Camila Vallejo has changed Chile's politics in less than a year. We in the English-speaking world need to know more about her and those in her movement. This blog is an attempt to learn about her and make her known to people outside Latin America.
Camila Vallejo is the antithesis of the average Chilean politician. She's not a man, she's not rich and she's not worried about re-election.
"Macho attitudes in Chile are expressed in many forms," says the 25-year-old, a recent mother, who was elected to parliament in November and takes office in March. "In the salary inequalities, the lack of respect for sexual and reproductive rights and the great difficulties that confront women trying to reach political office."
A member of the Communist Youth, Vallejo rose to prominence in 2011 as president of the politically powerful University of Chile student federation. In street marches during 2011 and 2012, university and high school students, led in part by Vallejo, exposed Chilean higher education to be a for-profit sham with little effective regulation. University presidents were jailed, universities shut down and investigated, the protesters ignited a national debate over the future of public education in Chile.
Vallejo has been delivering political speeches and organizing communities for nearly a decade. Even as a 19-year-old Vallejo was known for rousing speeches that espoused deeper social spending and inclusion for Chile's lower class. Elected last year to represent La Florida, a middle-class Santiago neighborhood, Vallejo epitomises shoe-leather politics. She walked her entire district, from farmer's market to small businesses, pushing her progressive agenda. The strategy paid off as she and fellow communist youth activist Karol Cariola were both elected.
"They tried to create caricatures of me to distract the population from the issues and avoid a debate," she says. "Nonetheless, the power of the ideas, and the reasoning behind our demands were far stronger … The public understood that we were not just students who fought for our own interests and that the youth is also part of the process of a much greater social transformation that involves the rest of society."
Given her good looks and charisma, she has continually battled to keep the goals of the movement front and centre. In interviews, she refuses personal questions, even about her favourite movie. But ask her about the recent elections in which four student leaders won parliamentary seats and she beams with pride. "There's no reason why those seats need to be occupied by the traditional-style politicians we have always had."
Camila Vallejo, the public face of Chile's student movement, backs Michelle Bachelet and trusts that the presidential favourite's proposed reform of the education system will soon become a reality.
The nose-ringed geography student led millions into the streets since 2011 asserting the right to free education. Highlighting a generational shift in Chile's traditional politics, Vallejo and three other student leaders in their twenties were elected to Congress on Sunday.
Despite mass protests that raised hopes across Chile for deep educational changes, the system still fails families with poor quality public schools, expensive private universities, unprepared teachers and banks that make big profits on pricey loans.
But the 25-year-old Communist Party member said Thursday that she's confident Bachelet's coalition will have enough seats in Congress to achieve educational reform.
"Given the result of the elections, we have a majority that allows us to make structural changes," Vallejo told foreign correspondents in a meeting. Next to her was Karol Carolia, another student activist elected to Congress.
"Social movements are pressuring many sectors that were not in favour of change before and that have now changed their mind," she said.
Bachelet, who became Chile's first woman president from 2006-2010, nearly doubled the votes of her conservative rival, Evelyn Matthei, in the first round of the vote. Bachelet is widely expected to retake the presidency in a Dec. 15 runoff.
Vallejo said the run-up to the vote will be major challenge as they race against the clock to convince others to support the education reform that she fought for in the streets. But she said she's confident that Bachelet and her coalition will score nothing but a "rotund victory."
Camila Vallejo, who helped spearhead Chile's student uprising in 2011, has been elected to Congress alongside three other former university leaders, underscoring a generational shift in the country's politics.
The 25-year-old communist shot to international fame as one of the most recognisable faces of a student movement seeking free and improved education in a country fettered by the worst income distribution among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's 34 member states.
Vallejo's victory is key for the presidential frontrunner Michelle Bachelet's attempt to have her Nueva Mayoria coalition gain a stronger foothold in both houses of Congress.
"We're going to celebrate our triumph on the streets of La Florida," Vallejo said on Twitter, referring to a district in Santiago.
Bachelet, who held Chile's highest office from 2006 to 2010, was the clear winner in the Andean country's presidential election on Sunday, although she will have to go through a second-round runoff next month to seal her victory.
The huge student protests of 2011 rocked the government of the incumbent president, Sebastián Piñera, and helped shape the 2013 electoral campaign, with Bachelet promising to implement tax reforms to finance an overhaul of education.
The independent candidates Giorgio Jackson and Gabriel Boric and fellow communist Karol Cariola, former comrades in the student movement, also gained seats in Chile's lower house on Sunday.
Election results are coming in from BioBioChile, and so far they show Camila Vallejo leading in La Florida (District 26) with 46.66% of the vote (69% counted). Karol Cariola (District 19) is doing almost as well with 41%, and Giorgio Jackson (District 22) has 44.23%. This is impressive, especially for first-time candidates.
If someone had told Camila Vallejo during the student uprisings in 2011 that she and her fellow student leaders would end up as elected members of congress, she would have emphatically disagreed. "I would have said you are crazy!" she told the Observer last week.
But polls show that three former student activists are poised to win congressional seats on Sunday, as Chileans head to vote in presidential and congressional elections.
