Published on Thursday, August 25, 2011 by The Guardian/UK
's Commander Camila, The Student Who Can Shut Down a City Chile
Camila Vallejo's call for better and cheaper education has seen student protests transform into a two-day nationwide shutdown
by Jonathan Franklin in
Not since the days of Zapatistas' Subcomandante Marcos has
Yet six months ago, no one had heard of Camila Vallejo, the 23-year-old spearheading an uprising that has shaken not only the presidency of the billionaire businessman Sebastián Piñera, but the entire Chilean political class. Opinion polls show that 26% of the public support Piñera and only 16% back his recently ousted Concertación coalition.
Wednesday saw the start of a two-day nationwide shutdown, as transport workers and other public-sector employees joined the burgeoning student movement in protest.
"There are huge levels of discontent," said
Elected as only the second female leader in the 105-year history of the University of Chile's student union, Vallejo, who is also a member of the Chilean Communist party, is the face of a movement the likes of which has not been seen since the last years of Augusto Pinochet in the 80s.
Hundreds of thousands of high-school and university students have refused to go to lessons since early June, calling for better and more affordable education and an end to a two-tier system that creates a few wealthy, elite colleges amid many underfunded public ones.
"We don't want violence, our fight is not versus the police or to destroy commercial shops … our fight is to recover the right to education, on that we have been emphatic and clear," said
The government has rushed out a number of initiatives to try to head off protests, promising to amend
As she spoke,
"Here we have more than 50m pesos' worth of teargas bombs," said
Tatiana Acuña, a government official in the ministry of culture, was recently fired for suggesting that the assassination of
At a recent gathering of Bolivian youth leaders he urged students to follow the example of the youth movements in the rest of
"We do not want to improve the actual system; we want a profound change – to stop seeing education as a consumer good, to see education as a right where the state provides a guarantee.
"Why do we need education? To make profits. To make a business? Or to develop the country and have social integration and development? Those are the issues in dispute."
© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs