It’s hard to go anywhere in the world without seeing those Golden Arches towering over the landscape, beckoning hungry patrons to chow down on a Big Mac, Quarter Pounder with Cheese or some Chicken Nuggets at McDonalds.
But travel to Bolivia and one will be hard-pressed to find burgers and fries served up by Ronald McDonald and his cohorts. The last McDonald’s restaurant closed its doors in 2002 and, since then, the Andean nation has been fiercely independent about what fast food it serves its citizens.
Bolivian President Evo Morales’ anti-American stance and an overall culture of preferring products produced in Bolivia have led the country to become the first Latin American country to not have a McDonalds (Cuba, which has one on the American-controlled Guantanamo Bay, doesn’t count).
This is not to say that Bolivians don’t like hamburgers. They love them, but they prefer to buy them from the thousands of indigenous women selling on the streets than from a global company.
“People line up eating hamburgers on the street. It’s sort of like a massive, decentralized McDonald’s, controlled by all these indigenous women, mostly,” said Tanya Kerssen, who leads food sovereignty tours in Bolivia and serves as a Research Coordinator for the Food First Network, according to Yahoo News. “They look on these foreign entities with suspicion—and rightly so. They prefer to purchase from, to have a relationship with, people from their own country or community or family.”
When Bolivia rewrote its constitution in 2008, the country made sure to take steps to protect its food sovereignty, or local control, from foreign interest. Not only were 12 articles added to the constitution regarding local control over food, but in the following five years, Bolivia also added two laws in resistance to industrial agriculture and an economy too heavily weighted toward commodity crops.
Morales, for his part, has railed publically against U.S. fast food chains and their control over the global market, going as far as taking his complaints to the United Nations General Assembly.
“They impose their customs and their foods,” he told the UN General Assembly about American fast foods. “They seek profit and to merely standardize food, produced on a massive scale, according to the same formula and with ingredients which cause cancers and other diseases.”
The end of McDonald’s reign in Bolivia puts the Andean nation on a select list of countries without the Golden Arches, which includes North Korea, Libya, Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Vatican City.
In case anyone was wondering, Bolivia’s political ideological ally, Venezuela, the country of the late Hugo Chávez, has 148 places to get a Big Mac and fries.