In May 2022, then-president Jair Bolsonaro and billionaire-about-town Elon Musk met in São Paulo, Brazil. The main agenda was celebrating the arrival of Starlink in Brazil — and, more specifically, in the Brazilian Amazon. In order to get a fast-tracked authorization to operate in the country, the government had struck a deal with Starlink: Musk’s company would fight deforestation and provide internet connections to thousands of schools across the Amazon.
That, however, is not what happened.
Today, only three schools in the entire state of Amazonas are using government-provided Starlink — three out of more than 5,000. Amazon is Brazil’s largest state by territory and has the second-worst internet service in the nation. As of August of 2023, there are thousands of Brazilian citizens unable to answer a text message, hail a car via app, or even perform a simple Google search.
At the same time, they’re surrounded by internet signals — and some of the fastest in the country. Starlink has made it to the Amazonas. It’s not connecting schoolchildren to their lessons, or aiding the government agencies that combat deforestation. In practice, the biggest beneficiaries of Musk’s service are criminals — people engaged in wildcat prospecting, drug trafficking, and, of course, deforestation.
In the first act of Rádio Novelo Apresenta episode 41, reporter Juliana Faddul goes to the Amazonian city of Tefé to show how faster connections are changing lives there and delves into the enthusiastic — and misleading — correspondence between Bolsonaro’s minister of communications, Fabio Faria, and SpaceX.
This story was produced with support from the Earth Journalism Network. It was first published in Rádio Novelo on August 31, 2023. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Credit: Joshua Sortino via Unsplash.