intro’d to Camila here:
Vallejo, a former president of the University of Chile student union, says the election to congress of student leaders “will not only demonstrate that the social movements can and should have their own representatives in congress, but also make it possible … to build political spaces that allow us to make the structural changes our society demands”.
With her silver nose ring and impassioned references to Karl Marx and Fidel Castro, Vallejo has become a modern Latin American folk hero. In the Chilean capital, Santiago, art galleries sell oil paintings of her while chalked messages of support decorate streets.
Running for office from the working-class Santiago neighbourhood La Florida, Vallejo is focusing her campaign on education reform and an overhaul of the Pinochet-era constitution. Ratified in 1980, the document is widely seen as obsolete and part of what she hopes to change with her “democratic revolution” – a plan she says could be financed by higher corporation taxes and which works within the boundaries of a constitutional democracy.
Vallejo’s Communist party membership has long been a target of criticism from Chilean politicians and commentators. But Vallejo’s effectiveness as a student leader and activist has earned the 25-year-old political respectability and a Twitter audience of more than 748,000 followers and a growing profile.
But Chilean rightwingers are dismissive of Vallejo and the new political activism.
“This new type of leadership is bad for the country,” says Victor Pérez, a senator from the UDI party. “I am sure that the majority of Chileans are going to punish this form of politics, in which the citizen’s aspirations are being toyed with and in which social progress is not the objective but simply personal projects.”
Jackson says students are fighting to change a style of education imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship and maintained by civilian leaders. Under the military regime entire subjects were outlawed and senior army officers placed in charge of universities.
Even after the return to democracy, Chilean officials looked aside as higher education companies boomed, many of them “diploma mills” more focused on profits than education.
Jackson argues that the students are battling “a legacy of the privatisation of education, an understanding that education is not a right but something that you can purchase”.
Vallejo says the Chilean government has long treated education as a commodity that “immediately distorts the principal objective which is to educate not earn profits, as well as generates a brutal socioeconomic segmentation … In other words the children who are born poor are going to receive a poor education and will continue to be poor.”
As president of the University of Chile Student Federation (Fech) and main spokesperson of the Confederation of Chilean Students (Confech), she led a movement for better access to quality education at the end of April 2011 – which continues as of April 2012.
Vallejo has acquired public attention as a leading spokesperson and as leader of the 2011 student protests in Chile, alongside other student leaders, including Giorgio Jackson from the Catholic University of Chile Student Federation and Camilo Ballesteros from the University of Santiago, Chile Student Federation. In August 2011, the Supreme Court of Chile ordered police protection for Vallejo after she received death threats. In October 2011 she was elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Youth of Chile at its XIII National Congress.
In November 2012, Vallejo was proclaimed by the Communist Party of Chile as one of their candidates for Congress in the 2013 elections. She would be competing to represent the 26 District of La Florida.