12 November 2010

Mesoamerican Map Muddle

Occasionally there will be news reports about drivers who relied too much on technology and nearly drove over a cliff based on GPS directions.  A similar situation is unfolding in Central America where a border dispute was exacerbated by an undue reliance on Google Maps.

A Nicaraguan military commander using Google Maps moved 50 troops across the San Juan River to Calero Island and replaced the Costa Rican colors with the Nicaraguan Flag.  When asked why he acted, the Nicaraguan General claimed that the region belonged to Nicaragua as shown on Google Maps.

The Calero Island is at  the mouth of the San Juan river has been disputed for two centuries. After the incident occurred, Google corrected the cyber-cartography.

Before this expedition is laughed off as just a technical glitch or maybe an irrational internet exuberance, the occupation continues.   The Nicaraguan forces began to deepen the nearby river and dredge the sentiment in the Costa Rican territory.  Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has ignored entreaties by Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and the Organization for American States to move his forces from Calero Island.

It is reasonable to wonder why, aside from nationalistic pride, there would be such stakes attached to this small spit of land.  This may be the first step in building a Trans-Oceanic Nicaraguan Canal. A Nicaraguan Canal would be the one place in the Western Hemisphere where a sea-level canal without locks could be built to accommodate large sea going vessels as there are no mountains to cross and two gigantic natural lakes to facilitate a proposed canal.  A canal through Nicaragua reportedly has the support of  Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and the financial backing of Iran.  Haaretz reports that Western intelligence agencies are monitoring the arrival of heavy equipment in Nicaragua as well as the activities of Iranians in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital city.

Costa Rica proudly abolished its military forces in 1949 but the so called Switzerland in Central America’s stability may be threatened by outside forces.  In July, the U.S. Navy moved a flotilla of 46 ships to Costa Rica until the end of the year ostensibly  to fight against drug trafficking. How convenient for US forces to flex muscles against the neighborhood bully taking what he wants.

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