Dombey, Maia – ICLR Candidate
On Monday September 17, Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia enjoyed an extravagant meal of well-seasoned, $275 steak and smoked cigars at Nusr-Et, a restaurant in Turkey owned by Instagram-famous “Salt Bae” (whose real name is Nusret Gökçe).[i] While Maduro feasted, and continuously since he took office in 2013, the citizens of his nation are starving; scrambling through dumpsters trying to find a bite to eat. Ninety percent of Venezuela’s population lives below the poverty line.[ii] Last year, the average Venezuelan lost 24 pounds due to malnutrition.[iii] Over 2,800 children were malnourished in a single year.[iv] 11,446 children under the age of one died in 2016.[v] 300,000 children are currently dying of malnutrition.[vi] As his country struggles to stay alive, Maduro allegedly expressed that this meal was a “once in a lifetime moment.”[vii]
Maduro’s meal, which Salt Bae shared on his Instagram and Twitter in since-deleted posts thanking the President for coming, sparked mass outrage. Protesters swarmed outside the Miami location of Nusr-Et on the following Wednesday, many holding pictures of starving children and chanting for Nusret to apologize. Even Senator Marco Rubio expressed indignation, tweeting his disapproval of the event due to Maduro being “the overweight dictator of a nation where 30% of the people eat only once a day & infants are suffering from malnutrition.”[viii] Such blatant disregard and disrespect for the plight of the Venezuelan people is a common trait of the Maduro regime, which, to this day, refuses to admit the crisis is happening and will not allow international humanitarian aid to reach its starving citizens. Meanwhile, Venezuelans continue to flee at unprecedented rates, in a refugee crisis projected to surpass the recent massive Syrian refugee crisis.
Beyond the massive food shortage, 76% of public hospitals in Venezuela lack the basic medicines needed to treat the population,[ix] pharmacies are missing 85% of the medicines usually carried,[x] the murder rate is at more than 10 times the global average,[xi] and inflation is projected to grow 1,000,000 percent in the next year.[xii] While, obviously, none of this is caused by Salt Bae or this particular meal, allowing the leader of a nation in a massive humanitarian crisis to spend money stolen from his people and feast in extravagance is reprehensible.
This unabashed and disgraceful behavior by Nicolas Maduro is further evidence of his lack of compassion for his people and unwillingness to help his nation out of this crisis. Serving him an exorbitantly-priced meal at an expensive restaurant disregards the struggle of the Venezuelan people disrespects basic human rights. Though an individual turning away Maduro for one meal is not going to be the catalyst to Venezuela’s rehabilitation, it is essential that the international arena not normalize this behavior and hold him accountable for the gross human rights violations he is committing.
[i] Elizabeth Mackintosh and Natalie Gallón, Maduro Slammed for Dining on Pricey ‘Salt Bae’ steaks as Venezuelans starve, CNN, (Sep. 18, 2018, 7:09 PM), https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/18/world/venezuela-maduro-salt-bae-steak-intl/index.html.
[ii] Quick facts: Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis, Mercy Corps, (May 7, 2018), https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/venezuela-crisis-quick-facts.
[iv] Meredith Kohut and Isayen Herrera, For Five Months, The New York Times Tracked 21 Public Hospitals in Venezuela. Doctors are Seeing Record Numbers of Children with Severe Malnutrition. Hundreds Have Died, New York Times, (Dec. 17, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/17/world/americas/venezuela-children-starving.html.
[v] Cole Wilson, Salt Bae Serves Maduro as Venezuela Suffers, New York Times, (Sep. 18, 2018) https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/18/us/saltbae-rubio-maduro-venezuela.html
[vi] Mercy Corps, supra note 2.
[vii] Mackintosh, Gallón, supra note 1.
[viii] @Marcorubio, Twitter (Sep. 17, 2018, 10:27 PM), https://twitter.com/marcorubio/status/1041876327211642880?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1041876327211642880&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cnn.com%2F2018%2F09%2F18%2Fworld%2Fvenezuela-maduro-salt-bae-steak-intl%2Findex.html
[ix] Human Rights Watch, Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/10/24/venezuelas-humanitarian-crisis/severe-medical-and-food-shortages-inadequate-and
[xi] Mercy Corps, supra note 2.