Bolivian city hires 'cholita' traffic policewomen

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EL ALTO, Bolivia (AP) -- This city in Bolivia's highlands has hired Aymara women dressed in traditional multilayered Andean skirts and brightly embroidered vests to work as traffic cops and bring order to its road chaos.

About 20 of the "traffic cholitas" have been trained to direct cars and buses in El Alto, a teeming, impoverished sister city of La Paz in Bolivia's Andes mountains.

The women wear the bright petticoats and shawls of Andean indigenous women, who are called "cholitas" in Bolivian slang. The only difference is that instead of wearing their traditional bowler hats they don khaki green police-style caps. Some also don fluorescent traffic vests.

Amid El Alto's dense traffic and the incessant honking of horns, 24-year-old Sofia Colque blows her police whistle with authority.

"Some drivers don't obey us and try to flirt with us, but they are making a mistake. It is not easy but we make them respect us," Colque said.

Poli Condori, the driver of a small bus, said hiring the women seemed to be a good step taken by Mayor Edgar Patana, but he had his doubts about whether the experiment would be successful.

"The cholitas make the view happier, but I doubt they will be able to bring order to traffic. The people get on buses wherever they want; vehicles stop wherever they want. We have bad habits. It is chaos," he said.

The indigenous traffic officers also educate pedestrians and help old people cross roads, said Jose Luis Varagas, head of El Alto's transportation department.

In recent years, Bolivia's cholitas have been breaking social barriers, conducting television programs, working in offices, holding public posts and even participating in native fashion shows and beauty contests.