In recent years, the Venezuelan government has been working on a system of cards which can be used to track the behaviour of its citizens. Through cooperation with the Chinese telecommunication firm: ZTE, President Maduro has created a powerful tool which punishes behaviour which the state does not approve of. Indeed, there have been several reports of people being denied access to state welfare programmes which poor Venezuelans are desperately reliant on. The use of such technology demonstrates that Venezuela is becoming increasingly autocratic in the face of serious economic pressures. Once this technology is fully in place, it is expected that the card will determine a wide range of factors such as whether parents can send their children to the best schools. This creates a serious incentive for people to enrol on the programme and acquiesce to state policy because the costs of not having the card are becoming increasingly severe.
Venezuela has been facing a serious democratic deficit for some time. In May of 2018, President Maduro was re-elected in an election which was described as a sham by many international observers. Despite a serious recession, Venezuelans were given little chance to change the direction of their county at this election with arrests of senior opposition figures destroying any chance that President Maduro’s election win could be seen as legitimate. It is in this context that the fatherland card is now being deployed. Due to the economic situation, resources are extremely limited. By only giving social security benefits to people who have this card, the Venezuelan government gets to ensure that its limited resources are used to reward loyalists of the Maduro regime. Whilst this system is not fully implemented yet, there is a very real possibility that President Maduro will use it to wage economic warfare against Venezuelans who oppose him.
To make matters worse, this technology has been developed in conjunction with China. ZTE is a firm with high level links to the Chinese government who already employ their own form of social scoring known as Social Credit system. ZTE has also been critical in developing the software used in the fatherland cards, underscoring how deep the link between Venezuela and China actually are. Of course, it is hardly surprising that two authoritarian governments would be willing to work together to control their own citizens. However, it is alarming that this dangerous technology is being exported. Indeed, if it is successful in Venezuela, other governments who struggle with a rebellious population may turn to China and import its socially manipulative technology. The ultimate fear is that this technology becomes prolific, creating an Orwellian world where any action that doesn’t align with state policy is punished.
Only time will tell if the fatherland card will become an effective method of control in Venezuela. As it stands, the Venezuelan government has publicly stated its intention to tie healthcare services and social security to enrolment in the fatherland card scheme in the near future. For China, Venezuela is the perfect testing ground for its technology. Given the level of unrest in the nation, it will be the perfect advertisement for Chinese surveillance technology if the fatherland card is instrumental in pacifying the Venezuelan population. If it is capable of securing the rule of an illegitimate ruler such as President Maduro, then other authoritarian governments will rapidly see the benefits. This also has the added bonus of drawing more countries closer to China as exporting this technology will undoubtedly lead to high levels of cooperation.
The West should recognise the threat that this technology poses to civil liberties, and resist any temptation to use similar Orwellian social credit schemes.