Elon Musk discusses Amazon forest plans with Jair Bolsonaro

Deforestation has climbed to 15-year high under Brazil president

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Elon Musk met Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in an upscale hotel near Sao Paulo on Friday for talks on bringing internet access to schools in the Amazon and improving satellite monitoring of the rainforest.

Mr Musk made the announcement before a meeting with Mr Bolsonaro, in a boost for the far-right leader who is facing increasing criticism at home and abroad for surging deforestation in the Amazon.

“Super excited to be in Brazil for launch of Starlink for 19,000 unconnected schools in rural areas and environmental monitoring of Amazon,” tweeted Mr Musk, who is the chief executive of SpaceX and Tesla.

The event was organised by Communications Minister Fabio Faria, who wants to use SpaceX and Starlink technologies to improve internet connections in schools and to help preserve the rainforest.

Deforestation in the Amazon has climbed to a 15-year high under Mr Bolsonaro, who pushed for more mining and farming in the region, drawing criticism from world leaders and climate scientists.

During the event, Mr Bolsonaro said the Amazon region was “really important” to Brazil.

“We count on Elon Musk so that the Amazon is known by everyone in Brazil and in the world, to show the exuberance of this region, how we are preserving it and how much harm those who spread lies about this region are doing to us,” he said.

The visit by Mr Musk, who is in talks to buy social media platform Twitter, follows a meeting in November in which he and Mr Faria discussed combating illegal deforestation.

It also comes amid the growing isolation of Mr Bolsonaro, who lost a key ally when former US president Donald Trump failed in his 2020 re-election bid.

Mr Bolsonaro was slow to acknowledge US President Joe Biden's win and has still not spoken to the Democrat since he took office, chilling relations between the two countries.

Adding to tension, Mr Bolsonaro visited Moscow for a friendly meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin days before the February 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine, which the Brazilian leader has refused to condemn.

The Brazilian president has criticised major tech firms for their efforts to combat misinformation on social media but celebrated the news that Twitter had accepted Mr Musk's initial bid for the company. He has tried for years to lure Tesla to Brazil.

During a live-stream on Facebook, Mr Bolsonaro and Mr Musk answered questions from pupils. And although none of the pupils inquired about Mr Musk's purchase of Twitter, the Brazilian president said it signified a “breath of hope”.

“Freedom is the cement for the future,” Mr Bolsonaro said, calling the billionaire a “legend of freedom”.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: May 20, 2022, 7:07 PM
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