Meet Camila Vallejo: Leader of Chile’s Youth Movement

There’s a new youth movement going on in Chile—and 23-year-old Camila Vallejo is at the head of it all! Vallejo, the current leader of the University of Chile’s student union, is behind protests that started in early June by young people upset about the quality of education in the South American country. Vallejo, who is also a member of the Chilean Communist Party, is only the second female to be elected president of the university’s student union in the organization’s 105-year history.

During a recent interview, Vallejo (dubbed “Commander Camila" by her admirers) described huge levels of discontent in the country. “It is always the youth that make the first move. We don’t have family commitments,” she said, “this allows us to be freer. We took the first step, but we are no longer alone, the older generations are now joining this fight.”

According to reports, hundreds of thousands of high school and university students in Chile have refused to attend school, calling for an end to a tiered system where there are few elite colleges and a slew of underfunded public universities. Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, is feeling the pressure as his approval ratings plummet after he claimed that education was a "consumer good" and that "profit (in education) is the compensation for hard work."

Vallejo has insisted that she and her fellow protesters do not want violence and has organized many protests in which its participants clang pots and create peace signs out of the tear gas canisters the police shoot at them. Vallejo’s protests have resulted in some superficial government interest and Minister of Education Joaquín Lavín was even replaced, but it is not the kind of instutional change the students are really looking for. As Vallejo power and influence has grown, so has fear for her safety. After recieving threats against her life, she was placed under police protection this past Tuesday. Tatiana Acuña, a former government official in the ministry of culture, was recently fired after suggesting in a statement that assassinating Vallejo would end the protests.

It’s obvious how much influence Vallejo has in her country and how much she has inspired her fellow youth. Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera even spoke about her, telling other students that everyone loves Vallejo. “You need to talk about what is happening in Argentina, Brazil or Chile,” he said, “where there is a young and beautiful leader, who is leading the youth in a grand uprising.”

In the video below, Camila talks about her involvement in the recent marches that have been rocking Chile and what the Chilean youth want for the future of their education: