Elon Musk, superhero of the Latin American right

This article was written by Leonardo Oliva and published in CONNECTAS in May 2024. An edited version is republished in Global Voices under a media agreement.

Venezuela has a great wealth of natural resources. If Chavez had not destroyed their economy by increasing the role of government to extreme socialism, the country would be very prosperous.

This quote is from April 4 and it was posted by Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of Tesla and Space X, on X (formerly Twitter). It is hardly his only opinion about a Latin American country: “Prosperity is ahead for Argentina,” he tweeted when Javier Milei won the election back in November; and “He’s right,” to celebrate Salvadoran Nayib Bukele on the same social network back in February.

Musk uses that platform — which he owns — to plant the flag with his opinions about all sorts of issues, always controversially. From the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the World Cup in Qatar, to drug consumption, almost any issue has been tackled by the sharp tongue of the second richest man in the world (whose fortune is USD 195 billion, according to Forbes).

Strangely, many of his latest posts on X refer to Latin America, where he has shown affinity with right-wing political leaders such as Milei, Bukele, and Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro. And, in contrast, the targets of his posts are always of the left, such as Chavismo or Lula Da Silva.

Musk, as journalistic profiles about him portray, is a pragmatic man, and entrepreneur with an instinct for business — ideology aside. He didn’t hesitate to travel last weekend to China to do business with the communist government.

However, he has become an active spokesman for more reactionary speech. “Throughout 2022, he went from benign praise to moderation, and to furious concerns about how woke mind and self-imposed censorship by media elites were an existential threat to humanity,” reads the celebrated biography of Musk by Walter Isaacson, published in September 2023.

In this swerve towards extremes, Latin America has served him to echo his businesses and his diatribes. His praise of libertarian Milei went beyond tweets: on April 12, he welcomed the Argentinian president in the offices of Tesla in Texas. They talked, took photographs and declared a mutual “love” for each other, just as Milei is applying a drastic adjustment to the Argentinian economy, which the opposition considers to be wreaking havoc.

At the same time, the founder of companies such as Neuralink (brain-computer interfaces)  and Starlink (satellite internet access) is in the middle of a feud with a Brazilian judge who ordered him to block a series of accounts on X for allegedly spreading misinformation about Lula’s government. His accusations against magistrate Alexandre de Moraes (claiming “censorship”) were applauded by Bolsonaro, who stated that Musk’s objective “is to free the whole world.”

For Brazilian political analyst Marco Bastos, Bolsonarismo supports the businessman’s claims out of “convenience.” And the defense of freedom of speech is “inconsistent” because Bolsonaro is a firm defender of military dictatorship — not quite an example of respecting that right in Brazil.

Read more: On X, Elon Musk pushes a campaign against a Brazilian Supreme Court Justice

Brazil and Argentina are two nations with mounting polarization of the extremes in Latin America. And, in that clash, Musk has decided to stand as far to the right as possible. Oddly enough, he has failed to do so in the United States, his adopted country (he was born in South Africa). There, extremes are represented by presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Even though he has questioned the former, he hasn’t been explicitly in favor of the Republican; although he did question another ultra anti-woke conservative: Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida.

Ever more politically active (some say he is pursuing a career in the field), Musk didn’t hesitate to position himself in European politics. In December, he participated in Italy in a convention where he shared the stage with Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, an example of European right wing, and with the president of the Spanish ultraconservative party, Vox, Santiago Abascal. He told them: “Please don’t import the woke mind virus from the United States!”

In times when “the extreme right is all the rage (again),” as political scientist and historian Steven Forti claims, the owner of Tesla has embraced that trend as a convert, considering he supported Democrat Barack Obama only a decade ago.

Musk’s turn to the right “disconcerted his progressist friends, including his first wife, Justine, and his then girlfriend, Grimes,” says Isaacson in his biography. But far from isolating him, it earned him new friends. Several of them are in the Latin American right, where he is idolized as a messiah, despite him being a businessman — a very successful one, but a businessman after all.

In Mexico, his most loyal admirer is Samuel Garcia, the right wing governor of Nuevo Leon. This individual, who shares eccentric traits with Milei, Bukele, and Trump, brags about having persuaded Musk into setting up a Tesla manufacturing plant in Monterrey, an announcement that is yet to be crystallized. Garcia campaigns in a Cybertruck, the luxurious Tesla vehicle that costs around USD 100,000.

“Last year, Elon Musk said that he was going to invest in a Gigafactory in Monterrey, in the country’s north region, near the border with Texas,” explains economist Ernesto del Castillo. “This proximity with Texas is not a coincidence, given that Musk has multiple interests there, in particular the corporate headquarters of Tesla in Austin, and he also has operations near the border with Mexico with his company SpaceX,” the professor at Tecnologico de Monterrey told CONNECTAS.

Despite having set his sights on the state of Nuevo Leon, so far Musk’s investment in Mexico has been Starlink, the high-speed internet company that uses satellites of another of his companies, SpaceX. It is the same service that Milei announced recently in Argentina as a result of his new friendship with the South African. And there is a municipality in the province of Cordoba, Argentina, using Starlink as its internet provider.

But are these businesses enough for Elon Musk to dedicate part of its time to Latin American politics? For Mark P. Jones, political scientist at Rice University, Texas, the businessman has a link with the region that is more ideologically than economically driven. He says that is what pushed him to purchase Twitter, which has given him political influence instead of money.

The reason for his connection with Milei, Bolsonaro, and Bukele is because they are in sync, and clearly because they are criticized by the left. But in the end, it is convenient for Musk to have friends in Latin America because it helps him in case of conflict, for instance, with Lula in Brazil. That serves him to show he is not in conflict with the region, but with the left in Latin America.

With investments in strategic sectors, such as electric vehicles, telecommunications and artificial intelligence, Musk has become one of the most powerful and influential men in the world. Even more so than rulers such as Milei, who, before seeking a bilateral meeting with the president of the United States in the White House, preferred to meet with the billionaire in the headquarters of Tesla in Austin. And to officially communicate it on X.

“Wow,” Musk commented when the president announced the fiscal surplus of his economic program on April 23 in Argentina, the fourth producer of lithium in the world, the key mineral for the batteries of the electric cars manufactured by none other than Tesla.

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