Sat, Oct 22, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Mexico confuses its traffic violators


A nonprofit group promoting civic-minded behavior in this tumultuous metropolis is channeling bin Laden, former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Mother Teresa and US President George W. Bush to convince unruly drivers to change their ways.

The campaign by Muevete por Tu Ciudad -- roughly translated as "Do Something for Your City" -- was designed to improve everyday behavior on the streets of Mexico City, where cars drift through red lights and some police can be paid to look the other way.

Founders say their billboards and radio spots are designed to jolt the city's jaded commuters, police and public-transit drivers into courteous behavior.

"If the traffic sign is telling you and the police officer is telling you, who else do you want to tell you?" said Claudia Montero, co-director of Muevete, echoing the group's "who-else" slogan. "Do you want an assassin to tell you?"

Advertising firm Kastner & Partners in Mexico suggested using famous and infamous international figures, donating its design services and using free images in the public domain to craft the ads.

On one street-level billboard, the image of Saddam warns passers-by, "You can generate chaos: Don't you double park." Mother Teresa yells out, "Don't give bribes to the devil!"

Two radio spots, yet to be aired, parody Bush and Osama bin Laden.

"We are going to exterminate all of those who run red lights," Bush warns in Spanish with a heavy American accent. "People who ask for bribes are going to be punished by me. ... You are going to know what pain is."

In another ad, the voice of bin Laden warns in Spanish, "I am going to come out of hiding to punish, the way they deserve, taxi and bus drivers that don't drive well."

The billboard ads have prompted some incredulity. The Mexican newspaper Reforma this week announced in a front-page headline, "Saddam Hussein gives classes on civic behavior in Mexico City." It was accompanied by a photo of the ad.

"They may like it or not like it, but they comment on it," Montero said.

In other civic campaigns, Muevete volunteers have appeared in packs at traffic lights with hand-held stop signs to shame drivers into staying put until the next green. The group has handed out "citizen tickets," fake citations admonishing bad behavior with a thumbs-down diagram.

Muevete has not been alone in encouraging Mexico City residents to adopt a better attitude.

Commissioned by private donors to provide crime-fighting advice to Mexico City's police department, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's consulting firm said city dwellers could play a key role by obeying traffic signals and not offering bribes to police officers.

Despite the good advice, local authorities have tried and failed so far to cultivate a culture of respect and cordiality in the streets, said Claudia Adeath, Muevete's other co-president.

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