The Treasury Department sanctioned a Chinese defense company on Monday for selling equipment used to suppress political opposition to Venezuela's Maduro regime.
China National Electronics Import & Export Corporation (CEIEC) allegedly sold hardware that allowed Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro to conduct digital surveillance and other cyber maneuvers against political opponents. The Chinese company began offering services to Venezuela in 2017, providing much of its products and support to state-run telecommunications giant Venezuelan National Telephone Company, which controls 70 percent of the country’s internet services.
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The company also oversaw a billion-dollar surveillance initiative in Venezuela, installing 30,000 cameras in the country, according to an Air Force academic paper.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin outlined how the transactions bolster the regime in Caracas.
"The illegitimate Maduro regime’s reliance on entities like CEIEC to advance its authoritarian agenda further illustrates the regime’s prioritization of power over democratic values and processes," Mnuchin said in a statement. "The United States will not hesitate to target anyone helping to suppress the democratic will of the Venezuelan people and others around the world."
The Maduro government denounced the sanctions as an attempt to interfere with Venezuelan politics on the eve of an upcoming election, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Venezuela is not the only country in the region where Chinese influence is apparent. In the last decade, China has dedicated significant capital toward developing friendly relations with governments in the Caribbean, including Cuba, where President-elect Joe Biden is expected to adopt a more accommodating stance toward the communist regime.
The sanctions come as the Trump administration makes a final push to counter Chinese influence abroad before Biden takes command of the China agenda. In recent weeks, the White House has sanctioned several Chinese enterprises that support the Chinese military and forced labor practices.