Costa Rica attacked because of…Google?

November 16, 2010 — by Evaline Ju

Everyone runs risks when looking up information on the Internet. Wikipedia may give inaccurate math equations or biographies of historical figures. On sites like Yelp or Yahoo, people may type business names or addresses incorrectly.

However, on Nov. 3, Nicaraguan military commander Eden Pastora seemed to trust the Web with a highly important matter, the invasion of its neighbor Costa Rica. Pastora claimed to have followed Google Maps, which had moved the border between the two countries 3,000 meters into Costa Rican territory.

Google’s mistake has caused national problems. Costa Rica possesses no standing army, and the people felt worried when Nicaraguan troops crossed the border and took down the Costa Rican flag before raising a Nicaraguan one, according to Costa Rica’s paper La Nacion. The troops also cleaned out the San Juan River nearby but dumped the waste on Costa Rican territory.

After the invasion was deemed a mistake, Costa Rica president Laura Chinchilla needed to address her nation to comfort her people. The Organization of American States General Jose Insulza traveled to the region in hopes of mediating the dispute, but tension still remains.

Google Maps has not proved itself recently to be a highly credible site. In directions from China to Taiwan, it asks the user to “swim across the Pacific Ocean,” or between Japan and the U.S., where the user is advised to “kayak across the Pacific.” Earlier this year in February, it angered Cambodia by altering the Thailand-Cambodia border, and in September, Google Maps misplaced the Florida town of Sunrise.

It is still unclear why Pastora chose to use Google Maps. Had he used Google’s competitor Microsoft’s Bing Maps, this issue may not have risen. In July Google had already redrawn the borders to more than 60 areas but apparently missed this one, showing that today’s technology is still prone to mistakes.

Though both countries signed an 1858 treaty to define borders, disputes still occur. To use Google Maps as an excuse for a military invasion seems a bit shallow. Commander Pastora easily had the ability to check his maps from other sources. He has only made himself into a laughing stock by choosing not to.

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