Bur Jaime Moreno
Chinese technology and expertise allows to control suffocation in digital communications in both Venezuela and Cuba, according to internal evidence and several international investigations.
U.S. House of Representatives Freedom House says Venezuela and Cuba are doing more to block Internet access than other Latin American governments, describing the region as a “digital dictatorship” from 2018 onwards.
“Anyone who believes that privacy exists in Venezuela through email, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram communications is wrong. Anthony Daquin, a former computer security adviser at Venezuela’s Ministry of Justice, said the tools were “completely government-sponsored.”
Between 2002 and 2008, Dagwin participated in a team sent to China by former President Hugo Chavez to learn how Beijing uses software to identify Chinese citizens and set up a similar system in Venezuela.
The launch of the “Native Notebook” or Map of the Homeland in 2016 by the Chinese company ZTE was key to these efforts. Although theoretically voluntary, it is essential to have cards to access a wide range of products and services, from physician appointments to government pensions.
Cards are said to be a way to make public service and distribution chains more effective, but critics have denounced them as “citizen control”.
Daquin said China’s role in recent years has been to provide technology and technical assistance.
“They have TV camera systems, fingerprint, facial recognition, internet and word algorithm systems for conversations,” he said.
One of the few ways Venezuelans can communicate electronically without government oversight is through signal-encrypted messaging platforms, Dagwin said, adding that the government has found it too expensive for the police.
The former consultant said Venezuela’s digital surveillance system is divided into five “rings”, with “Ring 5 highly trusted staff, 100% Chinese supervision”.
According to Daquin, the government receives daily reports from observers, which form the basis for media censorship, cyber freezing and arbitrary arrests.
US blames Chinese companies
Many Chinese technology companies operate in Venezuela, including ZTE, Huawei and China National Electronics Import & Export Corp. (CEIEC). The latter was approved by the US Treasury in 2020, and his work in Venezuela helped President Nicolas Maduro’s government to “restrict Internet service” and “carry out digital and Internet surveillance operations against political opponents.”
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee also issued a warning in 2020. In a statement, Big Brother, Chinese digital dictatorship, He accused Chinese telecommunications companies of facilitating “digital dictatorship” around the world and cited Venezuela as a case study.
In particular, the panel noted the presence of a group of ZTE staff within the facilities of CANTV, a state-owned telecommunications company that maintains the Native Map database.
“The document cites an inquiry by Reuters news agency that CANTV staff said the card system allows them to track a variety of information about individuals, including birthdays, family, employment and income, property, and medical history. Is there a vote.
The report said Maduro was making full use of Chinese hardware and services in an effort to control Venezuelan citizens.
Sophisticated and simple internet barriers
According to Luis Carlos Diaz, head of the Venezuelan chapter of the US – based non – profit Internet Society, which advocates for the open development of the Internet, the Maduro government’s efforts to block Internet access for domestic protesters are “very basic.”
He said there was nothing more than a phone call from a government official to a web portal operator to block a website or social media for a period of time.
However, in 2019, Venezuela blocked The Onion Router, or TOR, one of the world’s most advanced systems for allowing Internet users to remain anonymous and avoid censorship. The operating system runs messages through a network of global servers so that the origin of a message cannot be identified.
Dias said that unlike other series of blockades in Venezuela, hacking TOR requires more knowledge.
“There, we issued warnings because it was so serious,” he told the VOA. “That is, the Venezuelan government is using technology similar to the one used in China to block users with TOR, a tool used to avoid censorship.”
Diaz said the siege of TOR lasted a week and it was doubtful that the Venezuelan government had done it automatically, as it did not have the highly trained personnel needed for such a complex operation.
China’s role in Cuba
The Internet infrastructure in Cuba was built with equipment sourced from Chinese companies. The Swedish organization Kuriam said in a statement released in early 2020 that it had discovered Huawei eSight network management software on the Cuban Internet. According to the organization, the purpose of the software is to help filter Internet searches.
Cuban dissidents claim that the only way to access government-censored pages on the island is through a virtual private network or VPN, which tricks the computer into thinking that the user is in another country.
“This is the only way to access a restricted website,” said journalist Luce Escobar. However, in Cuba, “few have mastered this technique,” he said.
Internet auditing in Cuba was conducted in 2017 by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), a voluntary organization that monitors Internet censorship around the world. The team said they were able to detect that the software for public WiFi portals on the island was developed by a Chinese company “because they coded the source code in Chinese”.
“We also saw widespread use of Huawei equipment,” said Arturo Filasto, OONI’s project manager, who visited Cuba to test various government – provided WiFi hotspots.
The Voice of America sought feedback from three government agencies, Cuba, Venezuela and China, but did not receive a response from any of them before it was released.
China continues to guide countries with “dictatorial tendencies”
In the 2021 Report on Internet Censorship, Freedom House and Venezuelan officials attended government training and seminars with representatives from 36 countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria. Chinese New Media and Information Management.
The report concludes that China hosted forums such as the Global Internet Conference in 2017, “communicating its standards to dictatorial governments.”
Justin Sherman, an Atlantic Council cyberstracraft initiative’s information security expert, said Chinese companies such as VOA, Huawei and ZTE are involved in developing programs for governments, intelligence services and cyber surveillance agencies, not just in Venezuela.
Sherman said it was not clear whether Chinese companies were selling their surveillance technology to authoritarian governments for profit. The Senate Relations Committee’s 2020 report notes that China is interested in expanding its policy of “digital dictatorship around the world” beyond sales of its technology services.
This article is from the VOA’s Latin America section.