Dec. 1 (UPI) — The Trump administration on Monday targeted Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by sanctioning a Chinese technology company it accuses of supporting the embattled regime’s efforts to undermine democracy in the South American country.
The U.S. Treasury and the State Department announced the United States has designated the Beijing-owned China National Electronics Import & Export Corporation, known as CEIEC, which they said aids the Maduro regime by restricting Internet service and conducting digital surveillance and cyber operations against political opponents.
“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,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin 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 Treasury said undemocratic governments use Chinese-exported technologies, such as those developed by CEIEC, to repress political dissent and Maduro has been utilizing CEIEC’s services since 2017.
It has provided Venezuela with software, training and technical expertise, including deploying experts to state-run telecommunications provider Venezuelan National Telephone Company who created a commercialized version of China’s “Fire Firewall” that is used to maintain strict censorship, the Treasury said.
The State Department said this tool is used by Venezuela to block online independent newspapers and speeches by opposition members.
“The Maduro regime has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to suppress its citizens’ democratic rights, intimidate them from expressing their political views or overwhelm their voices using technology-enabled means, as buttressed by CEIEC,” the Treasury said in a release.
The United States has been sanctioning the socialist nation for more than a decade, but the effort has been redoubled under the Trump administration, which has been seeking to oust Maduro following his 2018 re-election being declared illegitimate.
Some 160 Venezuelans or Venezuelan-connected individuals as well as its state oil company, government and central bank have been sanctioned under the Trump administration’s two-year effort, but Maduro continues to cling to power with the support of China, Russia and Cuba, officials have said.
The Trump administration has also led a coalition of more than 55 countries in backing opposition leader and interim President Juan Guaido’s right to the country’s helm.
Venezuela has balked at the United States’ actions, describing them as criminal and evidence that will be used against it in international trial.
Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s foreign minister, described the sanctions against CEIEC on Monday as “coercive measures” employed to disrupt efforts ahead of parliamentary elections on Dec. 6.
Venezuela “will not be intimidated,” he said in a statement, describing the sanctions as “attempts to create anxiety and attack the functioning of the public.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in a statement that the elections in Venezuela, including upcoming parliamentary votes, will neither be free nor fair due to “Maduro’s desperate attempts to manipulate the democratic process.”
The Treasury said it has given companies 45 days to wind-down interactions with CEIEC, which has 200 subsidiaries and offices worldwide.
The sanctions freeze all property and interests in property of CEIEC in the United States and blocks U.S. citizens from doing business with the Chinese company.
“We stand with interim President Guaido and the Venezuelan people who have struggled for years to restore democracy and liberty to Venezuela,” he said.