When Chile erupted in the protests known as the Chilean Winter following the success of the Arab Spring in 2011, the emerging leader of the group doubled as the object of adoration of the country’s adolescent boys.
Nowadays, former student leader Camila Vallejo not only has the respect of her peers, with a pin-up look to match, but she has just been elected to serve in congress. Rocking her signature nose ring and spotless Communist rhetoric, 25-year-old Vallejo is quickly becoming Chile’s version of Eva Peron gone punk.
This Sunday, Vallejo was elected to congress, along with three other former university organizers.
The leftward swing for the conservative country comes as no surprise to many. Among the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s 34 member states, Chile has the worst income distribution of them all. Many blame this on the high cost of education and the failing public infrastructure that could ultimately lead to a more educated, and income-equal society. For example, since Chile’s transition to democracy after the conservative dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in 1990, no new public universities have been built.
Under Vallejo's lead, one of the student movement’s main goals has been a push to end for-profit education, and to level the educational playing field. According to the New York Times, a university education in Chile is “proportionally the world’s most expensive.”
Vallejo’s quick ascent, and the rising clout of the movement that she led, could be ushering in a new era of Latin American politics. While hard turns to the left have stalled out in countries such as Venezuela and Argentina, they are just finding their groove in Chile, a country that has been a conservative stronghold for years now.
"The right wing is in intensive care. You can see it in the polls and in the streets," Vallejo told the Guardian.
With a face like hers, the popularity that she is experiencing is here to stay. No matter what you think of the Communist party, the vision of the student movement will be in Chile’s future for some time now, if not all of Latin America's.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.