The New York Times Sunday Magazine's latest venture into esoteric Latin American leftism: Novelist Francisco Goldman's 5,000-word profile of left-wing student activist Camila Vallejo, member of the Communist Chilean Youth and considered hot stuff by besmitten leftists, including Goldman, judging by his yearning prose in "'They Made Her An Icon.'" Goldman does not mention her Communist Party affiliation until paragraph 21, almost halfway through the tale. (Vallejo is in Cuba now, to mark the 50th anniversary of Cuba’s Union of Young Communists.)
As Goldman wrote, Vallejo is organizing public protests in Chile (they don't have protests in Cuba) for free education...and higher taxes...and nationalization of resources. In another words, a Communist Party member is pushing a Communist agenda in Chile, and the Times is giving her a huge platform through Goldman's celebration of Vallejo's photogenic looks and media-friendly charisma.
Camila Vallejo, the 23-year-old president of the University of Chile student federation (FECH), a Botticelli beauty who wears a silver nose ring and studies geography, was the most prominent leader of a student protest movement that had paralyzed the country and shattered Chile’s image as Latin America’s greatest political and economic success story. The march that Thursday afternoon in November would be the 42nd since June.
In what became known as the Chilean Winter, students at university campuses and high schools across the country organized strikes, boycotted classes and occupied buildings. The protests were the largest since the last days of the 17-year dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who in a 1973 military coup overthrew Latin America’s first democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende. The students’ grievances echoed, somewhat, those of their counterparts across the Mideast or in Zuccotti Park. Chile might have the highest per capita income in the region, but in terms of distribution of wealth, it ranks as one of the most unequal countries in the world. A university education in Chile is proportionally the world’s most expensive: $3,400 a year in a country where the average annual salary is about $8,500.
After criticizing "Sebastián Piñera’s right-wing government," Goldman braved violent protests to catch a glimpse of Vallejo:
This march began at 6:30 p.m. in the Plaza Italia and proceeded through Bustamante Park. It was relatively small (official estimates were 7,000 people; unofficial 15,000) but still formidable. Horseback-mounted carabineros in olive green uniforms stood stiffly in a line at the edge of the plaza. Armored water cannons and troop carriers with wire-mesh windows were parked nearby. The protesters hoisted banners imprinted with the names of their schools; small marching bands and floats carried guitar players and drummers. Most marchers were students, but I saw people of all generations. I hoped to catch a glimpse of Vallejo, but she was nowhere in sight. Street dogs always ran in front of the big marches, my friend the writer-journalist Rafael Gumucio told me, and, right behind, came the student leaders, Vallejo protected by a barrier of young bodyguards, as rowdy secondary-school marchers shouted, “Have my baby!” and “Friend me on Facebook!”
He downplayed the violence of radical leftist agitators:
The atmosphere was relaxed and cheerful, as if we were headed to a picnic on a beautiful summer evening. Shirtless adolescents leaned out of the windows of an occupied high school, shouting and pumping their arms. As another group unplugged the cable of a TV camera crew, my friend Patricio Fernández, known as Pato, the founder of an alternative weekly called The Clinic, shouted for calm. But even a march as seemingly peaceful as this one, I’d been told, would very likely turn violent. Hoping to erode popular support for the students, government spokesmen and conservative media portrayed the protesters as lawless radicals. Most notorious among them were the encapuchados, who wore scarves around their faces and hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at the police. Students insisted that most encapuchados were from outside the movement and that at least some were infiltrators, planted to incite police counterattacks.
Goldman forwarded Vallejo's Communist agenda:
A few months after the protests began, President Piñera spoke from the steps of La Moneda. “We would all like education, health care and many other things to be free,” he said, “but when all is said and done, nothing in life is free. Someone has to pay.”
“Obviously someone has to pay,” Vallejo retorted, “but there’s no reason why it must be families financing between 80 and 100 percent of it.” Why not the state -- through taxes on large corporations, the nationalization of resources, a reduction in financing for the military? When yet another march ended in violence, Vallejo and her fellow students collected hundreds of tear-gas shells and brought them to La Moneda. “Here are more than 50 million pesos worth of tear-gas bombs,” announced Vallejo, money, she said, that could have been spent on education. Students formed the shells into a peace sign on the plaza, and Vallejo crouched in the center. The resulting image was published all over the world.
One wonders what the Times's more earnest feminist readers think of the author's fixation on hot young Communists.
On a Friday evening, the Communist Party was holding a fund-raiser for Vallejo in an Ecuadorean restaurant, and I was invited to attend. The tented patio and back room were crowded with veterans of the long, mostly futile march of Chilean communism, as well as members of the Communist Youth, including its secretary general, the dark-haired, dark-eyed Karol Cariola (people are always debating who is more beautiful, Camila or Karol). Among those present was the elder party president, Guillermo Teillier, imprisoned under Pinochet and now in the Chilean Parliament. While the young people looked hip and modern, many of the older men, dour and stodgy, recalled stereotypical Soviet-era Communists.
Everybody wanted to pose for photos with the party’s most dazzling figure, its future. I did, too, standing between a husky Communist and Vallejo, and then I took a seat at a table of young people, only to be pulled away to the table of honor....
Well, at least he got his interview.