CARACAS, Venezuela – 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.