Mafia Capitale – Andrea Pozzetti, Italy

Image credit: Rundvald / Wikimedia Commons
26 September 2011.
A sailboat flying a French flag was intercepted by the Italian Financial Police off the coast of Alghero, a town in Sardinia.
The boat, Kololo II, was stopped about 5 miles from the coast and brought to the port, where it was thoroughly inspected. The quantity of cocaine found and seized was more than 500 kg. If cut for consumption and retailed, it would have been worth a sum that was estimated to be over 200 million euros. The skipper was arrested, and when subjected to interrogation, revealed the name of Riccardo Brugia. The police followed that lead, and, by following his declarations, a big investigation was started under the code name of Mondo di Mezzo (literally “World in the middle”).

The operation unveiled a much bigger network than expected; a mob that was independent from Cosa Nostra and other bigger mafia networks in Italy. The network’s income primarily consisted of cocaine trafficking in and around Rome. Although the organization directly managed some dealers, most of the earnings came from other smaller drug trafficking groups, which paid a fee to sell narcotics on the mob’s territory. Most of the capital was then reinvested in other activities, most of which were illegal. Through corruption, threats and scams, most of the organization’s top representatives not only became incredibly wealthy, but also had a clean face, a job and a good number of shares in many agencies.The mob, just as the four mafias, was deeply involved in politics and administration.

In April 2008, Franco Panzironi helped Gianni Alemanno in his campaign to become mayor of Rome with a contribution of half a million euros. Even Riccardo Mancini had helped Gianni Alemanno, financing it in the electoral campaign of 2006 and as treasurer in the campaign of 2008.

On 28 April 2008 in Rome, Gianni Alemanno, who became mayor, appointed Franco Panzironi Spa as the head of the AMA, (Municipal Enterprise Environment for waste collection in Rome) and appointed Riccardo Mancini as leader of the EUR Spa, a company that is responsible for the management and development of the securities and property it owns within the Roman quarter of the Universal Exhibition of Rome.

These episodes give a clear picture of how, through corruption and bribery, Italian criminals nowadays can keep a clean face. In the following years, both of the public agencies manifested inefficiency, requiring support from the State. Additional activities include the exploitation of immigrants, money laundering, and countless others.

Among the organization’s bosses stands out, by importance, Massimo Carminati. A notorious criminal who was already connected with the Banda della Magliana, a previous criminal organization that ruled Rome’s crime scene through the 80’s. His constant involvement in Rome’s criminal activity and his power had led him to dub himself: “The last king of Rome”.

His organization isn’t much different from other mobs in Italy, which are especially powerful in the southern part. We tend to acknowledge four other mobs: Cosa Nostra, located in Sicily, ‘Ndrangheta, in Calabria, Camorra, in Campania, and the almost-extinct Sacra Corona Unita, in Apulia.


The four major mafia mobs

These different mafias are very different from each other, with Cosa Nostra having lots of international relations with other criminal networks and foreign branches, like Cosa Nostra Americana. Their modus operandi also varies greatly, though they are all correlated with a strong use of magistrate and witness corruption, friends among politicians, general differentiation of the activities and omertà. I’d like to describe and truly explain the graveness of the situation to a foreigner. To do that, I’d start with the description of “Omertà”. It is an italian term to define the categorical refusal of cooperation with the state. This might be caused from adherence to the mafia or fear of consequences, and is one of the major causes of the inefficiency of the police in some regions. (I’d recommend what in my opinion is a really great read to understand Mafia and omertà, Leonardo Sciascia’s novel: “The Day of the Owl”).

People are afraid to testimony against a criminal or someone who is tied to the mafia (which may, for example, also be a distant relative, as favours between relatives are part of sicilian and southern culture) due to the possibility of vengeance and a strict and old moral code, which still persists among lots of mafia members. It is not by chance that they define themselves as “Uomini d’onore” (lit: men of honor), a title that evidentiates their adherence to a traditional moral code.

To gain a deeper insight in this, I should talk a bit about Sicily’s traditions. Through centuries and centuries of uncertainties and poverty, difficult periods could be overcome through complex aid relations. The recurrence of those has reinforced more and more through the centuries the role of the family, and the strength of the ties between relatives is so great that no one can ever become a member of Cosa Nostra, nor a Uomo d’onore if he has any distant relation to  a policeman. It is also the cause of the strong connection between Cosa Nostra and Cosa Nostra Americana: family ties persist forever, even across oceans. It was common for Mafia families to marry some of their youngs to consolidate their alliance or to end a feud. The marriage can be family-like ties which can also be made outside of the relatives-area. Choosing the right Godfather for sons and daughters may have been one of the most important choices in a Sicilian’s life, as being the Godfather of someone implicates a mutual allegiance that is the same that persists between father and son. It was also a common use for great friends or allies to be the Godfather of the respective sons. This practice is particularly diffused in the southern part of Italy. When WWII broke out, my grandmother took refuge with her family in the house of her “commaruccia”, her godmother.

