The day after the opposition’s historic landslide in the elections of December 6th, 2015, Venezuela finds itself strangely calm. After the vote count was announced, the most astonishing thing happened: nothing.

There were no motorcycle-riding gangs to talk about, no soldiers, no armed groups of any description out at all. Just peace, actually.

This is, I think, is the crux of what makes the opposition’s win so remarkable. At a key moment last night, Defense Minister Padrino López had the legitimacy to press the president to accept the election results. To do that, he drew on the constitution Chávez had written 17 years earlier, a constitution that contained within it strange, subversive ideas—like the idea that the military isn’t the armed wing of the party in power. It’s right there, in Article 328. And for Article 328, we have to thank the student movement of eight years ago.

Why? Well, back in 1999, when those students were still in kindergarten, the principle of civilian control over the military was enshrined in the constitution:

Art. 328. La Fuerza Armada Nacional constituye una institución esencialmente profesional, sin militancia política, organizada por el Estado para garantizar la independencia y soberanía de la Nación y asegurar la integridad del espacio geográfico, mediante la defensa militar, la cooperación en el mantenimiento del orden interno y la participación activa en el desarrollo nacional, de acuerdo con esta Constitución y la ley. En el cumplimiento de sus funciones, está al servicio exclusivo de la Nación y en ningún caso al de persona o parcialidad política alguna….

Yes, Chávez once championed those very words. But Article 328 was systematically stripped of meaning once he took office. And, in 2007, Chávez attempted to kill Article 328 entirely. The constitutional reform Chávez proposed that year would have disfigured Article 328, making it read:

Art. 328 (rejected reform text): La Fuerza Armada Bolivariana constituye un cuerpo esencialmente patriótico, popular y antiimperialista. Sus profesionales activos no tendrán militancia partidista.

La Fuerza Armada Bolivariana será organizada por el Estado para garantizar la independencia y soberanía de la Nación, defenderla de cualquier ataque externo o interno y asegurar la integridad del espacio geográfico mediante el estudio, planificación y ejecución de la doctrina militar bolivariana, la aplicación de los principios de la defensa integral y la guerra popular de resistencia, la cooperación en tareas de mantenimiento de la seguridad ciudadana, y del orden interno, así como la participación activa en planes para el desarrollo económico, social, científico y tecnológico de la Nación, de acuerdo con esta Constitución y la ley. En el cumplimiento de su función, estará siempre al servicio del pueblo venezolano en defensa de sus sagrados intereses y en ningún caso al de oligarquía alguna o poder imperial extranjero…

An ideological harangue that turned the army into the ruling party’s militia. In the referendum, the Generation of 2007 mobilized to keep this wildly dangerous idea from being implemented. Up against the student movement, Article 328 was an idea that chavistas couldn’t just disappear.

Over the last few days, I’ve met a handful of the thousands of MUD volunteers who got together, organized themselves into citizen EPAs (Equipos Populares de Apoyo) all around the country and mobilized hard to any place where abuses of military power were reported.

There are tens of thousands of them, working on the basis of a sophisticated local technology platform and a complex feat of crisis-time volunteer mobilization.

Here’s the thing: Many of the people who organized and implemented that plan are veterans of the 2007 student movement. They’re not students any more. They’re more grown up, toughened, but still committed in body and soul to their cause. Many of them will soon be MPs. Manuela Bolivar, Freddy Guevara, Marialbert Barrios, and Elimar Diaz are just a few of the names who spring to mind.

It’s their generation, the Generation of 2007, that won last night. Yes, there was a massive voto castigo. Yes, economic crisis helped the MUD. Yes, the oppo victory was so big that there was no room for chavismo to call out the crazies. But at the end of the day, it was that group of tough, idealistic, battle-hardened kids (now pushing 30) that defended the constitution in 2007, including its crazy idea that the army works for the people, and not the other way around.

And when it most mattered last night, that victory came to the rescue of Venezuela’s democracy.


Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.