Tonight, the charade is over: this is a dictatorship.

The regime pulled all stops and stopped pretending. Deep in our gut, we knew it was coming. The regime looked dictatorial, sounded dictatorial, acted dictatorial, but somehow wasn’t a full-on dictatorship just quite yet. It’s a “light” dictatorship, we’d say. There’s a big democratic deficit, we’d say. It’s quasi-autocratic, we’d say. And the all-time favorite: “no vale, yo no creo”. Well no. Not anymore. Now it’s different.

The constitution is crystal clear: it consecrates the right to call for a recall referendum. The laws that govern it are unambiguous. But the regime shat on all of it tonight. It grabbed the thing that gives government’s legitimacy -votes- and said no, we don’t need that.

For years, Venezuelans had this weird sort of counterfactual feeling. We knew that if the regime was desperate, they would take shelter in arms and their hollowed-out institutions.

But we could never prove it.

There was a torrent of money coming out of the ground, they sweet-talked Venezuela with cheap populist tricks and we could never call their democratic bluff. This year, we forced them to show their hand. And they have nothing.

No se quitaron la careta, los forzamos a quitarse la careta.

On the eve of, it’s difficult to know what it all means. Why did Maduro leave for some bogus world oil tour with no return date today? Does this have anything to do with Zapatero’s latest cryptic visit, Manuel Rosales’ casa por carcel? What kind of shady negotiations are going on behind closed doors? Who sent troops out to the Autopista Caracas-La Guaira? What MUD leaders are banned from leaving the country? We don’t know.

The ball is in the MUD’s court. What they did before won’t work anymore. It’s time for new tactics, new rhetoric, and time to up street protests. Big time. It’s time to get the OAS involved.

But it’s also time to breathe and think. History is clear. You don’t upend dictatorships overnight. This is just another chapter of the last 18 years. Part of the marathon, not a sprint.

What comes next is a fight that we all saw coming, but had mostly figured would come in November, after we collected 20% of the signatures nationally but failed to do so in some state. A fight for the streets and a fight on the streets. La salida, but for real. I, for one, am scared shitless.

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