Shhh! Mimes tackle traffic chaos in Venezuela

October 8, 2011 - 12:40 PM
Venezuela Traffic Mimes

Mimes gesture as they stand in a crosswalk in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday Oct. 7, 2011. The mayor of the city's eastern district of Sucre has launched a unique program aimed to encourage civility among reckless drivers and careless pedestrians, putting 120 mimes at intersections to politely and silently scold violators. The campaign kicked off this week as mimes posted at busy intersections mocked people who jaywalked or acted brutish behind the wheel. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A part of Venezuela's capital is giving dangerous drivers the silent treatment, sending mimes into the streets to do what police alone have not: tame the lawless traffic.

About 120 mimes dressed in clown-like outfits and white gloves took to the streets of the Sucre district this past week, wagging their fingers at traffic violators and at pedestrians who streaked across busy avenues rather than waiting at crosswalks.

They found plenty to keep them busy in a city where motorcycle riders roar down sidewalks, buses drop passengers in the middle of busy streets and drivers treat red lights and speed limits as suggestions rather than orders.

"Most people are collaborating, but bad habits are usually hard to break and some drivers just don't change their ways," said Neidy Suarez, an 18-year-old mime wearing fluorescent yellow overalls and a bright red ribbon wrapped around her pigtails.

Suarez frowned, thrust her hands forward in a "stop" motion and then pointed to a red light as a motorcyclist raced toward a crosswalk filled with pedestrians.

"Some people get angry when we reprimand them," Suarez said. Some drivers have shouted insults after a silent rebuke.

"But most people react agreeably and some have offered compliments," Suarez said, raising her voice from time to time so she would be heard amid the honking horns, ambulance sirens, rumbling bus engines and music throbbing from car stereos.

Mayor Carlos Ocariz of Sucre, in the eastern part of Caracas, turned to the mimes to encourage civility among reckless drivers and careless pedestrians. He is following the example of Antanas Mockus, a former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who combined mimes and stricter police enforcement in a program that was widely seen as a success.

Caracas' streets, though, may be even more chaotic than those of Colombia's capital.

Drivers who miss a highway exit often simply put their cars in reverse and return through oncoming traffic.

Motorbike riders charge the wrong way up one-way streets and honk pedestrians aside as they roar onto sidewalks, sometimes with small children tucked precariously between an adult passenger and driver.

Alex Ojeda, president of the Jose Angel Lamas Foundation, a cultural organization that employed professional actors to train the mimes, said he is confident the mimes will help, although he conceded that changing the behavior of motorists will be a long-term task. Generations of attempts to enforce traffic laws have largely failed.

"Many times, the mimes can achieve what traffic police cannot achieve using warning and sanctions in their efforts to maintain control," he said. "Mimes, on the contrary, often achieve the same objective by employing artistic and peaceful actions."

At a ceremony for newly trained mimes, Ocariz vowed to keep up the effort "until the streets of Sucre are full of creativity and education."