Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cosa Nostra on the way out?

So, I keep meaning to write a longer piece about what's going on with the fight against the mafia in Sicily, but just keep not getting around to it, so I thought I'd do just a quicky instead. This is a fairly interesting time for Sicily right now. Three years ago there was a convention in Palermo for merchants and civic leaders to come together and talk about how to fight against the mafia. No one came. The very day after Mary, Christa and I were in Palermo, they held the same convention in Teatro Biondo (we passed by there at some point) and the place was packed. Palermitans are finally finding the courage to openly defy the mob. This is big. It's probably no coincidence that it was also about three years ago that the organization Addiopizzo got off the ground. They now have a roll of 209 businesses that refuse to pay protection money (pizzo) and 9105 consumers who have enrolled to boycott businesses that do. If you can cut off the pizzo, the mafia starves.

Only a few days before we went to Palermo, police managed to capture the current boss of the entire Sicilian mafia, capo di tutti i capi, Salvatore Lo Piccolo--he had been wanted for arrest for 25 years. There doesn't seem to be anyone ready to step in and take his place. The mafia also finds itself headless for the time being. (This could also lead to wars and power struggles among rival factions--who knows?) They arrested Lo Piccolo at a meeting of several bosses to go over finances--police managed to capture their entire budget, including every pizzo, complete with names and addresses. A single supermarket was paying 5000 euro a month, alone. Including were also members of Addiopizzo who were being slated for punishment. A punishment that now, hopefully, won't take place. In the following days even more arrests have been made, based largely on the evidence seized at Lo Piccolo's arrest--a veritable gold mine of information.

Individuals have tried to defy mafia before. 16 years ago, a textiles manufacturer, Libero Grassi, stood up to the mafia. He was killed. But he stood alone. No one else had the courage to stand with him. Now, with Addiopizzo gaining ground, the success of the convention last week, and the arrest of several high ranking mafiosi, it looks Sicily might finally be seeing the right combination of commercial, civic, state, and law enforcement efforts to finally put an end to the crippling economic hegemony of the mob. One person alone can't take on the mob, but all of these people working together probably can. There's still a long way to go and no way to predict how it will all go, but for now, at least, things are looking pretty optimistic.