The student leader who put Chile’s government against the ropes

Camila Vallejo Dowling, 23, a geography student at the University of Chile and president of the Student Federation of the same university (FECH), has become the most popular and inspiring leader of the current and massive student movement that have brought to its knees, for the last 3 months, Sebastián Piñera’s right wing government.

Even opinion polls carried out by media supporters of the current government can’t ignore the truth; Camilla is the most popular activist/politician in Chile with nearly 70% approval. Clearly she is not the only leader that fights for the cause of education in Chile, as it is really a whole generation of eloquent, savvy and dedicated youth, but Camila has become the most visible face of this, thus far, peaceful rebellion.

Camila Vallejo, a card carrying member of the Young Communist League of Chile (J.J.C.C), daughter of Communist Party members who fought against the repressive regime of Augusto Pinochet, has attracted international media attention for her youth, her beauty and eloquence, but more importantly for the clarity and accessibility of her policy proposals and the strong resistance to the counter proposals driven by the government that have failed to illicit support from the public.

Her voice and attitude reveals a measured, unhurried and very charismatic personality that has a deep understanding, unlike many of her elders, of the power of the media and social networks, Camilla seems undeterred even in the face of repeated death threats received, some even clumsily sent via Twitter and issued by government officials aligned with the Piñera government.

That is not to say her enemies have not tried to destroy her by many other means. The government and big business owners of Chile’s media continue to attempt to discredit her and her comrades with a constant media barrage, but these calculated efforts have done more to enlarge the mess that has swept the government.

On August 21, 2011, students mobilized nearly a million people in Santiago and the government is by most accounts simply desperate, with no clear solution to a set of demands that strike at the heart of the social inequality and unequal distribution that is affecting even the middle class in Chile and that has persisted in Chile uninterrupted since the fall of Pinochet’s dictatorship and the return to a controlled democracy, all this in spite of record economic growth.

What started as a general call for better education has turned into a PR nightmare for a government convinced that with the previous miners rescue it had persuaded the general population that the country was heading in the right direction. The reality has proven radically different with an ongoing hunger strike and a call by the largest worker’s group in Chile for a massive general strike for this upcoming week. Nobody knows the outcome of the protests but everyone knows that Chile has changed forever.

View/listen to one of the musical anthems of the student movement:

 Theis article originally appeared on  and is rposted with the permission of the author.

Mikhail Saavedra was born in Chile and now lives in Toronto. He is founder and member of the editorial board of Alternavox,  a news, arts and culture project.

Photo: University of Chile student president Camila Vallejo Dowling during a protest in Santiago, Chile, Aug. 18. (Roberto Candia/AP)