Opposition figures condemn Venezuelan president for visiting famed Nusr-Et steakhouse in Istanbul on way back from China
A viral video showing the Venezuelan president, Nicols Maduro, feasting on a steak prepared by a celebrity chef at a time many in his crisis-racked nation are going hungry has provoked fury from opponents of the embattled socialist leader.
Maduro visited the famed Nusr-Et steakhouse in Istanbul when he stopped over briefly in Turkey on the way home from a trip to China to raise investment.
In the videos, he can be seen puffing on a cigar from a personalized box while he and the first lady, Cilia Flores, watch the owner, Nusret Gke, in dark aviator glasses and a tight black T-shirt, cut into a steak in flamboyant fashion.
Gke, a world renowned restaurateur better known by his nickname Salt Bae, posted the videos on his Instagram account, which has 16 million followers. His other videos show him serving customers such as Diego Maradona and posing as Don Corleone from the Godfather movies.
Gke later deleted the images and a thank you post to Maduro.
But by that time the videos had already generated a maelstrom of criticism for Maduro, who was forced to put a lighter spin on the dining experience. Appearing on television on Monday night, Maduro called the meal a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and thanked Gke for his hospitality, saying he hoped to see him soon in Caracas.
Opponents were less forgiving.
While Venezuelans suffer and die of hunger, Nicols Maduro and Cilia are enjoying themselves at one of the most expensive restaurants in the world, said Julio Borges, the exiled former president of the opposition-controlled national assembly.
A deep economic crisis marked by hyperinflation and widespread food shortages has destroyed Venezuelans earning power, with many surviving on less than $1 a day. Nearly nine in 10 households are living in poverty, according to a 2017 survey by three leading universities.
A study conducted by a group of Venezuelas top universities found 87% of the population was living in poverty in 2017 and 60% of people had lost an average of 11kg (24lb) due to a diet that was lacking in protein, one of the primary nutrients contained in meat.
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.
A main course in Gkes restaurant costs between $70 and $250 equivalent to between two and eight months salary in Venezuela on the minimum wage.
The Florida Republican senator Marco Rubio, a fierce critic of Maduro, piled on, noting that Gke also has a restaurant in Miami, home to the largest population of Venezuelan immigrants, most of them hostile to Maduro.
I dont know who this weirdo #Saltbae is, but the guy he is so proud to host is not the President of Venezuela. He is actually the overweight dictator of a nation where 30% of the people eat only once a day & infants are suffering from malnutrition, Rubio said on Twitter.
Maduro has drawn closer to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, as the two have become political pariahs in Washington and fallen under US sanctions.
In July, during a previous visit to Istanbul, he dressed up as an Ottoman horseman while visiting the set of a popular Turkish TV series, Resurrection: Ertugrul, which the Venezuelan leader said he watches back home.
Chavismo is asking China to borrow money because you cant pay your debts and then go to luxury restaurants, the social media expert Luis Carlos Daz wrote on Twitter in a broadside at Maduros leftwing populist politics adopted from late predecessor Hugo Chvez.
This report includes material from the Associated Press and AFP