China Exports Its Digital Authoritarianism To Venezuela

News Image By PNW Staff December 05, 2018
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When the Internet was still young, many believed that the free access to information allowed by such technology would bring about a libertarian utopia and counter the centralized power of communist and fascist regimes. 

Now it is clear that the opposite is true, as technology allows for dictators and totalitarian governments to exert near total control over billions, stifling all dissent and cutting off any access to basic resources for those that don't fall in line.

Today it is Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro who has turned to China and the Chinese company ZTE for technical assistance in installing a "fatherland card" that will link subsidized social programs such as food, housing and transportation with social media posts, voting records and party membership.

Venezuela is in the death throes of an economic collapse and every effort for the opposition party to oust Maduro has been thwarted by brazen moves to dissolve congress, stack the supreme court with lackey's and corrupt the military leadership. 

Government corruption, runaway inflation, disastrous price controls and reckless nationalization of private businesses have left the economy in ruins, and as a result, what is left of the Venezuelan people is heavily dependent on government subsidies justto avoid starvation.

The "Carnet de la Patria", loosely translated "Fatherland Card" is a national identification license and has been in use since 2014 for access to food, gasoline, transportation and healthcare, all of which served to lay the groundwork for the next step in this system of control. 

The local currency known as the Bolivar (in its different iterations), including credit and debit cards, has become nearly worthless and the majority of the population relies on these subsidies to survive, so the threat to revoke access to an individual, or a troublesome district that may have voted for the opposition, is a very real threat of starvation.

Now Maduro has contracted with ZTE to build into the Fatherland Card system the means to track social media use, political beliefs, property records, medical records, membership in a political party and voting records. The system already contains much of this information, but is now set to expand dramatically in a system similar to the Chinese social credit system.

In recent elections, the government sent out a notice that citizens would need to update their cards before receiving benefits and these update stations were positioned outside of polling stations with the implicit message that without both the update and without voting, no benefits would be given out. 

Since those most depend on the subsidies tend to vote socialist, this was a way to ensure that Maduro's base showed up to the polls, and did so with the threat of hunger on their minds. The $70 million spent to craft this new national database will allow Maduro to dispense with any such tricks and tie support for his party directly to the basic food staples a family can access.

One could imagine that soon a vote for Maduro might earn a family the privilege to buy one chicken and a kilo of rice per month at a price they can afford, but to vote against him would mean that the chickens available will cost 50 to 100 times the average monthly salary and a kilo of rice, perhaps 20 times the average salary, entirely out of reach for nearly all. So far, 18 million Venezuelans are using the new Fatherland Cards.

The new database linked to the Fatherland Cards will also contain a mobile payment system as well as a national surveillance system with the goal of linking an individual's payment history and their presence on video surveillance to their identity. 

Emergency response systems will also be linked through these Fatherland Cards and its associated database, which only makes sense if one considers the implications of constant tracking and the term "emergency response" to refer not just to disasters such as fires and earthquakes, but also protests against Maduro. How convenient for Maduro's militias and secret people to know precisely who is attending a protest, where they live and who their friends and family are.

ZTE is technically a publicly traded company, but with deep ties to the Chinese government and its largest shareholder is a state-own company. Its primary client within China is also the government and ZTE was the target of a recent trade dispute with the US for unfair business practices. So it is no surprise that Maduro turned to ZTE to help buildinto this databasethe capacity for greater populationcontrol. The Chinese system of "social credit" is far more sophisticated, but it needs to be. 

In Venezuela, the situation is that of a failing autocratic state trying desperately to find and eliminate dissent among what is left of a starving population. If Venezuela survives the next ten years at all, expect to see a totalitarian dystopia in which even doubting the Dear Leader will see a citizen's right to currency, food, housing, electricity and gasoline revoked, thanks to ZTE and the power of modern database technology.

Don’t think that this type of system will only be limited to China & Venezuela. Other nations are considering similar systems and this is something that will spread based on its "effectiveness." Effectiveness at what?you ask. Effectiveness at predicting your every move, from likeliness to pay a bill or honor a contract, to who you will most likely vote for in the next election. 

Corporate America already has "trust scores", such as Apple, to help them determine the value of you as a customer based on data they have available from you. America may only be one generation away from similar systems if we don't safeguard our freedoms.

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