CARACAS, Venezuela—In April 2008, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dispatched Justice Ministry officials to visit counterparts in the Chinese technology hub of Shenzhen. Their mission, according to a member of the Venezuela delegation, was to learn the workings of China’s national identity card program.
“What we saw in China changed everything,” said the member of the Venezuelan delegation, technical advisor Anthony Daquin. His initial amazement, he said, gradually turned to fear that such a system could lead to abuses of privacy by Venezuela’s government. “They were looking to have citizen control.”
The following year, when he raised concerns with Venezuelan officials, Daquin told Reuters, he was detained, beaten and extorted by intelligence agents. They knocked several teeth out with a handgun and accused him of treasonous behavior, Daquin said, prompting him to flee the country.
Government spokespeople had no comment on Daquin’s account.
The project languished.
But 10 years after the Shenzhen trip, Venezuela is rolling out a new, smart-card ID known as the “carnet de la patria,” or “fatherland card.” The ID transmits data about cardholders to computer servers. The card is increasingly linked by the government to subsidized food, health and other social programs most Venezuelans rely on to survive.
And ZTE, whose role in the fatherland project is detailed here for the first time, is at the heart of the program.
As part of a $70 million government effort to bolster “national security,” Venezuela last year hired ZTE to build a fatherland database and create a mobile payment system for use with the card, according to contracts reviewed by Reuters.