MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Chanting “Boycott! Boycott!” at least a hundred Venezuelan exiles and supporters protested outside the Miami restaurant of Nusret Gökçe at lunchtime Wednesday.
It was a part of the ongoing outrage over a steak dinner that has now been seen around the world.
The video, first posted on Instagram, shows Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro feasting on a pricey meal served up Monday by Gökçe, known by the celebrity name ‘Salt Bae,’ at the celebrity chef’s place in Istanbul, Turkey.
The video has gone viral as grocery shelves are empty in Venezuela, the currency is worthless, and people are starving.
“He goes to an expensive restaurant, and enjoys excellent food. I can’t believe it, you know. He doesn’t have feelings for the people dying in Venezuela,” said Jose Antonio Lopez who was among the protestors outside Bae’s restaurant on Brickell Avenue in Miami.
The video of Maduro eating like a king has evoked a broad, visceral reaction from those like Sabina Contreras, a mother who fled Venezuela’s hunger and poverty with her little girl.
“I wanted to vomit, to be honest, when I saw that on Instagram. I couldn’t believe that the owner of this restaurant was hosting Nicolas Maduro like he was a rock star, when everybody knows he is a killer,” Contreras said.
An angry U.S. Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that Bae is a “weirdo” and that Maduro is “the overweight dictator of a nation where 30% of the people eat only once a day and infants are suffering from malnutrition.”
Rubio suggested people should call Bae’s Miami restaurant.
They have not only called but were on the street calling out Maduro and Bae publicly Wednesday for what they said was all but laughing at the Venezuelan people.
“It’s a way of mocking our people. It’s a way of making fun,” demonstrator Esteban Hernandez said of the steak dinner video. “They actually are showing how they don’t suffer from the crisis, as Venezuelans do. He has the right to serve whoever he wants, and we have the right to protest.”
Protest, they did, denouncing Bae for making dinner and making nice with a ruler despised by many.
Bae has taken down his Instagram videos with Maduro in the wake of the controversy, but they remain all over the internet.
He did not respond to numerous emails sent to his corporate headquarters by CBS4 News.
The South Florida Venezuelan exile community has shown their emphatic disgust and anger on social media.
Jose Antonio Colina, one of the organizers of Wednesday’s protest and president of exile group VEPPEX, Organization of Political Persecuted Venezuelans, told us he expected a large turnout in front of the restaurant.
“Maduro feasts at an exclusive and expensive restaurant, while Venezuelans have nothing to eat,” Colina says. “It is a slap in the face to all Venezuelans.”
“This chef is a proven sympathizer of dictators. First, he praised Fidel Castro and now he is seen hosting another dictator, in grand fashion, who has his people starving.”
“Providing this exclusive service to Nicolas Maduro and Cilia Flores, demonstrates how inhuman, not only the regimen can be, but also those who pretend to ignore the crisis in Venezuela. What VEPPEX expects to achieve is to prevent other public faces from feeling comfortable giving an exclusive treatment to a dictator, while the citizens of Venezuela die from hunger, lack of medicines, and the consequences of the regime´s policies,” VEPPEX announced in a statement.
The celebrity chef became a world-famous meme for the way he sprinkles salt over meat.
In a televised message, Maduro said to all Venezuelans, “Gökçe and I gave each other about 100 hugs.”
Gökçe “loves and admires” Venezuela, Maduro added.
Colina says Maduro is spending the people’s money and laughing about it to their faces, while Venezuela starves.