The former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, a socialist paediatrician and former political prisoner who was tortured during the Pinochet dictatorship, heads the New Majority coalition and is expected to easily win the presidential race. Even if Bachelet receives less than 50% in the crowded nine-candidate field, she will be the overwhelming favourite to triumph in the 15 December runoff. Bachelet's main opponent, Evelyn Matthei, is the daughter of a pro-Pinochet military leader and her extreme-right views are finding little resonance with Chile's increasingly progressive electorate.
"The rightwing is in intensive care. You can see it in the polls and in the streets," said Vallejo, the 25-year-old former student leader. "They are unleashing pure propaganda. It's an attempt to salvage the low turnout they maintain. It's sad … they could have taken the high road and had a serious debate and a discussion about political platforms."
Inspired by the 2011 student uprising, social movements in Chile have poured into the streets, formed hundreds of community organisations and used social networks including Facebook and Twitter to organise strikes and upend Chile's traditionally conservative political agenda.
Vallejo said the student movement was key in breaking "the cultural hegemony of the neoliberal model imposed on Chile during the military dictatorship".
Though the Pinochet dictatorship ended 23 years ago, many of the institutional pillars of Chilean politics – including the 1980 constitution – maintain key tenets of Pinochet's radical free-market "Chicago Boys" strategy. While economic growth in Chile over the past quarter century has been phenomenally stable – often topping 5% a year – key social institutions including public health, education and prisons are widely seen as failures. An invigorated populace is now demanding a radical overhaul of Chile's market-oriented ideology.
Karol Cariola, a 26-year-old nurse who organised student protests in 2011, said: "Our country has started to live a new [political] era … As youth and student leaders we were the protagonists. We are part of this social movement that shook up and awoke this country. It is necessary that we arrive in congress to shake up a congress that has been tremendously hermetic and conservative."
Asked about the agenda for the young leaders, Cariola cited free university education, tax reform, a full overhaul of the Pinochet-era constitution and reform of election laws that are tailored to protect pro-Pinochet rightwing political parties. A recent change in election procedures allows all adult Chileans to vote rather than the system in which only registered adults were eligible.
While polls show apathy among younger Chileans, the presence of former student leaders on the ballot has ignited a wave of enthusiasm in certain districts that is expected to bring at least three, possibly five, former student leaders into power. Vallejo, Cariola [both supported by the Chilean Communist party] and independent student leader Giorgio Jackson are all expected to take seats in congress. Union activists and community organisers are also campaigning to convert their street leadership roles into seats in the Chilean congress.
La ex dirigente estudiantil comunista, hoy flamante madre y política, es una de las candidatas con opciones para alcanzar un puesto en la Cámara de Diputados. Algunos la acusan de traición y otros consideran que es la forma para alcanzar objetivos reales. Giorgio Jackson, otro dirigente emblemático, también es candidato.
The communist former student leader, today a brand-new mother and politician, is one of the candidates with a chance to achieve a eat in the Chamber of Deputies. Some accuse her of betrayal and other think it's the way to achieve real objectives. Giorgio Jackson, another famous leader, is also a candidate.
Fue la figura indiscutida de las movilizaciones estudiantiles en Chile y que dieron la vuelta al mundo. La petición de una educación gratuita tuvo rostro de mujer y hoy busca llegar al Congreso para poder lograr los cambios que antes pedía en las calles. Camila Vallejo, ahora convertida en madre, es una de las postulantes que se vio beneficiada por el acuerdo alcanzado por el Partido Comunista y la Nueva Mayoría que encabeza Michelle Bachelet. De esta forma, no se enfrenta a rivales de ese bloque y forma parte de una lista con fuerte respaldo popular.
She was the indisputable figure in the Chilean student protests, drawing the world's attention. The demand for free education assumed the face of a woman, and today she hopes to arrive in Congress to accomplish the changes she had been calling for in the streets. Camila Vallejo, now a mother, is one of the office-seekers benefiting from the accord between the Communist Party and the New Majority led by Michelle Bachelet. This way, she's not opposing others in this bloc, and is part of a list with strong popular support.
Desde que fue presidenta de la Federación de Estudiantes de Chile se proyectó como una figura de la política chilena y tras dejar su militancia estudiantil, pasó a formar parte de la denominada “política tradicional”, situación que la puso en medio de críticas de muchos sectores estudiantiles que vieron en ese camino una traición a lo que había manifestado durante los movimientos estudiantiles.
Since she served as president of the Federation of Students of Chile, she has been a Chilean political figure, and after leaving her student militancy, she has gone on to take part in so-called "traditional politics," which has put her under fire from critics in many student groups who saw her path as a betrayal of what she had expressed during the student movements.
La candidata a diputada del PC por el distrito de La Florida, Camila Vallejo, se refirió al programa de la abanderada del pacto Nueva Mayoría, Michelle Bachelet.
Camila Vallejo, Communist Party candidate for deputy for La Florida, talked about the program championed by the agreement with Michelle Bachelet and the New Majority.
Al respecto, la otrora líder estudiantil reconoció –en entrevista con Radio ADN– que “claramente ha costado”, pero destacó que “se ha logrado avanzar en bastantes cosas que se han demandado desde la calle”.
