Sunday, December 1, 2002

McDonald's leaves Bolivia for good

                  LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Thousands of Bolivians crammed into McDonald's
                  Saturday to order their final Big Macs before the fast-food restaurant
                  closed up shop 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 had finally
                  become 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 schoolteacher 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 Big Mac 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

                  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 rain shower 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?"

                  Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.