It exists. You probably won?t see it if you visit Sicily. You probably won?t see any of its effects, either, unless you look very closely. But considering it?s profound influence on Sicilian life, no twentieth-century history book on Sicily would be accurate without mentioning the most famous Sicilian fraternity.
?The word ?Mafia? was formally recorded by the prefect of Palermo in 1865, after the unification of Italy (57 Robb).? It wasn?t until 1982 that it was added to the Italian penal code. Until the end of World War II, the Mafia was a force that the landowners and state of Sicily found useful to maintain power and property. In the nineteen seventies The Oxford English Dictionary was still listing the Mafia as
When the New Shorter came out in 1993, the first five words had been dropped from the definition.
Cosa Nostra (literally translated means ?this thing that is ours?), or the Sicilian Mafia, had the perfect social setting for their concealed rise to power. Between the clannish nature of Sicilians, their almost instinctive dislike for inconsistent law enforcement, and a repressed hereditary aristocracy created a favorable cultural petri dish for the Mafia. ?And it?s no secret that the criminal justice system does not function very well in Italy. And where there is no law, there is no sin (www.bestofsicily.com).?
In the 1930?s, when the Fascists rose to power in Italy, Mussolini had most of Cosa Nostra thrown in jail. This gave way to the Mafia?s sympathy to the American cause, or at least their hostility to the fascist one. ?In reality, the relationship between the Fascists and the Mafia was that of one group of criminals pitted against another?-two wolves fighting over the same chicken coop (www.bestofsicily.com).? Cosa Nostra became politically active, and extremely anti-fascist. In fact, the United States had reason to believe that the Mafia wanted the Axis forces off the island so that they could return to the level of power that they once held. In turn, they solicited the help of the capo di tutti capi, the boss of bosses of the United States branch of Cosa Nostra, the presently jailed Salvatore ?Lucky? Luciano. He agreed to help, and pre-arranged the support of the Sicilian Mafia.
?The vanguards of the invading Americans carried flags and foulards of yellow silk, embroidered with the letter L (Robb 52).? One had been dropped by a lowflying U.S. reconnaissance plane on the hill town of Villalba, at the doorstep of the local priest who was brother of Don Calogero Vizzini. Don Calo was about to be made an honorary colonel in the U.S. army. He was already capo di tutti capi of the Sicilian Mafia, and was heavily into black market business when the U.S. dropped the flag. As the Americans were moving into Palermo, two thirds of Italian troops deserted. The L was for Lucky Luciano, who was said to be aboard the plane that dropped the flag. Luciano appealed for a reduction of sentence for ?services rendered to the nation,? and was immediately released and deported to Italy. American writer, Gore Vidal once remarked that Sicily was liberated by Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese, and the American army. Genovese, Luciano?s second-hand man in New York, and a major drug trafficker of the day, ended up in Italy at the same time. He then took the job of official interpreter and adviser to the U.S. military governor.
Not everyone who is ?in? with Costa Nostra is Mafioso. ?People don?t talk about the Mafia in Sicily but they talk a lot about friends (Robb 24).? When a Sicilian mentions ?friends? they certainly mean ?friends of friends,? or powerful people who have a direct link to the Mafia. There are innumerous examples of ?friends,? but the most mentionable are the politicians.
Guilio Andreotti became a cabinet minister in 1947 when he was only twenty-eight. Although he had been a member of almost every Italian government after that date, he had never gotten to be prime minister.
?He lacked a wide electoral base and so he
lacked clout in the party and if he stayed
that way he would never head the government.
It was natural that a figure so wholly
consumed by the hunger for power as
Andreotti should want to enlarge his electoral
base and it was natural that he should look
to Sicily to do it(25 Robb).?
In Sicily, Andreotti got more votes than almost all other Italian politicians. A farmer in his district once uttered on his deathbed, ?Don?t sell the land, and vote for Andreotti.? He became prime minister in 1972, and gained the nickname ?Mr. Italy.? Most of the aid of him becoming prime minister came from Savo Lima, who was to become Andreotti?s right hand man in Sicily.
