Camila Vallejo, 23, Chile revolution leader

In this photo taken Aug. 18, 2011, University of Chile student president Camila Vallejo looks on during a protest in Santiago, Chile. AP Photo/Roberto Candia

Camila Vallejo, Chile
In this photo taken Aug. 18, 2011, University of Chile student president Camila Vallejo looks on during a protest in Santiago, Chile.
AP Photo/Roberto Candia

As populist movements in several corners of the world take to the streets against the status quo, it is often the young faces in the crowd bursting to the forefront. The movements have varied in their efficacy and levels of violence, but the people standing at the front of each face some sort of detention, arrest or worse.

Egypt had Wael Ghonim, the 30-year-old, bespectacled ex-Google executive who became the face of an explosive movement against a repressive regime. Tunisia had Lina Ben Mhenni, the industrious, 27-year-old blogger who broadcast the Tunisian revolution online before most of the world knew there was one, and was even tipped as a candidate for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

Now garnering international attention is 23-year-old Chilean geography student, Camila Vallejo. The 6-month-old Chilean student protests - which have seen marches and riots involving hundreds of thousands - have not drawn as much attention as many other movements, but Vallejo' persistence, outspokenness and striking looks could be changing that.

She has earned more than 300,000 Twitter followers; Garnered profiles by international news organizations in multiple continents; and Gotten a Chilean Supreme Court order requiring police protect her after she received online death threats.

In Vallejo's home country, her celebrity has grown so much that when she appears in public, people often shout "Camila, I love you!" and try to take her picture, The Associated Press reports.

Chile's students are protesting the country's for-profit higher education system, which they want to change by by raising taxes on the rich and businesses to finance it. What began as quiet opposition to established education financing has morphed into a demonstration against the country's political elite.

Vallejo's role has been central as the head of Chile's main student union, as well as a member of its youth communist party. Her calls for a show of strength have resulted in marches up to 200,000 strong across the country, according to The Guardian.

"For years, Chilean youth have been consumed by a neo-liberal model that highlights personal achievement and consumerism; it is all about mine, mine, mine. There is not a lot of empathy for the other," Vallejo told The Guardian. "This movement has achieved just the opposite. The youth has taken control... and revived and dignified politics. This comes hand in hand with the questioning of worn-out political models - all they have done is govern for big business and powerful economic groups."

Vallejo is one of dozens of student presidents, as well as more than a hundred thousand young people who have boycotted high school and college classes since April 28, the AP reports. There are others in the executive committee who also have influential roles and obvious charisma, but Vallejo believes she carries a disproportionate responsibility for the movement.

"There's an overwhelming exhaustion that stays with you, like a mental exhaustion, the stress you carry like a backpack," she told the AP. "Because whether it's true or not, the media have created this image that you're responsible for everything, the good and the bad."

Vallejo and her followers have been attacked by police on multiple occasions with water cannons and tear gas, even after getting protection from her country's high court. According to the AP, negotiations between the government and the protesters are currently at a dead end, and the demonstrators have now called for shutting down the nation's economy for a day in response to attacks by police.

As her fame spreads, the durability of her movement no doubt increases too. While its short-term goals are clear, Chile's demonstrations face a long road to achieve them against a thus-far recalcitrant government. Whatever Vallejo does next in response will be followed closely.

  • Joshua Norman

    Joshua Norman is a Senior Editor at CBSNews.com.

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