The problems of McDonald's in Latin America

It was Marshall McLuhan who lately in the eighties talked about the McDonalization of the world, when the American fast food chain started changing the look of many cities around the planet. Well, more than ten years later this famous restaurant and why not, Mr. McLuhan, see how the process not only stops but also retreats.

Late November, McDonald's decided to close downs its restaurants in Bolivia as part of a global restructuring plan in which it would pulled out from seven countries with poor profit margins. However, it is not only an economic problem but also cultural as not many people get used to the "American way of life".

"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. "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.

Of course, McDonald's shops are preferred targets on each anti-globalisation or anti-whatever protest in Latin America. Any excuse is good to throw stones or home made bombs to their windows and Bolivia is not an exception.

Neighbour Paraguay is another example of this. McDonald's closed half of its establishments in that country. Miguel Brunote, chief of the company's local affiliate, said the chain closed five of the 11 restaurants that have been open in the country since 1996. The reason is, again, the weakened Paraguayan economy.

But the most interesting story comes from the historical Mexican City of Oaxaca, in the Southeast of the country. There, State authorities rejected McDonald's all permissions to set up a restaurant in the main city's square. Decision came after an anti-McDonald's Internet campaign headed by Mexican painter Francisco Toledo.

The initiative was supported by a number of artists and intellectuals to preserve Oaxaca's cultural identity. They succeeded as authorities asked McDonald's to place its restaurant elsewhere in the city.

As Marshall McLuhan used the idea of the McDonalization to symbolise "globalisation" or "Americanism", maybe Ronald McDonald's retreat in the region means the surviving of the cultural identities; something that McLuhan did not take into account when he thought about this.

Hernan Etchaleco PRAVDA.Ru Argentina

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