the many things for which Italy is famous and one of it's
major exports is organised crime. The Mafia is a political,
economic and military force that extends its reach not
just over southern Italy but also much of Europe and the
USA. Recently eastern European and Asiatic crime gangs
have competed and collaborated with indigenous criminals
but even these are popularly known as Mafia when they
reach a certain level of size and organisation. The word
Mafia is generic, covering various groups in different
best known and most romanticised by Hollywood is the Sicilian
Cosa Nostra - "Our Thing". The island of Sicily
has been ruled and misruled by various invaders, Arabs,
Normans, French and Spanish. Cosa Nostra grew up as an
underground network to resist the depredations of the
rulers and to provide a system of rough justice, more
trusted than the corrupt official version. The island
was originally divided into about 100 areas, each of which
was dominated by a different clan or "family",
each family ruled by a patriarchal head, the Don. Members
of the organisation saw themselves as protectors of virtue,
calling themselves "Men of Honour"
Nostra has often been courted and enlisted by outside
powers to advance their aims. At the end of the 1200's
Sicily found itself under a French rule, disputed by the
Spanish Bourbons. A time marked by the casual theft, rape
and murder carried out by the occupiers. In a response
worthy of Michael Corleone, simultaneously across the
territory, as the bells for Vespers rang on Easter Monday,
the populous rebelled beginning a six week uprising. Most
of the French were massacred, survivors fled the island.
This allowed the establishment of a slightly more respectful
the mid 1800's during the unification of Italy the Papacy
was feeling upset by the take over of the Papal States
by the central government. The Pope encouraged all Catholics
to reject the new parliament and its laws. Cosa Nostra
and the people of Sicily, never ones to accept outside
control easily, now had religious approval for sedition
and those who opposed them could be cast as heretical.
This initiated an era when the disparate clans united
and rather than just opposing government started to infiltrate
and subvert it to their own ends, eventually wielding
effective and unrivalled power.
Mussolini's rise to power in the 1920's was the first
real threat to Cosa Nostra domination. "Il Duce"
no stranger himself to brutality and illegality, decided
to restore the authority of the state. Ignoring many of
the finer points of law, he had over a thousand Mafia
leaders and their lieutenants incarcerated in the first
wave of arrests. However consistency was never a strong
point with the Fascist dictator. The whole campaign, though
effective in the short term, was folded once it threatened
his party and supporters. A side effect of the crack down
was that many Mafiosi fled to the USA where they set up
in business doing what they had at home, prohibition was
in full swing which provided especially rich pickings.
Second World War provided the possibility for a resurgence.
Once the USA had joined in, Cosa Nostra became a secret
partner in its endeavours. Salvatore Lucania, better known
as Lucky Luciano, the one time head of all the Mafia families
in the New York, had control over the east coast ports.
He ensured there would be no dockworker's strike and no
sabotage, guaranteeing the lifeline to Europe. His connections
in Sicily were a perfect off the peg espionage ring and
trained partisan army. As a reward for his help he was
granted early parole and sent back to Sicily.
Luciano's lieutenant, Vito Genovese, also destined to
command his own New York crime family and once a close
friend of Mussolini knew when to change sides. Still wanted
on charges of murder in the US, he became the most trusted
liaison officer of its army in Italy. A convenient position,
providing communications and transport to pursue his criminal
the war Cosa Nostra was tolerated as an important bastion
against communism. This plus profitable links across the
Atlantic and semi official approval lasted for years while
Cosa Nostra reached its height of power and wealth. Later
governments have tried to rein it in but the sense of
entitlement remains. Campaigns to destroy it have provoked
violent reaction, with assassinations of politicians and
investigators plus bombs in major northern cities.
the main threat though comes not from the government in
Rome but in competition from the criminal organisations
on the mainland. The 'Ndrangheta in the toe of Italy along
with their poorer neighbours the Sacra Corona Unita in
its heel are similar to Cosa Nostra in being clan based
but more closed to outsiders so harder to infiltrate and
three make their local income from kidnapping, protection
money, public works contracts and smuggling, plus some
relative legitimate businesses, for money laundering.
Internationally through proxies and emigrated members,
they are responsible for most of the drugs, arms and people
arriving illegally in Europe, contributing about 5% to
Italy's GDP. However in the areas under their control
petty crime such as burglary, illicit drugs and muggings
are rare. People are law abiding, even if the law is not
that of the state.
north around Naples is the fourth Mafia group, the "Cammora".
