Costa Rican squatter. They just sent another 150 "police" to the area. They are looking for confrontation.

  2. Interresting back story...I thought that the Google Maps angle was overly simplistic. Things are rarely that straightforward in border disputes.

    And Eden Pastora! Wow. This makes the story even more complicated.

  3. This article from Stefan Geens has a bit of the back story on the dispute over the river and how it has been represented differently in different maps. Just for a little more context...


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