OPINION: As Maduro’s Grip On Venezuela Slips, China’s ZTE Helps Him Cling To Power

James Roberts Contributor
Font Size:

Who knew Adolf Hitler was giving political tips from beyond the grave? But then who else could have inspired a hapless former bus driver who recently stole re-election as president of Venezuela to create “Fatherland” national identity cards than the modern era’s Father of Lies?

The Fatherland IDs (carnets de la patria) are Nicolás Maduro’s chosen instruments to blackmail and coerce his fellow citizens into knuckling under to his brutal and authoritarian dictatorship. Especially now that, after two decades in power, the “Latin American Socialism” of Maduro and his late mentor Hugo Chávez has been exposed as nothing more than a Trojan horse used while they seized power and enriched themselves and their cronies by ransacking the country.

As a result, the majority of Venezuelans are enduring great suffering. Many have fled. Those who remain are increasingly supporting National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, whom President Trump and many other world leaders now recognize as the legitimate interim president of the country.

Meanwhile, Maduro clings to power, thanks in part to Russian arms, and to the high-tech design and implementation of this new “Fatherland” system of totalitarian control.

And from whom did Maduro (and his Cuban puppet masters) receive this cyber warfare help? From the communist regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping, of course. More precisely, from ZTE, a manufacturer of telecommunications equipment and software systems that is heavily influenced (if not outright controlled) by the Chinese government. Venezuela’s state-owned telecommunications company is using ZTE equipment.

Venezuela is just the latest of a long list of countries around the world governed by corrupt populist elites with which ZTE has inked contracts (e.g. North Korea and Iran). The Chinese government has no compunctions when it comes to making deals with corrupt governments, as long as those deals advance China’s vision to achieve world domination by 2049 — 100 years after Mao proclaimed that goal.

Just as “Emperor” Xi Jinping is using ZTE technology to power his unprecedented and aggressive implementation of a “social credit” system to monitor the activities and behavior of every one of his own Chinese subjects 24/7, the goal of both regimes is to control of the “hearts and minds” of the people. Dissent or expression of unpopular opinions will not be tolerated.

According to reporting by Reuters, “Fatherland” ID cards are used by the Maduro regime to monitor the 18 million citizens (half the population) who already have the cards. That means keeping track of their comments on social media, deciding which ones will get food subsidies and discounts on their power and water bills or lower local transportation fares, recording details about their personal finances, and whether they have earned enough “social credits” to obtain a wide range of public services (e.g. passports) or whether their kids can get into better schools.

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 Chavez, in what was once one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries.

Meanwhile, all of that information is collected and maintained for the Maduro gang’s future use — if they succeed in staying in power — in a centralized database that ZTE built. Besides the obvious profits they reap from ZTE, the Chinese are also using ZTE and other forms of economic engagement with Venezuela to maintain their access to Venezuelan oil, minerals, and other raw materials as well as agricultural commodities such as soybeans, while also establishing new markets for Chinese goods.

The export by China of this menacing and Orwellian “Social Credit” software system to the repressive regime currently in charge of Venezuela should be of great concern to Americans. Putin’s Russia is reportedly also developing such systems to bolster authoritarian control.

The U.S. is certainly correct to support the actions taken by the new center-right governments of Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, and Chile, as well as other concerned governments in the region, to confront the Maduro regime and properly brand his government as illegal.

After all, they are the countries bearing the brunt of the crisis caused by Maduro’s failed policies, which have prompted three million Venezuelans to seek refuge in neighboring countries. But the U.S. should also urge these Latin American countries, including Mexico, to review their existing and potential contracts with ZTE in light of the well-substantiated evidence of ZTE’s close connections to China’s military and intelligence services.

In addition to the splendid new U.S. policy of non-recognition of the illegal Maduro regime, the policy goals of the Trump administration in Venezuela and the rest of Latin America should include not only efforts to block the deployment of technology for nefarious and evil purposes, e.g. by continuing to levy U.S. sanctions against ZTE, but also to promote American trade and investment that will incentivize positive uses of innovation.

James M. Roberts is a research fellow of economic freedom and growth in the Center for Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.