I’ve just returned from nine days on a ship, talking about the history of Malta and Sicily – a welcome break from the shortening days of an English winter (which have a charm all of their own). We departed from
The mafia’s origins lie deep within the sadly dysfunctional history of this beautiful and once wealthy island. Centuries, millennia of plunder by outsiders have stripped
|General dalla Chiesa|
There’s evidence that Giulio Andreotti, the most successful politician in post-war Italy was complicit in mafia dealing. Tried, he escaped conviction through legal loopholes. (There’s a curious circularity to Sicilian history. Two thousand years earlier, Cicero prepared a similar court case again the Roman governor of Sicily, Gaius Verres, for extortion, torture and murder. Verres slipped away into exile to avoid the conviction.)
General Alberto dalla Chiesa, a soldier with a track record of success against the Red Brigade, was gunned down with his wife in the street in 1982 – a death in which Andreotti was held to be complicit. Many people just disappeared – killed, in a sinister euphemism, by ‘The White Shotgun’. Young men from the slums of Palermo, strung out on heroine, were easily recruited into the lower echelons to conduct drive-by shootings and garottings. The profits from heroine were huge. By 1982, the Sicilian mafia were said to control 80% of the heroine trade in the north east of the USA, remitting over a billion dollars a year to Sicily.
|Riina 'the Beast'|
Into this arena stepped two determined and patriotic anti-mafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Palermo-born childhood friends who understood the mafia mentality. The breakthrough came with the arrest of a Mafiosi in Brazil, Tommaso Buschetta, in 1982. Bruschetta, who had lost many allies to the Corleone clan, was prepared to talk.
|Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino|
|Buscetta at the trials|
Falcone and Borsellino were realistic enough to understand that their lives might not be long. On 23 May 1992 Falcone and his wife were killed by a massive car bomb as they drove from the airport.
|23 May 1992|
57 days later Borsellino was killed in Palermo by a similar bomb:
These spectacular deaths however swept the Sicilian people into a wave of protest and civic patriotism. They came out onto the streets and threw coins at mafia funerals as a sign of mocking disgust. Women were particularly prominent in a new determination to change the mentality of Sicilian people. The will to fight back had gained a hold over the imaginations of citizens.
"It was years since I’d seen the faces of honest and brave Italians. I saw crowds of young people, as if they’d woken from a deep sleep.” Giorgio Bocca, Journalist
The car bombings also forced the state to be resolute. When Riina was bundled out of car in Palermo in 1993 by masked men he was relieved to discover they were policeman. (If anyone had wanted to arrest Riina earlier he wouldn’t have been hard to find – his children were enrolled in school in Corleone and he frequently used the local hospital.) In 1996 they captured the particularly detested hit man, Giovanni Brusca:
Bernard Provanzano, nicknamed ‘the Tractor’, who took over the Corleone clan, was snatched in 2006. All these men are held in secure solitary confinement – to stop them running their operations from behind bars – or from being murdered by rivals. (The poisoned espresso has seen the death of at least one mafia boss in his cell.) So tightly have they been isolated that human rights groups have protested against their treatment.
In 2004 a movement started to try to persuade people from paying the pizzo – the protection money businesses give to the mafia, which drain huge sums out of the Sicilian economy. Now a growing number of businesses sport the addio pizzo sign – ‘goodbye to the pizzo’ – in their windows as a sign that they refuse to pay. But there’s a long way to go. In 2008 the University of Palermo estimated that 80% of businesses still pay – at a cost of $1.25 billion dollars a year.
'An entire people that pays the pizzo is a people without dignity.'
|'A person who is afraid dies every day, someone who isn't only dies once.'|