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Mafias Revisited: New Territories and New Alliances

October 5, 2012

Bombing that killed Judge Falcone.

Organized crime and mafias have held a special allure for Western audiences since Hollywood began capturing the exotic stories of these organizations on film. In the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Films, such organized crime and mafia related films occupy a decent number of the top spots, such as The Godfather Parts I and II, Goodfellas, The French Connection, and Pulp Fiction. While Hollywood makes millions on telling fiction and non-fiction stories, governments around the world lose billions every year in costs related to fighting these organizations and in lost tax revenues due to their underground operations that often forgo typical fiscal responsibilities.

The term mafia is now used to identify a wide array of criminal organizations such as Mexican drug cartels, Italian-American mafias, Italian and Sicilian mafias, Russian mafias, Chinese triads, and the Japanese yakuza. In Italy, the government recognizes three large mafias, along with several smaller ones, as organized criminal syndicates that subvert government control, corrupt politicians, judges, civil servants, and businesses. According to Italian scholar Letizia Paoli, these mafias, the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Calabrese ’Ndrangheta, and the Neapolitan Camorra, have caused major problems for the government, businesses, and civilians in Italy since before the 1900s. The Italian government had for years claimed the “Mafia” did not exist, but in the 1980s, finally came to grips with the truth, and began a campaign to fight them. The mafias fought back, and in 1992, the Cosa Nostra planted a half-ton of explosives under a portion of roadway that leading anti-mafia Judge Giovanni Falcone would be traveling on his way to the airport. The explosion killed the judge, his wife, and five police officers. The power of the explosion registered as a small earthquake on local monitors. In 1993, more bombings occurred in Rome, Florence, and Milan, killing more government officials.

These acts of terror severely damaged the mafias’ reputation as citizens began protesting their efforts. The government began more crackdowns, and the mafia went into hiding. Since 2000, the Italian mafias have been somewhat dismantled as government authorities used RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) type statutes to imprison leaders for the crimes of their subordinates. Recently, Italian mafias have begun to make news again as they have moved from their traditional strongholds in Sicily and Southern Italy northward to the wealthier cities of Rome and Milan. They have also begun to work with arguably the most powerful criminal organizations (and possibly the wealthiest) in the world, the various Mexican drug cartels, to deliver drugs, namely cocaine, to Europe. According to The Economist, in 2007, the ’Ndrangheta organization has been discovered northward from Calabria in both Milan and Rome where it infiltrated local city councils and businesses including the famous Café de Paris bar in Rome. In 2009, authorities discovered Sicilian Cosa Nostra operating a money-laundering business across the street from the office of the prime minister. And in August, 2012, Camorra mob leader Gaetano Marino was gunned down in a parking lot after he had momentarily left his family on a beach in Terracina. These examples highlight the resurgence of these organizations in new territories. These Italian and Sicilian mafias have stood the test of time, and despite their ups and downs, they continue to thrive by connecting with other criminal organizations and by leaving their traditional strongholds for new, untapped territories.

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