Poverty and uncertainty has led Sicilians to establish strong and complex relations in the past. It was upon these relations that the modern Cosa Nostra was built. That is why when, during the fascist regime, Mori tried to repress mafia with pure military force, it created much discontent and diffidence in the population, as many Sicilians are tied to the mafia, by blood or by alliance. That is also why most policemen are afraid of arresting someone. They will never know if the young marijuana-smoker they are arresting is a mafia affilate or one’s cousin. He may be the cousin’s son. His father could be the godfather of a boss’ nephews, or married to one of his daughters. To make it short, if we were to cut a clean line of people who could benefit or actually do from the mafia, I think it would be more than 15% of the local population. Many non-affiliates benefit indirectly from it. Should we incarcerate the capodecina’s cousin, who has opened a little shop where he launders mafia’s money for a living? Should we incarcerate the small pusher, thrown in the profession from poverty and crisis? Should we arrest the guappo’s cousin, who, living in financial hardship, has offered to be a front for his cousins’ money? Maybe. I’ll leave it for you to judge, but I want to specify that a clear and brute military repression can also seriously damage these kind of “criminals”, without distinguishing them from the bosses and the killers. Much of Sicily’s population was incarcerated during fascism, and today, neofascists claim. that when Mussolini was in charge, in Sicily, you could leave your door open and walk through the streets during the night. I think everyone is good at repressing a criminal organization like Cosa Nostra through terrorism and massacres, just as easy it is to make your economy flourish if you confiscate the goods of dissidents, beat opposers and workers on strike, and give people hope. The use of military repression and brute force can also be taken today, maybe with scarcer results than in the past, but can be used today, as well. However, only an alternate way can truly be a long term solution; the way that passes through the education and moralization of the masses. Today, we can see how the fascist repression of the mafia has worked on the long term. I believe that it could have also worsened it, as it instaurated deep rivalry and dissidence of Sicilians to the mainland government.

On the other hand, the ‘Ndrangheta and Camorra are different. While Cosa Nostra has (or had) a supreme governing assembly, known as the Cupola, they are less centralized organizations, composed of ‘ndrine and cosche. Their work is really similar to the Sicilian mafia and lots of what I’ve described about how the mafia perfectly adapted to Sicilian traditions and culture, is also true for other parts of Southern Italy. Though they may not be as famous as Cosa Nostra, economically, they are more influential and generally more violent. Their organization is less vertical, and lacks a true leading force. They’re organized in groups which have their own leaders and have to respect a number of rules. Feuds between these clans and families are not rare and may start a series of murders that often indirectly involves innocent citizens.

Sacra Corona Unita has its center in Apulia, and it’s the result of the unification of lots of local criminal powers, supported by the ‘Ndrangheta, mainly to counter Camorra’s interests in the Apulian territory. It is the weakest of the four most commonly acknowledged mafias. It had, however, reached it’s peak power in the territory in the late 90’s, and it has been consequently weakened. Today, some manpy even consider it extinct.

After this brief description, which is intended for uninformed foreigners and certainly can’t rival with any of the complex descriptions made by criminologists, I want to further describe the graveness of the situation.

The mafia was relatively unknown before the 70s, and many important figures denied its existence. The state knew nothing or near to nothing until some “pentiti” (repentents) confessed and showed the world what the mafia was. The name: “Cosa Nostra” wasn’t even known until 1963, when Joe Valachi, member of the American branch of the organization revealed it to the world.  Its organization was reconstructed accurately only with Tommaso Buscetta’s testimonial. The state’s inability to protect magistrates was confirmed in 1992, when, in a series of murders judged by the Commissione Provinciale, Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone died. This wasn’t something unexpected. The two of them knew exactly that they were going to be killed by the Mafia, but the State wasn’t able to protect them.


Falcone’s assassination ground. His death was achieved by the explosion of 400 kg of TNT, and has caused many civilians’ deaths

The death of the two judges has caused great scandal, and they are now both considered heroes, as icons of the still persisting battle against the mafia. We find ourselves today still fighting it. It is probably one of the gravest problems of our land. Even though calculating what organizations of this kind earn is really hard, if not impossible, in 2012, it was estimatec that the proceeds of the four mafias were approximately 138 billions of euros, while its profit amounted to 105 billion dollars. These numbers are very uncertain because, as I think that you can understand, these kind of investigations aren’t easy. Other researchs estimated mafia’s earnings to be about 10.9% of the national GDP (about 180 billions of euros), and a more recent research estimated it to be about 26 billions of euros.

