Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and Tesla CEO Elon Musk talk during a meeting in Porto Feliz city in Sao Paulo state, Brazil May 20, 2022.
Kenny Oliveira | MCom | via Reuters
Elon Musk traveled to Brazil on Friday to discuss projects to protect the Amazon rainforest with President Jair Bolsonaro, ministers said, in a boost for the far-right leader who is facing increasing criticism at home and abroad for surging deforestation on his watch.
The visit by Musk, the SpaceX and Tesla chief executive who is in talks to buy social network Twitter, follows a meeting in November with Brazilian Communications Minister Fabio Faria. They spoke then about using SpaceX technology to bring the internet to rural schools and combat illegal deforestation.
Faria confirmed Musk’s visit “to discuss connectivity and protection of the Amazon” in a tweet on Friday and Bolsonaro’s chief of staff said the president himself would take part in the meeting. On Thursday, Bolsonaro spoke of an upcoming “meeting with an internationally recognized person coming to help our Amazon.”
Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has climbed to a 15-year high under Bolsonaro, who pushed for more mining and farming in the region, drawing criticism from world leaders and climate scientists.
That has added to growing isolation of Bolsonaro, who lost a key ally when former US President Donald Trump failed in his 2020 re-election bid.
Musk is attending an event at an upscale hotel in the countryside near Sao Paulo, in the company of business leaders such as Telecom Italia Chief Executive Pietro Labriola and Banco BTG Pactual Chairman Andre Esteves, according to O Globo newspaper, which first reported the visit.
Flight-tracking websites showed Musk’s Gulfstream jet departing Texas and landing at the Catarina Executive Airport west of Sao Paulo on Friday morning.
Musk is set to meet with Bolsonaro, a conservative firebrand who defends Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, as the entrepreneur describes his own politics drifting to the right. On Wednesday, Musk said that he previously voted for Democrats, but he will now vote for Republicans.
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 tensions, Bolsonaro visited Moscow for a friendly meeting with President Vladimir Putin just days before the Feb. 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine, which the Brazilian leader has refused to condemn.
Bolsonaro, who criticizes major tech firms for their efforts to combat misformation on social media, celebrated the news that Twitter accepted Musk’s initial bid for the company. He has also tried for years to lure Tesla to Brazil, where the company lacks any retail presence.