Camila Vallejo, president of Chile’s leading student body, is the face of a youth revolt that has been gaining public support since last spring. She’s been attacked with police tear gas and water cannons and targeted with death threats.
At 23, the Santiago native speaks boldly of the internationalization of the uprising against the neoliberal policies that have exploded the cost of college tuition and widened the gap of social and economic inequality in her country and beyond. And from Latin America to Europe and elsewhere, the international public is listening.
“Here in Chile, we are constantly hearing the message that our goals are impossible and that we are unrealistic, but the rest of the world, especially the youth, are sending us so much support. We are at a crucial moment in this struggle and international support is key,” she said.
Seventy percent of the Chilean public now supports the students’ demands and an equal percentage views the government’s proposals as insufficient, according to the Chilean newspaper La Tercera. —ARK
Vallejo, an eloquent and attractive young woman who exudes self-confidence and style, took the violence in her stride and focused on what she sees as the positive achievements thus far. “For years, Chilean youth have been consumed by a neo-liberal model that highlights personal achievement and consumerism; it is all about mine, mine, mine. There is not a lot of empathy for the other,” said Vallejo in her office, decorated with a large photograph of Karl Marx.
... In just a matter of months, Vallejo has been catapulted from anonymous student body president to Latin American folk hero with more than 300,000 Twitter followers. Type her name into Google and there are more than 160,000 results just from the past 24 hours. Brazilian students now parade her as a VIP guest at their marches, the Chilean president invites her to negotiate a settlement and when she calls for a show of strength hundreds of thousands of students throughout Chile take to the streets. As an adept and wildly popular social media phenomenon, Vallejo has risen to become the most recognisable face of the student protesters.
Alejandro Bonilla (CC-BY)
Vallejo finds herself presiding over the biggest citizen democracy movement since the days of opposition marches to Gen. Augusto Pinochet a generation ago