An internet rumor claims that Bolivia was the first country to ban fast food giant McDonald’s. Today we’ll take a closer look at this claim.
McDonald’s was not banned from the country, but it did close all of its locations there back in 2002 after failing to turn a profit, before returning in 2015. For those confused as to the facts surrounding this story, here are some items of clarification.
How long was McDonald’s in Bolivia?
Some reports state that McDonald’s was in Bolivia for 14 years, while others have stated 7 years. Which one is it?
The first McDonald’s in Bolivia opened on October 24, 1997 and the last one closed in late 2002, which means the fast food chain was in the country for only about 5 years. (Source: Bowling Green Daily News, October 25, 1997 8-C)
Why is this news now?
Why is an event from 2002 suddenly surging in popularity and social media sharing? The resurgence of the story can be traced to a film from 2011 entitled, “Por que quebro McDonald’s en Bolivia,” or “Why did McDonald’s Bolivia go Bankrupt?” The film sparked some controversy because of its use of anecdotal stories to theorize about McDonald’s demise in Bolivia. Some bloggers also failed to pick up on the stated fact that these events occurred in 2002, and reported it as a current event.
Why did McDonald’s Fail in Bolivia?
There are two primary theories regarding the failure of McDonald’s in Bolivia.
- Cost – The primary reason that McDonald’s failed in Bolivia was simply due to the cost for locals to eat there. USA Today reported back in 2002 that 60% of Bolivia is indigenous, and that McDonald’s had to cater to the 40% of the country with economic means to eat there. McDonald’s was apparently unable to scale their prices properly to the Bolivian economy, thus a meal at a McDonald’s in Bolivia was akin to dining in a fine restaurant in the U.S.
- Menu – Some have speculated that the fast food offerings of McDonald’s were rejected in Bolivia. This, however, does not appear to be the case, as other local and international franchises (such as Burger King or Subway) have not met with the same fate as McDonald’s in the country.
2015: McDonald’s Returns
In March 2015 it was announced that McDonald’s would be returning to Bolivia after a 13 year absence, with the location opening in the city of Santa Cruz. “There’s a huge company that left 13 years ago, and it’s coming back to the country. In a month, there’ll be McDonald’s hamburgers available to eat in Bolivia. This is great news for people who like these hamburgers,” said Ramón Freixa, communications director for the city’s Chamber of Industry, Commerce, Services and Trade.
McDonald’s was not “banned” from Bolivia, but simply shut down its locations in the country back in 2002 due a lack of profits. In 2015 McDonald’s returned to Bolivia after a 13 year absence in the country.
- McDonald’s to leave Bolivia for good (USA Today: December 1, 2002)
- Why McDonald’s Failed to Win Over Bolivians and Closed its Stores (Tree Hugger: December 26, 2011)
- McDonald’s Left Bolivia in 2002; Fast Food Still Abundant on City Streets (Andean Information Network: January 13, 2002)
Updated November 3, 2015
Originally posted May 2013