Camila and Chile's education future
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CHILE'S SCHOOL YEAR usually begins in March and ends in December. In the southern hemisphere, January and February are summer vacation months. But this year is different.
Thousands of students, especially college students, have to extend their studies through the summer because of the six months they were out of classes in 2011 as a consequence of the protests headed by the now world-famous student-activist Camila Vallejo (pictured above).
Several universities will be starting their year in April, some even later, in the effort to recover 2011's lost time. But according to media surveys, few activist students want to continue with last year's strategy, which was very costly to the students and which has won few, if any, benefits.
2011 ended without any agreement on free public education, the main goal of the students' reform agenda. In fact, no talks with Sebastián Piñera's administration have even been scheduled. Simply put, the multimillionaire president has no plans to provide free education.
Doubts remain about what will happen in 2012. On March 15, a new protest was launched, organized this time by high-school students. It was intense, and, like last year, once again the march ended in street violence. So far, however, no one is calling for the sit-ins or strikes that created such upheaval in 2011. It seems the students don't want to put another school year at risk.
As for Camila Vallejo, the beautiful leader failed spectacularly in her effort to be re-elected as president of the Federation of Chilean University Students, the powerful "Fech". Pulling its support from Vallejo puts the movement at risk of losing its most recognized face.
Without doubt, the movement will not have the same force without Vallejo at the forefront. Still, Vallejo will remain as vice president of the Federation and will participate in the leadership of Confech, the umbrella organization that unites the student federations of 25 private and public universities.
Vallejo's future appears to be heading in a different direction. After several months of silence, Vallejo announced that she is still open to running for municipal elections in October on the Communist Party ticket. The demands of an election campaign will leave her very little time to attend to student-union battles.
But Vallejo remains the movement's star. She joined the March 15 protests, and recently traveled to Germany, France and Italy for conferences and lectures. She has also been interviewed by the English-speaking media, including The Guardian and TIME magazine, both of which named her one of their women of the year.
For now, her future is unknown, and the student movement shares the uncertainty. No one can say whether last year's passion will carry over this year, or whether the government will suddenly change its mind about negotiating.