After close to six months of protests, the student movement, which is demanding free public education, continues shaping the country’s political agenda. A new 48-hour strike begins this Tuesday.
Students, professors, environmentalists and the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, one of Chile’s principal unions, support the protest, which will include as its central event a demonstrations scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
On the day before these mobilizations, BBC World spoke in Paris with Camila Vallejo, president of the Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile and one of the most visible faces of the movement.
Vallejo, a 22-year-old student of geography, has been in Europe since Friday along with three other Chilean student representatives to present their demands and to attempt to internationalize the movement.
You traveled to Europe to meet with international organizations and with intellectuals. Of the advise the intellectuals have given you, which do you like the best?
The philosopher Edgard Morin gave us confidence. He told us that higher education cannot be tied to the market, but that public education has to be guaranteed because countries need it in order to develop.
And Stéphane Hessel (author of the book Indignez-Vous! or, in English translation, Time for Outrage) urged us to strengthen communications and to instil our ideas at a world level, to spread our proposals through all the media.
Speaking of Stéphane Hessel, do you believe the Chilean student movement is connected in some way with social movements like the indignados and Occupy Wall Street?
The Chilean student movement does not spring from the indignados. It is not a spontaneous movement, but a long process based on a profound analyis of what is happening in Chile, of the injustice.
We understand the struggle of the indignados but in Chile we have gotten past discontent. Now we have to look forward and to construct an alternative for the country.
Taking into account that there are already student protests in other countries, how do you believe the movement can be internationalized?
The different movements, in Chile, Colombia, Brazil, France, Spain, do not spring up as copies but because they have particular concerns.
But they are visualized as a whole. It is the struggle of those who have awakened to construct a different model of society at national and international levels. There is a coherence, which is resistance against the privatizing model or an advance toward the conquest of this right.
In France, we met with the UNEF (Union Nationale des Étudiants de France). They made us aware of the consciousness-raising they are carrying out in order to resist the concealed privatization the government is engaged in. We are involved in different processes but we have the same objectives and there are ties of international solidarity among the youth.
What educational model do you envision for Chile?
No student has wanted to copy anything. Chile is thinking within its own model, which would allow the integration of everyone and is free. We want education that can transform the society and that can develop professionals capable of building democracy.
How do you see the future of the student movement?
The student movement is being debated at a decisive juncture, after five months of mobilization. We have to think about how to advance tactically so it will continue.
These days, the dialogue with the government has broken down. They are going to work the reforms of the student scholarships and they are excluding us from these discussions, which they want to send to Parliament.
So regardless of how much we trust the Parliament, we are going to have to work on them. We want them not to pass the budget law of the nation while there are no bills on educational matters that are mutually agreeable to the students.
Don’t you think your advocacy is detrimental to the student movement as a whole?
The personalization of the movement is due to politicians and the communications media. It is a strategy used frecuently with those who arise with social demands. It is used a lot in Chile and I believe in other countries of the world as well.
In Cuba they talk about castrismo, in Venezuela about chavismo. Everything is personalized around the supposed leaders and what is not seen is that it is a process shared by the majority. Basically, they try to destroy them and in the process bring down the movement.
So we have been more vulnerable this way. They have accused me of being manipulated by the Communist Party, of charging for the interviews I give. They have told me that I am profiting from all this.
You are about to graduate. Are you thinking of continuing in the movement regardless?
I am going to continue particiapting on the student question, depending on the next FECh elections. Together with all my comrades who are not visible, we are going to be constructing. And we want to plan this movement politically because for the first time the demands of one sector have become a social movement that includes many sectors.
Are you thinking of a political career?
I am an activist, I am prepared to place myself at the service of the needs for construction, which this movement needs so much, like anyone else .
In the context of the coming elections, I believe that it is not something that is particularly mine but that the youths have to register as candidates for city councils. Let them dispute in the municipalities with the right, who are not in agreement with responding to our demands, which are just.
Now the young are getting interested in politics and they have to assume this responsibility. We have to take charge and to carry out a project built through participation. So we have to have a vocation for power, in the good sense of the word.