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US sanctions Chinese company for conducting business with Maduro regime

The Hill logo The Hill 11/30/2020 Olivia Beavers
Donald Trump, Nicolas Maduro are posing for a picture: US sanctions Chinese company for conducting business with Maduro regime © Getty Images US sanctions Chinese company for conducting business with Maduro regime

The Trump administration on Monday imposed sanctions on a Chinese company, alleging that it was supporting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in undermining the country's democracy, including restricting internet access and conducting digital surveillance of the regime's political opponents.

The U.S. says the company, China National Electronics Import and Export Corporation (CEIEC), is facing financial penalties after providing software and services to government entities, including Venezuela's state-run telecommunications provider that controls 70 percent of the country's internet service.

"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 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," he added.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a separate statement highlighted that CEIEC has been supporting Maduro's government since 2017.

"PRC [The People's Republic of China] technology companies, including CEIEC, lead the world in developing and exporting tools to monitor, censor, and surveil citizens' activities on the internet," Pompeo said.

"CEIEC has been supporting the Maduro regime's malicious efforts to repress political dissent and undermine democratic processes since 2017," he said.

The Department of Treasury in a press release said CEIEC was basically providing the Maduro government with a "commercialized version of China's 'Great Firewall.' "

"The Great Firewall is China's nationwide system of web blocks and filters, used to maintain strict online censorship, control the information Chinese citizens can access outside China, and prevent the internal dissemination of content deemed undesirable by political leadership," reads the press release.

Such support was provided in part to the Venezuelan National Telephone Company, which the administration alleges frequently blocks open dissent, whether it is remarks from opposition members or online independent newspapers.

As a result, the department says the new sanctions are because CEIEC helped "materially" assist, sponsor or provide support for "actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions."

The sanctions bar Americans from conducting business with the company and any U.S. assets CEIEC has will be frozen.

In early 2019, the White House recognized Juan Guaidó, a Venezuelan politician, as the country's rightful leader after Maduro's reelection bid in 2018 was considered to be widely riddled with fraud.

Afterward, the U.S. sought to turn up the heat on Maduro through diplomatic pressure and sanctions, while other authoritarian-run countries like China, Russia and Cuba have backed Maduro's stay in power.

Pompeo says the sanctions are the latest example of the U.S. holding responsible entities that support Maduro's government.

"With this latest action, the United States reaffirms its commitment to promoting accountability for all those complicit in the illegitimate Maduro regime's efforts to undermine democracy," he said in a statement.

"Maduro's desperate attempts to manipulate the democratic processes should leave no doubt that any elections organized by the illegitimate regime ... will be neither free nor fair," Pompeo added, while emphasizing the U.S. government's support of Guaidó.

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