Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mapping Gaffes

In 1997, the Argentine province of Chubut published a tourist brochure that, because of a cartographic error, showed the town of Los Antiguos, in neighboring Santa Cruz province, as part of Chile (Los Antiguos is only a few kilometers from the border). Responding to protests from the Santa Cruz legislature, Chubut recalled tens of thousands of maps at a cost of roughly US$100,000.

Something similar happened last week when the northern province of Salta distributed a fifth-grade atlas that shows the British-governed Falkland Islands, which Argentina claims as the Malvinas, under their English language nomenclature. According to the Buenos Aires daily Clarín, the publisher in question - whose editorial director is a former university rector in Salta - defended the book, saying the entire map of the South American continent (see the pertinent section in the illustration above) appears in English. They could, he suggested, add an addendum to show students that this is "how the Anglo-Saxon world sees us."

Apparently, however, the book was never approved by the former Instituto Geográfico Nacional, the government agency that zealously defends Argentina's borders from dangers such as guidebooks that might make similar "mistakes" - no matter the language in which they appear. Not unique to Argentina, this is a legacy of the era when the military were responsible for mapping the borders of the newly independent South American countries, and many disputes have lingered into the recent past. In 1978, for instance, Argentina and Chile nearly went to war over three small islands in the Beagle Channel of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago.

Placing explanatory stickers on the offending map would be the simplest solution. If that's not acceptable, the cash-starved province may have to dump US$2.3 million worth of atlases into the recycling bin.

1 comment:

  1. The Instituto Geografico Militar changed in the ´90 into Instituto Geografico Nacional, so leaving the military status and its director is now a civlilian. It does not mean that they abandoned the strict cartographic nationalism of the former institution....Some years ago they published a new "official map" that includes the Antartic sector over which Argentina pretends sovereignity (of course not recongnized by any other country).

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