Report: Chinese Telecom Giant Building Venezuela a ‘Social Credit System’

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Chinese telecom giant ZTE is helping the socialist dictatorship in Venezuela implement a social credit system similar to Beijing’s through its ration cards, Reuters revealed Thursday.

According to Reuters, Nicolás Maduro regime’s recent release of the “Carnet de la Patria,” or “Fatherland Card,” to all citizens forms part of a plan to develop widespread control over the population. Venezuelans have needed a card for access to subsidized food, healthcare, and gasoline since 2014. The Maduro regime has recruited China to help the cards expand their use not just to track what citizens eat, but their social, political, and economic behavior.

Last year, the report claims, the Venezuelan regime spent $70 million on hiring ZTE to help develop their project in a supposed effort to bolster “national security.” Now, a team of ZTE engineers is reportedly working in Caracas at a special unit within the Venezuelan state telecommunications company Cantv to help build a more sophisticated database.

Some of the information already stored on the database reportedly includes “birthdays, family information, employment and income, property owned, medical history, state benefits received, presence on social media, membership of a political party and whether a person voted.”

Maduro first announced that the “Fatherland card” was replacing standard rations a year ago, declaring it essential to “build the new Venezuela” while encouraging people to sign up. An estimated 18 million Venezuelans already have the card. Those still loyal to the regime reportedly benefit from meager cash rewards given to those who best perform their civil duties.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Maduro said that the card will help to “continue to strengthen the systems, missions and great missions left by Commander Chavez in order to open up paths of happiness and freedom fo the Homeland.”

Maduro’s claims of prosperity are in stark contrast to the reality across the socialist nation, where thousands of people are fleeing the country every day, often in need of humanitarian assistance. A majority of those still in the country are living on salaries of just a couple of dollars a month, with little to no access to basic resources food, healthcare, and electricity.

His regime has so far refused to acknowledge the role of ZTE in its project, although a February 2017 press release did credit the company with helping to “fortify” its database. Many Venezuelans had suspected this from the beginning,

The two nations maintain fairly strong relations. Maduro recently traveled to Beijing in search of financial assistance, which China obliged with a $5 billion loan. However, China has previously expressed frustration with the regime’s inability to pay back its debts, with Chinese banks last year cutting off credit to the regime amid concerns that Maduro was mishandling the economy.

Beijing has already created its own social credit and analysis system, which rates people based on their behavior and loyalty to the Communist Party. Those with low scores have already faced punishment in form of both domestic and international travel bans. State media has previously hit back at international criticism with claims that the technology as a necessary tool to fight corruption and because China is a society where “trustworthiness is not highly honored.”

Washington officials have long viewed ZTE with suspicion. In April, U.S. Commerce Department banned the company from using U.S.-produced components for seven years as punishment for reports that they violated U.S. sanctions by illegally selling products with American technology to embargoed such as Iran and North Korea. President Donald Trump later reversed the move and announced in May he had instructed the Commerce Department to help ZTE “get back into business” in a bid to protect American jobs.

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