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Maduro's Turkish Steak Dinner Prompts Outrage – And That May Be His Aim

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (right) receiving a T-shirt from celebrity Turkish chef Salt Bae.

A video of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro eating gourmet steak in Turkey while millions go hungry at home has provoked outrage worldwide. Venezuelan expats in South Florida are especially upset. But Maduro-watchers say that may be exactly what the socialist leader wants.

The video shows the celebrity Turkish chef known as Salt Bae (his real name is Nusret Gökçe) slicing lavish cuts of prime steak for Maduro at his restaurant in Istanbul last weekend. The Venezuelan president looks on, puffing a cigar.

It’s not the sort of image you’d think the leader of a country trapped in the world’s worst economic crisis would want going viral. Especially since most Venezuelans today can’t even find meat. The video prompted anger from Venezuelans here in South Florida – and from Florida Senator Marco Rubio on Twitter.

But in a New York Times op-ed, Amherst College professor Javier Corrales says ignoring Venezuela’s crisis is actually political strategy for Maduro.

"[His] indifference seems intentional," Corrales writes (in Spanish). "An extremist government like Maduro's prefers economic devastation to recovery because the misery destroys civil society and, with it, all possibility of resisting [the regime's] tyranny."

“The idea is that you’re glad to see people leave the country, to see that the state has no rivals," Corrales told WLRN. That way, people "have to increase [their] dependency on the state in order to survive. [Madulro thinks], 'I don’t really want to fix [the crisis] because it’s making me stronger.'"

In that sense, Corrales says it also benefits the authoritarian Venezuelan president to infuriate his opponents with videos like the Turkish dinner. Maduro’s thinking may well be this, he says: “Always make sure that your opponents are outraged, because then they do crazy things – they get more divided rather than more united.”

Venezuelan expat groups plan a protest at the restaurant Gökçe owns in Miami, Nusr-et steakhouse on Brickell, at noon on Wednesday.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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