The former student leader said, in an interview with Radio ADN, that "Clearly it's a compromise," but she emphasized that the program "have achieved some advances demanded from the streeet."
“No está todo lo que uno quisiese que se avanzase en cuatro años, pero hay varias cosas que nos permiten avanzar en la dirección correcta”, agregó Vallejo.
"It's not everything one would want to achieve in four years, but there are some things that let us move in the right direction," Vallejo added.
En esa línea, sostuvo que “hay una propuesta programática, pero no está implementada, materializada, entonces creo que el rol del movimiento estudiantil y el de nosotros, siendo parte de la Nueva Mayoría en el parlamento, es garantizar que estas cosas avancen y se cumplan”.
Along this line, she said: "There's a programmatic proposal, but it's not implemented, not material. So I think the role of the student movement, and ourselves, is to be part of the New Majority in parliament, to guarantee that these measures advanced to completion."
Consultada por su rol como madre, Camila Vallejo señaló: “No quiero que en 20 años más ella tenga que seguir luchando por lo que yo no pude conquistar en el presente”.
Asked about her role as a mother, Camila Vallejo said: "In 20 years I don't want her to have to keep fighting for what I couldn't achieve today."
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."
Tienen toda la razón los profesores de parar hoy día, 11 de octubre. Basta poner atención a una de sus razones, la de poder contar con una auténtica Carrera Profesional Docente, que es una demanda muy sentida desde hace décadas, y que acaba de ser votado en la Cámara de Diputados pese a que los docentes pidieran quitarle la suma urgencia y así tener el tiempo suficiente para debatirlo y enriquecerlo con mayores aportes.
Teachers have every reason to strike today, October 11. It's enough to point out just one of their reasons, the power to expect an authentic professional teaching career–a strongly felt demand they've been making for decades. It was just voted on in the Chamber of Deputies, though the teachers asked them to treat it with utmost urgency to ensure that they would have enough time to debate it and strengthen it with major contributions.
En este proyecto, que solo aborda la formación inicial de los profesores y deja afuera los aspectos pedagógicos, ocurrió lo de siempre. Con la obcecación que ya se conoce de este gobierno, éste presionó al legislativo para que en tiempo récord y entre gallos y media noche fuese aprobado por la Comisión de Educación y se pusiera intempestivamente en la tabla para ser votado en sala el miércoles 9 recién pasado. En condiciones de inconsulto y rechazado por la ciudadanía quedó votado y aprobado este proyecto, que es una de las banderas de lucha con las que se expresó hoy el profesorado en las calles.
This project, which deals only with the initial training of teachers and not with pedagogical aspects, happened as it always does. With the blindness typical of this government, the law was pushed through in record time and between dawn and midnight it was approved by the Education Commission and calmly put on the agenda to be voted on October 9. Without consultation, and rejected by the citizens, it was voted and passed. It's now one of the battle flags the professors are waving in the streets.
Aunque algunos diputados se extrañaron de este proceder del Ejecutivo, lo cierto es que los proyectos de vital importancia para la sociedad chilena este gobierno los ha sacado a presión, aprovechándose abusivamente de su facultad legislativa.
Although some deputies distanced themselves from this process of the Executive, what's certain is that this government has taken the pressure off projects of vital importance to Chilean society, abusively taking advantage of its legislative power.
A las 10:16 horas de este domingo y por parto normal nació la hija de Camila Vallejo, ex dirigenta estudiantil y actual candidata a diputada del PC y la Nueva Mayoría por La Florida.
At 10:16 this Sunday morning, a daughter was born to Camila Vallejo, former student leader and current candidate for deputy in La Florida for the Communist Party and the New Majority.
La pequeña -cuyo padre es el también ex presidente FECH y médico, Julio Sarmiento- midió 49 centímetros y pesó 3 kilos 355 gramos, informó el Hospital Clínico Universidad de Chile.
The baby, whose father Julio Sarmiento is also an ex-president of FECH and a doctor, measured 49 centimeters and weighed 3 kilos and 355 grams, according to the University of Chile Clinical Hospital.
"Tanto la madre como la recién nacida se encuentran en excelentes condiciones. Fue un trabajo de parto de inicio espontáneo y curso normal. Tanto Camila como Julio están muy felices por el nacimiento", manifestó el médico tratante Rodolfo Guiñez.
"Mother and baby are both doing very well. Labour began spontaneously and progressed normally. Camila and Juli are both very happy about the birth," said attending physician Rodolfo Guiñez.
El nacimiento de la bebé se produjo 4 días después del accidente de tránsito, no grave, que sufrió la candidata a diputada del pacto Nueva Mayoría. El miércoles pasado el auto en que viajaba fue impactado por la parte trasera mientras transitaba por la Avenida Vicuña Mackenna.
The birth occurred four days after a minor traffic accident suffered by the New Majority candidate. Last Wednesday the car she was travelling in was rear-ended on Vicuña Mackenna Avenue.
BBC Mundo also has the story. The hashtag #CamilaVallejo is predictably full of "felicitaciones," with a few snide remarks.