Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Camila, the Red-Diaper Baby

article from May 4, 2012
by Julie R Butler

The fact that The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Anastasia O’Grady called Chilean student activist Camila Vallejo “bebe de pañal rojo” or “red-diaper baby,” has made headlines throughout the Latin American media, to which the young communist responded via Twitter, “How it hurts them that Chile is becoming conscious! This is a sign of us advancing.”

The full title of the WSJ article is “Chile’s Cautionary Lesson for Americans: A free economy is at risk when a demand for equality is not answered by a defense of liberty,” and it begins like so:

“Communists are not taking over Chile. But you wouldn't know it from watching the media frenzy surrounding 23-year-old student leader and avowed communist Camila Vallejo in Santiago.”

O’Grady goes on to express amazement that this charismatic young woman, who was raised by communist supporters of Salvador Allende, could be so effective at putting the center-right government of Sebastian Piñera on the defensive. Whereas the material benefits of the market economy have been piling up for decades, she laments, the leftist ideas that have “intellectually swamped” the country seem to be blind to “the morality of the market and the sanctity of individual rights.”

“Chileans aren’t interested in communism,” she states, citing a dip in Camila’s popularity upon her return from Cuba recently. Chile is on the right track, she points out, having raised its ranking from 53rd to 39th in the World Bank’s Doing Business survey in the past two years. But President Piñeras is not a very good defender of freedom and liberty, and this has O’Grady worried.

The “freedom” she is talking about is that of a corporation to build a coal-fired power plant in an environmentally-sensitive location. And the tax cuts that have been proposed to offset the rise in what was supposed to be a temporary corporate tax increase, instigated to ensure funding after the massive earthquake in 2010, which will probably not pass because Piñera’s coalition is not the majority party in Congress, are, no doubt, the “tyranny” that the leftist ideas are inviting with their insistence on making the education system equally accessible to all Chileans.

Now, I am not arguing that Ms. O’Grady is wrong to state that communists are not taking over Chile. However, I would just like to point out the inconsistencies in her argument, beginning with the observation that there are, indeed, many Chileans who are interested in communism (other than red-diaper girl and her parents). These are not large percentages, but according to Wikipedia, in the 1999/2000 presidential elections, the president of the Communist Party of Chile (PCCh), Gladys Marín, won 3.2% of the vote in the first round; in the December 11, 2005, legislative elections, the PCCh won 5.1% of the popular vote; and the support of the PCCh aided in the electoral victories of the two socialist presidents who preceded Piñera, Ricardo Lagos in 2000 and Michelle Bachelet in 2006.

Since she brings up the topic of popularity ratings... Well, she shouldn’t, really, because the activist known throughout the world simply as “Camila” is far and away more popular than the president, despite any dip she might have encountered. In the Chilean democracy, his party is the minority, so that doesn’t exactly point to most Chileans being on the political right. And after having promised that, under his watch, Chile would be governed in a whole new way, the Aysén Dam project and the attempts to further privatize Chile’s educational system have shined the light on the backroom business as usual. As of March 2012, Piñera’s approval ratings had dropped back down to 29% from 33% in February – and that was up from 22% in September 2011, during the thick of the educational reform movement, which, at that same time, had a nation approval rating of 72%.

Camila’s pretty face began appearing as the leader of the movement in major international media such as Die Zeit and The Guardian during the “Chilean Winter,” and since then, she has become a media darling, designated by Time Magazine as the 2011 “Time Person of the Year.” Just recently, The New York Times ran a lengthy profile on her, and now even WSJ is acknowledging her.

Camila defended her trip to Cuba by pointing out that Neither is Cuba perfect nor does Chile have to follow in its path [Spanish]. She also noted that she did not observe there any of the water cannons or tear gas guns that have been used to disperse crowds in her own country.

So, O’Grady can downplay the popularity of this young woman and the movement that she represents all she wants, but Francisco Goldman, the author of above mentioned article in The New York Times, who actually spent time in Chile and interviewed people involved in the education reform movement, has a very different take. He states,

“I was struck, on my return in March, by the widespread admiration and affection for her among so many Chileans, men and women alike. Her political capital and power, at the national level, seems only to have only grown.”

[Image of Camila Vallejo via Flickr]

Julie R Butler is a writer, journalist, editor, and author of several books, including Nine Months in Uruguay and No Stranger To Strange Lands (click here for more info). She is a contributor to Speakout at Truthout.org, and her current blog is Connectively Speaking.
email: julierbutler [at] yahoo [dot] com, Twitter: @JulieRButler