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“I HAVE always told my team that we have to work more so that the people work less,” Camila Vallejo intimates.
A geographer by profession, former president of the Federation of Students of the University of Chile, former MP, a Communist Party militant of many years and now Minister for the Secretariat-General of Government, Vallejo is well prepared for the job at hand.
“Let us not forget that when we took office we inherited a fractured country,” she stresses, “where the cost of living has risen sharply as a result of external and internal factors, with major security challenges, with a vast need for justice, reparation and guarantees of non-sliding back, and in great debt to those who have been left furthest behind.
“We have an agenda that responds to the needs and urgencies of the people, one that advances the substantial transformations that we proposed, such as tax reform, pension reform, health reform, a 40-hour work week, security, an amnesty project and the National Care System,” she points out.
Vallejo has a high profile, is well known and liked — she has topped a recent poll about popularity of government ministers: “I take it with great humility... I think it is important to remember that we are a collective and we work as a team,” she comments.
Asked about the first few months in government Vallejo is clear that “this period required us to learn quickly from the successes and mistakes we were making as we settled in.
“We are a government that arrives with a proposal for structural changes, but we are also facing a complex economic and social scenario. We have a plan, we have a programme, but it is undeniable that we are also constantly learning how to use power to serve the people of Chile and to build an egalitarian country we dream of.”
The quick implementation of the increase in the minimum wage was a historic achievement. How was it possible?
“Indeed,” Vallejo says “it’s something that could not have been implemented in almost 29 years. The co-ordinated support of CUT (Chile’s main trade union federation), of SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), the excellent work of our government ministers made it possible.
“In relation to the future, I think it is important to distinguish between short-term and long-term agendas,” she points out. “We have urgent priorities, such as tackling the rising cost of living and security challenges (crime), and others whose effects will be seen over a longer period of time.
“It is our goal to introduce a tax reform by the end of June, which will pave the way for more fundamental transformations such as the pension reform.
“The crime issue has been a thorn in our side for several years, and there is a feeling that there is now a certain lack of control,” Vallejo admits, adding that “police reform is one of the tasks to be accomplished in the course of our mandate.”
The plebiscite on the new constitution is coming up (September 4). We ask what will the government’s role be?
“Our task as a government is to ensure that the plebiscite works. For more than a decade we have not had a compulsory vote in Chile and this time it will come with on-the-spot registration.
“It is also the first time that all Chileans will be able to vote in a plebiscite on whether to approve, or reject a new constitution, it is incumbent on us to make sure that everyone feels involved in this process.
“The government devised a Let’s Make History initiative with the aim to inform the population about the history of our constitutions, the new project and its importance. This campaign will be deployed over the coming months to every corner of Chile.”
When asked if the Gabriel Boric government is still committed to overcoming neoliberalism, Vallejo stresses that the aim is that “people’s social rights such as education, health and pensions are no longer commodified.” But she adds it is only the beginning of the road we want to travel to attain “the country we have always dreamed of.
“It will be a difficult and complicated process because many political sectors do not want change, but to build a fairer, more equal and happier society we must all work together and avoid dividing ourselves in the process,” Vallejo points out.
Recently the long-standing conflict between the state and the Mapuche nation in southernmost Chile has flared up again. “It must be approached from a multi-sectoral perspective with a focus on dialogue,” says Vallejo. “It is clear that the militarisation of the territory has failed under all previous governments.
“The recognition of indigenous people’s rights has to start with land restitution, with providing basic services where there haven’t been any before, and with an effective combating of crime.
“We have initiated the Good Living Plan – a comprehensive, multidimensional programme of engagement by the state in developing the best solutions in conversation with the indigenous nations. The key points of this plan are to double the budget for land purchases, to provide £0.5 billion for public works.
“The draft of the new constitution provides for the recognition of indigenous peoples and their autonomy and opens the way for much needed transformation.
“One of the key issues for Chilean democracy is the concentration of virtually all media outlets in the hands of the private sector which is actively hostile to the Boric government and the project of the new constitution.
“We have to move towards a deconcentration and decentralisation of the media,” explains Vallejo. “The government has established a National Public Media System that is sustainable, independent, pluralistic and reflects the diversity that exists in the country.”
The Ministry Vallejo heads has set up – with three public universities – a working group to coordinate a dialogue with different social actors to flesh-out the National Public Media System.
Camila Vallejo Dowling is the “spokesperson for La Moneda” (presidential palace) – a communist and Minister for the Secretariat-General of Government since March 11 2022. El Siglo is the newspaper of the Communist Party of Chile.
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