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Let them eat steak

19 September 2018 | Liam Moffett

As a politician, if things aren’t going well at home perhaps it’s sensible to be on your best behaviour abroad lest you face wrath upon return.

But not President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, who sparked anger this week by carelessly feasting on steak and puffing cigars, during a brief Istanbul stop-over, while his people starve.

The juicy lamb was carved by the gyrating eccentric chef ‘Salt Bae’ but served up on Instagram for Venezuela, and the world, to savour. Less a great socialist comrade looking after the little guy, more a modern Louis XVI.

And he kept digging. Overgrown spoilt baby dictator sprang to mind when pictures revealed Maduro draping over himself a gifted Salt Bae t-shirt…or was it a bib?

The press naturally pounced on this juicy story but said Maduro ‘doubled down’ after a Twitter grilling.

Hardly. He appeared on state television and, while stopping short of ‘let them eat steak’, he dismissively said: “We shared a meal in a famous restaurant. I send a greeting from here to Nusret, who looked after us personally…he loves Venezuela.”

Maduro also said the stop-off in Istanbul was a small part of a wider trip to secure Chinese investment.

From a gaffe point of view, this incident played out perfectly. But it leaves a very bitter taste in the mouths of ordinary Venezuelans who’ve struggled with economic strife since 2013.

Maduro took control of Venezuela that same year from predecessor Hugo Chavez and vowed to carry on Chavez’s policies.

Now supermarket shelves are barren, unemployment is rampant, and the opposition-led National Assembly said runaway inflation doubles prices every 28 days.

Bad PR on top of bad PR, but this is all seemingly lost on Maduro.

Most gaffes can be laughed off after the initial embarrassment: Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich, Ed Balls posting his own name on Twitter – now celebrated worldwide on its anniversary, April 28th – and more recently Theresa May’s awkward dancing.

But when one looms large, and with such baggage, best not season it with such dismissiveness.

What will happen in Venezuela is anyone’s guess right now. Protests haven’t changed much in the last few years, so this gaffe probably won’t either.

Well done Maduro, you’ve seen off this one. But gaffe after gaffe will eventually prove a mis-steak too big to handle.