Elon Musk benefited illegal mining by bringing the internet to the Amazon

Elon Musk got along very well with Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right former Brazilian president. Both reached an agreement in May 2022 to launch a connectivity project in the Amazon powered by the satellite network of one of the magnate’s companies, Starlink. “Super excited to be in Brazil”, Musk then said, promising to benefit 19,000 rural schools. Almost a year later, the benefits came, but to the network of mining mafias in the region.

A group of federal agents assaulted an illegal mine in the Amazon jungle on Tuesday of this week. PA reported that the operation occurred in the area known as Ouro Mil, controlled by the First Command of the Capital, one of the most feared criminal organizations in Brazil. After confronting shots, the criminals fled, but they forgot some of their belongings. Among them, two Starlink internet equipment.

Starlink is a division of the aerospace agency SpaceX. almost has 4,000 satellites in low orbits, which provide satellite internet to more than one million users in 33 countries. By its nature, it has the capacity to operate in remote areas.

Elon Musk, for example, became one more player in the war between Ukraine and Russia by deciding to keep the service active in the conflict zone. It is the same tool that now serves illegal miners in the Amazon to coordinate their operations, alert them to possible raids and even make payments without having to leave the jungle.

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How mafias operate in the Amazon thanks to Elon Musk’s service

The authorities have already captured at least seven Starlink teams in the Amazon jungle, reported Ibama, the Brazilian environmental agency, according to what was published by PA. Before Elon Musk’s technology reached the Amazon, criminals had to go to great lengths to connect to the internet: air travel, specialized technicians, large antennas that could not be moved in cases of raids.

Everything changed with Starlink. The installation can be done by one person, it works on the move and the connection is as good as in the big cities of Brazil. Local media report that the antennas They are resold through WhatsApp groups for up to 1,700 $. The newspaper brazil de fato asked Starlink’s legal representative in Brazil, Vitor Urner, if the company intended to take steps to suspend service to the region. The spokesman said that he was not authorized to testify.

The new president of Brazil, Luis Lula da Silva, has strengthened the work of the authorities to prosecute environmental crimes, especially in the most important indigenous territories of the country. These communities are affected by the contamination of water flows as a result of illegal mining, in addition to being victims of harassment or extortion.

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The police forces, paradoxically, They have started using Starlink to be able to face the mafias. An official informed PA that in Tuesday’s operation in the Amazon they used Elon Musk’s service for their internal communications.

Musk’s intervention in Ukraine and the connection on mobile phones

Elon Musk Neuralink conference
Elon Musk.

About Elon Musk’s promise to connect students in the Amazon, almost nothing. Until September 2022, the service had reached only three schools from the metropolitan region of Manaus, in northeastern Brazil, according to local media. The Ministry of Communications confirmed to PA They have not signed any contract with SpaceX.

Meanwhile, the billionaire plays in the war. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged in February that he was in talks with Elon Musk about his satellite service in Ukraine. Days before, SpaceX had informed that it would take measures to prevent the Ukrainian military from further exploiting Starlink’s internet.

SpaceX has privately shipped truckloads of connecting terminals to the conflict zone. The Ukrainians have used them to, for example, activate combat drones in the war with Russia, something the company would disagree with. “It was never intended to be turned into a weapon,” said Gwynne Shotwell, director of Starlink, early last month.

The latest from Starlink was that it announced this week that would start testing its satellite coverage on mobile devices. Until now, it had only offered Internet connection in homes, shops and transport. And well: also in the war in Ukraine and in illegal mining in the Amazon.

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