What has China done for the Americas? Look to Venezuela.

“Chinese lending has helped destroy what was once one of the region’s greatest economic successes,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Kimberly Breier.

In remarks at the Council of the Americas in Washington on April 26, Breier pointed to Venezuela as an example of Beijing’s harmful influence in the Americas.

“China has hypocritically intervened by supporting corrupt business practices and cronyism in Venezuela, precipitating and prolonging the suffering of the Venezuelan people,” Breier said.

Venezuela has received $60 billion in so-called unconditional loans from China since 2007, she said. As mismanagement by the Maduro regime has devastated the country’s economy, it has been forced to repay much of this lending with in-kind oil shipments. This, said Breier, constrains “the resources available for helping the Venezuelan people get out of their current, government-made economic catastrophe.”

Breier outlined other ways Chinese interference negatively affects the average Venezuelan.

Elderly woman holding up an identification card (© Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images)
Venezuelans line up to get the Fatherland Card in Caracas. The card lets citizens access subsidized food, social programs and the voting booth. (© Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images)

The Fatherland Card is a combination voter identification card and mobile payment system built by the Maduro regime with the help of a Chinese telecom firm called ZTE. The card rewards those who vote for Maduro’s Socialist party with access to food and services.

“The Fatherland Card illustrates how China exports technological know-how that can help authoritarian governments track, reward, and punish citizens through a system of digital surveillance,” Breier said.

She likened it to the intrusive systems that have turned Xinjiang province, the home of China’s Uighur population, into a police state.

Last month, the Inter-American Development Bank moved its annual meeting from Chengdu, China, to Ecuador in response to China’s refusal to recognize Guaidó’s representative to the organization. Breier applauded the decision, seeing the refusal as a sign that Beijing is out of step with the region’s values.

Ultimately, she said, Venezuela does not have to be the standard-bearer for the Americas’ dealings with China. The region should welcome fair competition with China if it agrees to play by the rules. Otherwise, she says, “its opaque practices enable corruption, erode good governance, and challenge state sovereignty.”