This is the oldest of the four but very different in operation
and organisation. Rising from the urban poor of Naples
it lacks the cohesion and hierarchical structure of the
others. Though family links are important, a member doesn't
have to be born into it, Algerians, Nigerians, Albanians
and even Scots have been welcomed into its ranks. Though
there have been bloody feuds in the other three, the Camorra
has lived in a constant state of civil war over the last
half century, resulting in the death of tens of thousands
within its ranks. Even now it is unadvisable to ride a
motorbike, while wearing a crash helmet, in parts of the
Neapolitan hinterland. They are the traditional disguise
and get away vehicle for assassins. Best to risk concussion
and leave the headgear at home.
the organised crime in Italy is territorial, each clan
staking claim to its own geographical territory. But while
others try to keep their zones of responsibility low key
and apparently law abiding, those governed by the Camorra
are often chaotic and lawless. A stroll through even the
poorest neighbourhoods of Palermo in Sicily is regarded
as practically risk free. Walk into the "Spanish
Quarter" of Naples with a gold Rolex and the chances
are better than 50/50 that you will leave without it.
into the city motorists will spot battered old Fiat vans
festooned with hubcaps, those unlucky enough to have theirs
removed when parking, or even at the traffic lights can
always buy them back on the way out. Truck drivers stopping
for lunch will find the restaurant has a walled compound
in which to leave their vehicle, but must be prepared
to pay someone a small fee to "look after it"
if they want to drive it away later. In the city centre
it is not unusual to be approached by someone with a local
accent, asking the way to a nearby square, they know where
it is, but if you don't, you are a stranger to the place
and so fair game. In the poorer suburbs and surrounding
towns there are whole neighbourhoods who's inhabitants
see the Camorra as their way of life.
these areas the bosses control everything, the local supermarket,
construction businesses, town council, refuse collection,
contraband cigarettes and illegal drug sales. There is
no way to avoid contact, and little chance of earning
a living without acquiescing to the demands of the Mob.
The fractured nature of the Camorra makes it harder to
combat than its regional competitors. Though it suffers
from a greater number of police informers (a short lived
occupation) and is subject to a larger number of arrests,
for each Camorrista that is incarcerated or eliminated
by a rival there are another ten ready to take their place.
is all a great pity, Naples should be the tourist capital
of Europe and is, with all its faults, a great place to
visit. It has a beautiful coast line with lovely beaches,
Pompei and Herculanium hold some of the most important
remains of Roman times, the city itself has a history
as rich as Rome, Florence or Venice, the food is wonderful
and all is presided over by the brooding majesty of Vesuvius.
It is strategically placed in the middle of the Mediterranean
and within a short drive of such wonders as the Greek
temples of Paestum and the Regia of Casserta, a rival
to the palace of Versailles. Unfortunately political corruption
and mismanagement have allowed its infrastructure to erode.
Investors seek a safer haven for their cash and fear of
crime keeps many travellers away.
tackle these criminals Italy has not just one but eight
separate police forces, five of which are national with
overlapping responsibilities. The total, the largest number
of law enforcement officers of any European country and
also the most per capita. The UK with a similar population
has about half. Those most likely to be encountered are
the Polizia (light blue cars), run by the Ministry of
the Interior and the Carabiniere (dark blue cars) who
answer to the Ministry of Defence. These run parallel
organizations and are supposed to keep a check on one
another. Members of both are no doubt honest and diligent,
anyone travelling in Italy will find them to be both polite
and helpful. However their task is an insurmountable one
often made more difficult by politicians and the justice
time taken from arrest to trial can be of biblical proportions.
The World banks ranks Italy 151st out of 181 in the world
for the speed and efficiency of its justice system, no
other European country comes below the first 50. Many
African countries have a better ranking. There is a statute
of limitations of between two and twenty years, depending
on the severity of the crime. So supposing the crime takes
two years to come to light, the time taken to come to
trial and exhaust the various appeals normally takes at
least six years, a criminal needs only a clever lawyer
to prolong things for another 24 months and they are free
and clear from sentencing even for a very serious crime.
However for the most heinous of crimes such as murder
there is no time limit, but Mafiosi have often been able
to count on politicians and judges to help them out.
Carnevale graduated from Palermo University and after
a meteoric career, at 55 became the youngest judge ever
to sit on Italy's highest court of appeal. During his
time in office he cleared about five hundred Mafia members,
sometimes for the smallest of technicalities, such as
a missing rubber stamp on a page or because the stamp
was rubber not metal. If all else failed he could arbitrarily
refuse to believe a witness. He was himself convicted
of being a Mafia member in 2001 and sentenced to six years
of incarceration. He was subsequently exonerated on appeal,
a slim majority decision by the judges, on the grounds
that evidence of his fellow magistrates was inadmissible.
Since 2007 he has been back at work in Italy's highest
read all of the above it would be easy to think that a
holiday in Italy is to be avoided. This is not so. It
is certainly inadvisable to take on the locals of Naples
setting up your own waste disposal or cocaine distribution
network. However leaving these things aside Italy is really
a very safe place. True there are parts of Rome, Naples
and Venice where you should be very careful of your valuables.
Tourists have returned to their hotel to find their purse
or wallet has disappeared, the culprits though tend to
be skilled and often unnoticed, in London or New York
miscreants are much more likely to mix violence with mugging.
Also it is quite possible that political corruption is
not more prevalent just more visible, as it is somewhat
tolerated. The powerful in other countries have to be
a lot more secretive when misbehaving.