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Nusret Gökçe’s serving of Venezuelan leader Maduro inspires anger and protests

Tim Nelson
September 20, 2018

Twitter is a wonderful resource for understanding who or what some of the most powerful politicians in the United States are mad at in real time. Follow Chuck Grassley, for example, and you’ll learn that the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in charge of handling the Kavanaugh confirmation process has a longstanding feud with the History Channel. Similarly, Marco Rubio likes to spend his time ranting about the absence of the American flag in Ryan Gosling movies. But this week, the Senator from Florida took being Mad Online to a new level, targeting one of Instagram’s most overhyped restaurateurs and instigating real-world action in the process.

It all started when Rubio saw that Salt Bae (real name Nusret Gökçe) posted a video in which he served a lavish meal—and presented a t-shirt with his likeness— to Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro at the chef’s flagship restaurant in Istanbul. With Venezuela enduring food shortages on the United Socialist Party leader’s watch, Rubio felt frustrated by the apparent cognitive dissonance and decided to pounce.

 

Though it sounds absurd that a sitting US Senator felt the need to doxx a business located in the state he serves, the tweet had the desired effect. According to the Miami Herald, a crowd of roughly 100 protestors, many of them Venezuelan expats, descended on the Miami location of Nusr-Et steakhouse to voice their disgust at Salt Bae’s decision to serve the man who many in the international community have branded as a selfish authoritarian.

“The least we can do for the people of Venezuela is stand here and protest the restaurateur that fed an extravagant meal to Maduro while Venezuela starves,” Sabina Contreras, who left Venezuela eight years ago and now serves as an attorney in Miami, told the Herald during the 90 minutes of scheduled protest. “We need to send a message. You may be able to keep doing what you want, but you’re going to hear from us.”

Though on a much smaller scale, this protest mirrored the popular opposition to the Maduro regime that brought Venezuela’s food shortages to worldwide attention last year. His subsequent consolidation of political authority within Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly and presidential re-election through what outside observers considered to be a show election has inspired international sanctions and near-universal condemnation from conservatives. Merely mentioning the ostensibly socialist country is now the rhetorical tool of choice deployed by those on the right when confronted with the rising popularity of leftist policies.

It’s unclear if the Salt Bae protests will coalesce into a broader protest movement by a coalition of those who wish to make Venezuela great again. This isn’t the first— or last— time a political leader will enjoy a lavish meal while some of their constituents starve. Regardless of his clientele, Gökçe’s restaurants should probably be boycotted because the food is isn't all that good. Because at the end of the day, rubbery, overpriced steaks is something that people on both sides of the aisle can come together and feel salty about.  

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