‘Ndragheta, despite possibly being the most rural of the mafias, is the most powerful economically; its profits amount to about 53 billions of euros. Recent research estimate the Sicilian mafia, Cosa Nostra, to earn about 20. I’d like to point out that Sicily’s GDP is about 80 billions of euros. This means that a quarter of Sicily’s goods are extorted by the mafia. This could really show to a foreigner how powerful it is.

But the mafia isn’t active only in the southern regions. While some underestimate the phenomena, it has increasingly manifested in northern regions. The mafia is close to us and felt even in my region, Emilia Romagna, in the northern part of Italy. I don’t want to say that each of us has had first-contact with the mafia, but lots of us can directly feel its presence, and it must certainly be more felt in the south. Mafia Capitale is only one, and definitely not the most important of the mafia-type criminal organizations in Italy.

This operation has definitely struck a great blow to Rome’s organized crime. Has it really been effective on the long term? Can we really hope to defeat mafia just by investigations and arrests? I’ve conducted a survey, to discover what people thought could be a possible solution for the Mafia, the results are at the end of this article.

My personal answer is no. The Mafia is much more than a simple criminal organization. It’s a cancer, a lung or brain cancer, that has long affected Italy. We can’t amputate the sick part. We need a therapy; a therapy of education and respect for laws, something that would resolve the problem on the long term. Some Italians say that we should just send our army to Sicily and kill every mafia boss. We’ve already done that in fascist times, and it had scarce results on the long term, as we can see today. So I ask you, history has given us enough proof. Learn from Italy; remember that the true wealth and the true power is in the people. To fight evil, we must change the young, even though investigations and a good police system might help to confine it in the short term. We must be good and honest, and we must be strong enough to not be selfish and follow the law. I live in Bologna, in the northern part, where mafia isn’t certainly as powerful as in the south, so I may not have the clearest view, but I feel that we can truly defeat it, through education and courage. We should also propose to youth inspirational figures like that of Paolo Borsellino. It is with one of his quotes that I’d like to end this article, a quote that shows the hope that this man still had, the hope to win a battle for Southern Italy, a wonderful, ruined, beautiful and cursed land.

“Se la gioventù le negherà il consenso, anche l’onnipotente e misteriosa mafia svanirà come un incubo”

“If the youth will deny consent to it, even the all-powerful and mysterious mafia will vanish like a nightmare”

-Paolo Borsellino

Question: What is the solution to the mafia?

“I think that we should create a special police division that operates exclusively to arrest bosses. We should give a lot more freedom to the police, who probably know the positions and the identities of many mafia bosses, but have to get proof to support what’s confirmed and obvious.”

“Organized crime can’t be fought exclusively with police investigations and arrests. Even if we could arrest every criminal, we should still change people’s minds to prevent the rise of another organization.”

“There is no solution apart from a miraculous economic recovery of Italy. Only then would people not worry about money and less would fall in crime.”

“We should send the Army in the south and kill every boss that we’re sure of. Then we should  disgregate the mafia in a few years through terror, and prevent new organizations from rising through a strict moral education in schools.”

“We should send the Army like they did during fascism.”

“The solution, if there is one, is really complicated. But I think that we could strike two great blows if we legalized some drugs and invested some money in job opportunities for youth. Legalizing drugs would both damage mafia’s market and prevent addicts from becoming pushers to pay for their consumption. That, and giving youth more job security would stop the growth of mafia, and eradicate it in some decades.”

“We should send the Army.”

“We should send the Army in the south and reinforce surveillance.”

“We should make a blitz like the one done by Philip IV of France against the Templars. Simultaneously arrest every boss and criminal we’re sure of, but then send the army to avoid a revolt of the remaining ones, and prevent the rise of other criminal organizations.”

“I think we should allow the police to kill Mafia bosses without definitive proof. We already know who they are.”

“I think we should make a special secret services division in which agents have the license to kill. That way, we can also use one of mafia’s biggest weapons, terror, to end it.”

“The mafia is an idea. We should change the people, we’ve already been shown that a hard military policy like the one that was employed during fascism did not create any truly positive results in the long term.”

“We should rotate policemen between regions of Italy to avoid corruption and arrest all criminals.”

“We should kill some bosses and create some terror, but not continue with that policy. Eventually the fear of being killed by the police would balance the uncertainties of finding an honest job, and no young would join it.”

“There is no solution, favour and corruption are so deep in their culture that it would be impossible to eradicate them without killing them all.”

“We should give job opportunities to the young. Many of them become criminals and pushers for economic problems.”

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