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A Policeman’s Reflections on Mafia Organizations That Rule in Southern Italy

Cosa Nostra, 'Ndrangheta, Camorra, Sacra Corona Unita have at least one thing in common: the negligence of the Italian State in fighting against them

Gomorrah the series.

Usually, the Sicilian Mafia communicates with just a look, something that is the norm for us in Palermo who grew up with the warning of “muto devi stare"--you need to shut up. In fact, using this system of communication we could hold a meeting even in silence--using just a look and body language passed down by our ancestors. This preferred way of communication by mafiosi, made it possible for me to figure out their messages ahead of time on occasion, some even intercepted from New York.

There is no doubt that Mafia organizations have represented and continue to represent the paradox of the Italian State. On one side we see the political power, and on the other, we see the dismissive and aggressive power of Mafia organizations that, thanks to the nefarious endorsement of powerful politicians, is energized so as to wrap their tentacles around the nerve centers of society. It is quite clear that there is a lifeline that feeds institutions and politicians, and that helps them to enforce the accumulation of interests, necessary to reach power and money.

As is well known, there are four different criminal organizations in Italy: Cosa Nostra, ‘Ndrangheta, Camorra and Sacra Corona Unita. It is not my intention to highlight the significant differences between Cosa Nostra, ‘Ndrangheta, Camorra and Sacra Corona Unita, that exist; that is a task for scholars. Nevertheless, I can speak from experience, about one of the four. From as far back as my childhood I have met characters who later turned out to be heads of Cosa Nostra, even before the coming of the “guys from Corleone”– Totò Riina’s clan. And I will add that I learned more about the important figures of this organization through my work as a policeman in the Flying Squad of Palermo and of D.I.A., an investigating body that fights against the Mafia. For these reasons, it’s easy for me to speak about the Sicilian Mafia.

John Gambino.

To be fair, I will acknowledge that a decisive contribution of firsthand knowledge was given to me by cooperating witnesses: Tommaso Buscetta, Totuccio Contorno, Francesco Marino Mannoia, Gaspare Mutolo, Pino Marchese, Giovanni Drago, Santino Di Matteo, Gioacchino La Barbera e Stefano Calzetta. They held my hand, figuratively speaking, and allowed me to walk into the “house” of Cosa Nostra, putting me in the know about organization, structure, and initiates. When I was in New York for a mission, I got to know, personally, John and Joseph Gambino, both of them as initiates of the American Cosa Nostra. So, I came to know their secret joints, their way of thinking and the slang communication of the Sicilian Mafia. Usually, they communicate with just a look, something that is the norm for us in Palermo who grew up with the warning of “muto devi stare”–you need to shut up. In fact, using this system of communication we could hold a meeting even in silence–using just a look and body language passed down by our ancestors. This preferred way of communication by mafiosi, made it possible for me to figure out their messages ahead of time on occasion, some even intercepted from New York.

The Capaci bombing.

I became somewhat interested in the ‘Ndrangheta and the Camorra and simply by chance, when I met members of the criminal group during investigations. I believed that, in terms of attitudes and organization, the ‘Ndrangheta looks like the Cosa Nostra. However, in my opinion, the Camorra is an organization without organizational links to the territory. Let me clarify, Cosa Nostra and ‘Ndrangheta have a pyramidal structure with clear rules of control over their respective territory, while the Camorra is loosely structured, with more of a horizontal rather than a vertical structure, more similar to clans scattered over the territory without a central command or one strong leader governing activities and checking the ambitions of its initiates. So, there are no “famiglie” and “andrine” in the Camorra.

Boris Giuliano.

The ‘Ndrangheta on the other hand, differs from the Cosa Nostra in its ability to move huge amounts of money obtained from illegal drug trafficking, and as for its recruitment methods, the ‘Ndrangheta recruits them on the basis of blood relationships. It is a well-known fact that in the 1980s, in the middle of the “mattanza” (a period during which the Corleonesi murdered rival members on Totò Riina’s orders,) international drug trafficking was the sole prerogative of the Cosa Nostra. The numerous seizures of lots and lots of kilos of drugs, ready to be sent to the U.S.A., and the discovery of five processing plants, demonstrated the power of the Sicilian Mafia. Not surprisingly, in the early 1980s, Palermo was invaded by dollars. As a result of the discovery and seizure of a suitcase full of dollars, Boris Giuliano, police chief, the head of Palermo’s Flying Squad, was assassinated by Leoluca Bagarella.

The Sacra Corona Unita, located in the region of Puglia, was formed in recent decades. Based on information that I have received, it seems to me that the Sacra Corona Unita bears more of a resemblance to the Camorra than to the Cosa Nostra and ‘Ndrangheta. While this isn’t the place to rehash the entire history of the four Italian Mafias, I would note however, that foreign mafias are not only proliferating but that unfortunately, they are operating in tandem with the Italian ones.

Finally, if Mafias are growing in strength, we can blame the State. Had the Italian State done its duty, today all those brave gentlemen that they assassinated might still be with us. The sometimes-deliberate negligence of the Italian State in its struggle against the Mafias has made their exponential growth possible throughout the country.  We should stop thinking of Mafias as being endemic only to southern Italy. For those with a short memory or those who only pay lip service to wishing to eradicate the Mafia, please keep in mind that they existed even before Italy’s unification. That’s like saying yesterday—and that’s saying a lot.

Translated by Cettina Destro Mignino

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