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Thursday, January 13, 2011

U.S. Assesses Italy's Four Mafia Groups

Wikileaks has released a series of U.S. State Department cables from 2007 through 2009 which provide its assessment of Italy's four principal organized crime groups identified as Cosa Nostra or the Sicilian Mafia, the Camorra or Neapolitan Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta or the Calabrian Mafia, and Sacra Corona Unita or the Puglian Mafia. Although the United States is cautiously optimistic that Italy can bring Cosa Nostra in Sicily to its knees, the cables reflect grave concerns whether Italy can take out the 'Ndrangheta and Camorra which effectively control the Calabria and Naples regions, respectively, through deadly violence, economic power and public corruption.  However, the cables note that in all regions of southern Italy a ground swell of opposition -- primarily among the youth -- has taken root against the Mafia which represents a profound shift in cultural attitudes.
A June 6, 2008 cable details the extent of the Mafia -- some 20,000 members strong -- in Italy's economy.  According to conservative estimates the Mafia annually takes in $143 billion which constitutes seven percent of the country's GDP and represents its biggest sector.  The cable not only breaks down the Mafia's illicit rackets but further identifies its alleged infiltration of the legitimate economy with corrupting results:  
In the case of Cosa Nostra, for example, the criminal organizations, using money laundered from other illegal activities such as extortion, turn private real estate companies into Mafia-controlled monopolies.  Through a system of programmed rotation, all of the companies controlled by the Mafia are guaranteed contracts while offering only a minimal discount; the lucrative profits allow the contract winners to deliver larger bribes to both the Mafia and the corrupt politicians and public officials who accomodate it.
Although the U.S. is encouraged by gains made by Italian authorities against Cosa Nostra it recognizes that the Sicilian Mafia still remains as "the major challenge to economic development" in the region according to a June 15, 2009 cable:
A variety of interlocutors in several Sicilian cities told us during recent visits that the grip of organized crime has loosened through a combination of law enforcement success and civil society rebellion against the Cosa Nostra.  Anti-Mafia prosecutors are optimistic they can continue to make progress against the mob, but note that ongoing budgetary and personnel contraints (particularly the difficulty in filling magistrate positions) hamper their effectiveness.
The cables reflect that while Italian authorities have had great success in attacking Cosa Nostra, little progress has been made in tackling other crime groups such as the Camorra and the 'Ndrangheta.  A December 6, 2007 cable states the following:
Unfortunately, the success in Sicily stands in stark contrast to the rest of southern Italy, where significantly less progress has been made in fighting the Camorra in Campania and the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria (although there has been good success combating the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia).  Our local contacts in the anti-mafia prosecutor's office tell us that it is hard to apply the Sicilian model to these regions because these other groups consist of clans, many of which compete with each other, while the Cosa Nostra has more of a pyramid structure.  Nonetheless, the disparity between the success in combatting the Sicilian mafia and the lack thereof elsewhere is striking.
Indeed, with respect to the Calabrian region, a December 2, 2008 cable concludes that "if it were not part of Italy, Calabria would be a failed state:"
The 'Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate controls vast portions of its territory and economy, and accounts for at least three percent of Italy's GDP (probably much more) through drug trafficking, extortion and usury.  Law enforcement is severely hampered by a lack of both sources and resources.  Calabrians have a reputation as a distant, difficult people, and their politicians are widely viewed as ineffective.  Much of the region's industry collapsed over a decade ago, leaving environmental and economic ruin.  The region comes in last place in nearly every category of national economic assessments.  Most of the politicians we met with on a recent visit were fatalistic, of the opinion that there was little that could be done to stop the region's downward economic spiral or the stranglehold of the 'Ndrangheta.
According to the cables the hope for the future of Italy may lie with its youth who have organized campaigns in the southern regions where the Mafia flexes considerable muscle.  For example, a June 6, 2008 cable highlights the many grassroots groups which look to break "the pervasive culture of organized crime" and destroy "the glamorous image that young people have of Mafia bosses."

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