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Venezuelans Surround ‘Salt Bae’ Miami Restaurant to Protest Maduro Feast

"Salt Bae," whose real name is Nusret Gökçe," posted videos showing him carving meat in front of Nicolas Maduro.
Twitter / @nusr_ett

Venezuelan exiles and supporters in Miami, Florida, descended on the Nusr-et Steakhouse Wednesday afternoon to protest that restaurant’s owner, chef Nusret Gökçe (also known as “Salt Bae”), choosing to host socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro for a lavish feast in Istanbul this week.

Gökçe posted videos to Twitter and Instagram late Monday Eastern time of himself carving what appeared to be nearly ten lamb chops and other expensive meats and serving them to Maduro and wife Cilia Flores at his Nusr-et restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey. Other videos showed the chef and the dictator embracing, Maduro enjoying a personalized cigar box, and Gökçe gifting Maduro a shirt imprinted with the popular internet image of Gökçe pouring salt on food.

Gökçe deleted the videos from his social media accounts and has not commented further on the matter. Maduro, during a live broadcast upon his return from Istanbul, did mention that he visited Gökçe and described the chef as a “happy, amiable fellow.”

The videos of a portly Maduro enjoying such a luxurious meal triggered outrage among Venezuelans and pro-democracy activists worldwide, as Maduro’s socialist policies have brought what was once the wealthiest country in Latin America to the brink of famine. Nearly 90 percent of Venezuelans say they struggle to afford three meals a day, while at least 15 percent rely on eating garbage to survive. Venezuelans jokingly refer to the average 20 pounds they each lost involuntarily throughout 2017 as the “Maduro diet.”

In addition to hosting Maduro, Gökçe has long been a target of scorn from the Cuban refugee community for celebrating dictator Fidel Castro following his 2016 death – which triggered widespread celebrations in Miami – and hosting leftist soccer celebrity Diego Armando Maradona.

Chanting “boycott,” “get out,” and “shut it down,” waving Venezuelan flags, and honking in solidarity, a large crowd of Venezuelan refugees, Cuban refugees, and supporters gathered in front of Gökçe’s Brickell restaurant Wednesday to urge residents of Miami and tourists not to give their money to a chef known to stand in solidarity with communist and socialist causes.

On a live broadcast from the protest, Venezuelan community activist Lester Toledo told local media that the protest was a reminder of the ongoing suffering of the Venezuelan people and the fact that Maduro’s policies had created a millions-strong global Venezuelan diaspora. “The massive exodus of Venezuelans is a consequence of the regime,” he explained. “I’ve seen politicians try to divide the topics, like [former Spanish president José Luis Rodríguez] Zapatero, trying to say that the exodus is one thing and the dictatorship is another.”

In the same video, a protester who identified herself as Nelly Arguello explains why she attended the protest: “it is a mockery to see the genocidal Nicolás Maduro sitting there eating a kilo of meat when the Venezuelan people are dying of hunger, when hospitals and children have nothing to eat, when children eat from the garbage.”

Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo spoke at the protest to make clear that the event was not meant to be a singular moment. “This is about having people here morning, noon, and night until these shameless people have no more customers … we are not letting a shameless guy like this [Gökçe] laugh at us.”

A representative of the conservative Venezuelan political party Vente Venezuela told reporters that the objective is to have at least one of two people protesting with signs describing the torment the country suffers under socialism in front of the restaurant at all times until Gökçe apologizes or shuts the restaurant down.

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@nusr_et #saltbae Out of business.

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The group Venezuelans Persecuted Politically Abroad (VEPPEX) organized the protest. As it remains ongoing at press time, there are no numbers available for the total participants at the event, though videos appear to show a crowd large enough to surround the corner high-rise that houses the restaurant.

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