Leoluca Orlando, the famous former mayor of Palermo (known for his radical anti-Mafia standing), once remarked, ?Everybody knew that Andreotti was the protector of Lima. And everyone knew that Lima was the voice of the mafia.? Throughout the postwar years the most powerful leader in Sicily was Salvo Lima, and Salvo Lima was more than a friend. He was a fully inducted member of the Cosa Nostra, bound by a lifelong vow to protect the interests of the Mafia. As the mayor of Palermo and one of the most important politicians in Sicily, he was therefore one of the more important people in Italy. The mafia has mostly been known for it?s money laundering, but in postwar Palermo, construction and real estate were their main business. Italy, for decades, consumed more cement per capita than any other country in the world and in Sicily, construction was in the hands of Cosa Nostra. Nearly three-quarters of the permits for new buildings were given to five obscure figures, illiterate or retired, who were fronts for the Mafia.
Lima eventually crossed the wrong man, although no is sure who exactly, and his car was overtaken by two youths on Honda motorbikes. As he scrambled out of the car and ran, he fell face down. He was neatly shot in the skull from behind.
Just as there are ?friends? of the mafia, sworn to protect Cosa Nostra?s interests, there are enemies, sworn in to stop the mafia, within the boundaries of the law. ?Enemy number one of the Mafia,? Judge Giovanni Falcone, was the most famous anti-mafia martyr. He orchestrated the maxi-trials of 1986-1987 which, for the first time, convicted the entire leadership of the Cosa Nostra. And as Andreotti put it, ?The mafia never forgets.? One day in June, on a private retreat to his summerhouse in Addaura, he noticed a skin-diver?s black adidas bag. When his security escorts looked in it, they found fifty-eight sticks of dynamite. No one was supposed to know that Falcone was there. That night, Guilo Andreotti called to congratulate him on his narrow escape. Falcone wasn?t at all reassured. Andreotti had just marked him for death. He then called his family and told them that
??when I am killed you will have to find
out who sent the first wreath of flowers
to be placed on the coffin. It is a
widespread custom in mafia crimes(45 Robb)??
Four days after hearing that, on May 23rd, Falcone and his wife flew to Palermo for the weekend on a secret flight. The plane landed in the evening, and the Falcones were greeted by their 3-car escort, complete with seven bodyguards. The Falcones were in the middle car, and a helicopter flew ahead of the whole convoy to oversee the route. They didn?t count on the 500kg of plastic explosives that had been hidden under the bridge they were to pass. The explosion killed the bodyguards in the first car instantly, the last car?s occupants were only slightly injured. And Falcone died when they got him to the hospital. Paolo Borsellino, a judge in the same city, and a good friend, got to the emergency room in time to see Falcone die. Borsellino came out and embraced his family, crying. They cried too, because they had heard him say it a million times, ?Giovanni?s my shield against the Mafia. They?ll kill him first, then they?ll kill me (33 Robb).? That weekend he went to see his mother, before his plans to leave town. When Borsellino pressed the bell at the gate, he was blown to pieces by a car bomb explosion that killed him and destroyed the apartment buildings above.
The Mafia also cursed Leoluca Orlando?s name, and it is a wonder that he is still alive. The maxi-trials of 86-87 insured that the contract on his head wouldn?t be seen for some time, but it?s always looming. Orlando resigned as mayor of Palermo, and now he goes around the nation preaching non-violence.
Today, the Mafia is extending their interests to the countries of the former block of East Europe. They have been mostly trafficking drugs, forged currency and art. The opening of borders in Europe(as a result of the unification), however, has allowed for weapon trafficking as well. Apparently it?s extremely easy to find weapons in Croatia and other parts of former Yugoslaia.
The mafia is still laundering money, too, despite the European Union?s attempts to stop it. The EU?s fight against money laundering has become extremely difficult since the borders all around Europe were opened; they are having an extremely hard time coordinating all the countries. This makes it especially hard, because the European Union has no judicial authority. Another problem is international regulation. Only Italy, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, and Great Britain have national regulations about money laundering and criminal activities, and some countries are delaying the introduction of legislation that?s required by the order.
The Mafia is, and always has been working like a well-oiled machine. That is, if by oil you mean blood. Intimidation is the basis of any formal government, some way or another. Even in democracies there is crime and punishment, action and reaction, cause and effect. It seems that the Mafia is going to continue being the (almost?) formal system of government in Italy. Long live the capo di tutti capi.
Robb, Peter, Midnight in Sicily, New York 1996