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McDonald’s to Leave Bolivia for Good

December 1, 2002

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LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Thousands of Bolivians crammed into McDonald’s Saturday to order their final Big Macs before the fast food restaurant leaves the country for good.

McDonald’s served its last hamburgers in Bolivia Saturday at midnight, after announcing a global restructuring plan in which it would close its doors in seven countries with poor profit margins.

Most Bolivians said they were sad to see McDonald’s go, after they finally becoming accustomed to the fast-food culture so radically different from their traditional Bolivian cuisine.

``It was very hard to get used to McDonald’s, it’s like another planet,″ said Miriam Torres, a kindergarten teacher who saved up for one week to take her two sons to celebrate one final birthday with Ronald McDonald.

Torres, like many other Bolivians, said she felt somewhat betrayed that McDonald’s would give up on Bolivia after being here for such a short period of time. McDonald’s brought fast-food culture to Bolivia seven years ago.

``McDonald’s threw us out like a third world country in search of greener pastures,″ said Angelica Carrasco, a primary school teacher who stood next to a smiling Ronald McDonald, waving a red-gloved hand to the crowd. ``I don’t think McDonald’s was ever that serious about us anyway.″

Others lamented that Bolivia, the poorest South American nation, could not have provided a healthier economy to keep the American company from leaving.

``I guess Bolivia will never be a fully globalized and capitalized country like the United States,″ said Alberto Bermudes, a 26-year-old computer engineer who ordered his favorite dish for the last time _ a BigMac combo with supersized french fries.

He carefully arranged the dishes of ketchup on his tray and savored every french fry as he reminisced about his youth in America.

``I grew up with McDonald’s, I celebrated my birthdays in McDonald’s, I even wanted to work at McDonald’s,″ he said. ``I feel deceived, and most of all sad.″

McDonald’s will be survived by Burger King in Bolivia which has said that it now plans to expand its presence in Bolivia.

But not all were sad to see McDonald’s go.

Bolivia is a country with nearly 60 percent indigenous population. McDonald’s catered mostly to the other 40 percent who had the economic means to enter the restaurant.

Although McDonald’s prides itself as an economical and friendly place, most of Bolivia’s indigenous population had never tried a hamburger for lack of money or lack of welcome.

``I’ve wanted to try the food but I never have,″ said Esther Choque, an indigenous woman dressed in colorful robes waiting for a bus outside a McDonald’s restaurant.

``The closest I ever came was one day when a rainshower fell and I climbed the steps to keep dry by the door. Then they came out and shooed my away. Said I was dirtying the place.

``Why would I care if McDonald’s leaves if they do such bad things?″