SAO PAULO, May 20 (Reuters) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called Elon Musk’s proposed takeover of Twitter Inc a “breath of hope” as the two met in Brazil on Friday, adding he hoped the U.S. billionaire would help end the “lies” about his widely criticized stewardship of the Amazon rainforest.
Bolsonaro and Musk, the CEO of electric carmaker Tesla Inc and rocket company SpaceX, met to discuss rural internet connectivity and monitoring of the Amazon. The meeting comes at a sensitive time for both men.
Bolsonaro faces an uphill battle to get re-elected in the October, and has become increasingly isolated on the global stage, while Musk was on Thursday accused of sexual harassment in a news report – an allegation he denies.
Bolsonaro, a far-right nationalist, has blasted major social media platforms for their efforts to combat disinformation, including taking down his baseless comments linking COVID-19 vaccines to developing AIDS. Musk, who Bolsonaro called a “legend of liberty,” has vowed to defend free speech on Twitter.
Bolsonaro has been globally condemned for advocating more mining and farming in the Amazon and for Brazil’s environmental backsliding. Recent satellite data show deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has surged to a 15-year high under Bolsonaro.
Speaking alongside Musk at an upscale hotel in the countryside near Sao Paulo, Bolsonaro hailed the billionaire’s bid for Twitter, saying “it was like a breath of hope.”
“We need, and are counting on Elon Musk for the Amazon to be known by all in Brazil and the world, to show … how we have protected it, and how much harm is caused by those who spread lies about that region,” he told a news conference.
Later, in a press conference without Musk, Bolsonaro gushed about meeting the U.S. billionaire. “It’s the start of a relationship which I’m sure will soon end in marriage,” he said.
Bolsonaro added that Musk’s Twitter purchase would represent “the freedom of press that we always want and desire, total freedom, without limit,” he said.
Bolsonaro also said that he was making Brazil’s Alcântara space base near the equator available to Musk’s rockets.
Musk tweeted on Friday afternoon that he aimed to discuss further monitoring of the rainforest and an effort to bring broadband internet to rural areas – a scheme that he had previously discussed with members of Bolsonaro’s government.
Musk was not asked about harassment allegations when he took questions after arriving in Sao Paulo, where he was also greeted by business leaders such as Telecom Italia Chief Executive Pietro Labriola and Banco BTG Pactual Chairman Andre Esteves.
Musk’s meeting with Bolsonaro, a longtime conservative firebrand who defends Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, is indicative of the right-ward drift of his personal politics. On Wednesday, he said he previously voted for Democrats, but will now vote for Republicans.
For Bolsonaro, who has worried international observers as many fear that he may refuse to hand over power if he loses the October election, Musk’s visit was a public relations coup.
Bolsonaro lost an ally when former U.S. President Donald Trump lost his 2020 re-election bid, and has not spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden since the Democrat took office.