Caracas, Venezuela, Sep 18 – Impoverished Venezuelans have reacted with fury after videos of President Nicolas Maduro gorging on succulent pieces of meat in a restaurant owned by a celebrity Turkish chef went viral.
“This is once in a lifetime,” enthuses Maduro with his wife Cilia Flores as Nusret Gokce, a social media star chef who goes by the name Salt Bae, performs his signature theatrical preparation of slices of meat at one of his restaurants in Istanbul.
Back home, Venezuelans face food shortages while a group of the country’s top universities conducted a study that found 87 percent of the population were living in poverty in 2017 and 60 percent of people had lost an average of 11 kilograms (24 pounds) due to a diet that was lacking in protein, one of the primary nutrients contained in meat.
“Chavismo is asking China to borrow money because you can’t pay your debts and then going to luxury restaurants,” wrote social media expert Luis Carlos Diaz on Twitter in a broadside at Maduro’s left-wing populist politics adopted from late predecessor Hugo Chavez.
A main course in Gokce’s restaurant costs between $70 and $250 — equivalent to between two and eight months salary in Venezuela on the minimum wage.
Celebrities including Portuguese football icon Cristiano Ronaldo and Hollywood star Leonardo Di Caprio have eaten at Gokce’s restaurant.
“We shared a meal in a famous restaurant. I send a greeting from here to Nusret, who looked after us personally. We chatted, enjoyed our time with him … He loves Venezuela,” said Maduro on a television and radio broadcast in Venezuela after returning to Caracas on Monday following a trip to China, which included a stopover in Istanbul where he was invited to dine with Turkish authorities.
On Saturday, Maduro had announced the trip to China was fruitful as he had secured commitments from Beijing to help fund the oil industry that Venezuela is almost entirely reliant upon.
Gokce had published videos of Maduro’s visit on his social media accounts thanking Maduro but soon deleted them from Instagram after he was inundated with thousands of angry messages.
In one of the videos, Maduro is seen sucking on a thick cigar taken from a box bearing his name engraved on a golden label, while receiving a T-shirt emblazoned with Gokce’s face.
– ‘Worker president’ –
During the visit, former bus driver Maduro, who likes to style himself as the “worker president,” was surrounded by armed Turkish guards.
“Eating meat and smoking cigars… with the dollars that he refuses to use to buy medicines and food: WORKER PRESIDENT,” said former government loyalist Nicmer Evans, now a leader of the opposition Frente Amplio.
Venezuela is struggling with an economic crisis in which the International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will hit one million percent this year.
Four years of recession has seen 1.6 million people flee Venezuela since 2015, according to the United Nations, creating a migration crisis in neighboring and nearby countries.