China’s Social Credit System is an example of what happens when an authoritarian government gets tech savvy. The system basically puts the entire billion-plus population of China under government control, with officials determining which citizens should be given loans, train passes, special privileges, and so on. Citizens who have negative scores are denied benefits.
Venezuela was so impressed by the system that they contracted the Chinese company responsible for coming up with it in order to have them create a similar technology to implement in the Latin American country. ZTE obliged and created the “fatherland card” to help the ruling Maduro regime reward and punish citizens as they deem fit.
The card was launched last year, with ZTE responsible for creating the fatherland database and a mobile payment system to use with the card. The database is managed by Venezuela’s state telecommunications company Cantv. Information collected from the public includes birthdays, employment history, income history, family details, medical history, owned property, state benefits received, social media presence, whether a person has voted, and with which political party they are affiliated.
Maduro encouraged citizens to sign up for the card by saying that it is necessary to “build a new Venezuela.” To force the public to adopt the card, the government also started denying benefits like pensions, subsidized fuel, medicine, and food baskets to people. Almost 18 million people, over half the population of Venezuela, are said to have registered for the card.
“It’s blackmail… Venezuelans with the cards now have more rights than those without,” Hector Navarro, one of the founders of the ruling Socialist Party and a former minister under Hugo Chávez, said to The Epoch Times.
What worries human rights activists is that the fatherland card is being used by the Maduro regime as a tool to control people’s political opinions and affiliations. “The government is also using the cards to learn their political party affiliation and to make sure that Venezuelans vote. To ensure they vote ‘correctly,’ the ID cards are also being used to create a mobile payment system for use with the card and to control access to food and medicine by desperate people who are literally starving to death amidst the economic ruins wrought by 20 years of socialism under Maduro and his mentor, the late Hugo Chávez,” according to The Heritage Foundation.
China’s involvement in helping the Maduro regime implement a repressive technology has not gone unnoticed in the United States. Many have spoken against it and asked the Trump administration to take strict action against ZTE and other companies who helped set it up.
“China is in the business of exporting its authoritarianism… The Maduro regime’s increasing reliance on ZTE in Venezuela is just the latest example of the threat that Chinese state-directed firms pose to U.S. national security interests,” U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said to Reuters.
Of particular concern is the involvement of American companies in the project. It was reported that Dell Technologies had supplied the data storage units used by ZTE for the fatherland system. However, Dell rejected the rumors stating that no record for such a sale existed.
Given that Latin American nations like Mexico are against the Maduro regime, the U.S. might consider asking them to review their existing contracts with ZTE and possibly nullify them to put pressure on Chinese companies that provide authoritarian tech to vulnerable countries.