The mafia in film: a new vision

Brando as the GodfatherWe always come back to the Godfather. In spite of the long history of Italian cinema’s portrayal of the mafia, dating back to the strange and sinister In The Name Of The Law (1949), and Rosi’s dramatic Hands Over The City (1963), still we return for our mafia clichés, to the Godfather. Perhaps those early films were too dark, their portrayal of organized crime too far from what we expect. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 classic gives us a memorable dramatis personae, some wonderful lines (“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli”); heroes we can bet on.

The Law Of Courage (‘Il Giudice Ragazzino’), 1994, based on the life and death of the young incorruptible judge, Rosario Livatino, was a beautiful portrait of the impossibility of heroism in Sicily. A truly humble person who confronts the mafia and still drives without an armed escort isn’t recognised as a hero until he is murdered. The banality of a gunshot puts an end to nights of terror, silent threats, messages and gestures. Continue reading

Epic history of Italy’s mafia organisations

Blood Brotherhoods: by John Dickie
published by PublicAffairs

John Dickie, author of Mafia Republic, in Gioia Tauro, Calabria

John Dickie, author of Blood Brotherhoods

I am often asked, Why does Italy have the mafia, and why can’t the state get rid of it? This book goes a long way to answer both questions, showing how seismic shifts in Italy’s rickety administration allowed the mafia to slip into the gaps and exploit the ruling class as well as the poor and disenfranchised.

With Dickie’s characteristic gusto, familiar to readers of his bestselling Cosa Nostra, we dash from one major trial to the next, across the most turbulent century and a half of Italian history. The first part shows how the two major events in recent Italian history – unification and World War 2 – enabled criminal organisations in three regions to insinuate themselves into the power structure. The second half, dealing with the post war period, shows how the mafias became seriously wealthy. Continue reading

Mafia witness ‘forced to drink acid’

Maria Concetta Cacciola: forced to drink acid

Maria Concetta Cacciola: forced to drink acid

On 20 August 2011 Maria Concetta Cacciola, 31, mother of three young children, was held by the wrists and the head, and forced to drink hydrochloric acid. She died in agony. Her family claimed she had locked herself in the  bathroom and committed suicide. An inquiry is now under way to establish who killed her.

Three months previously, Maria Concetta had walked into a police station in Rosarno, Calabria, and requested protection in return for information about her family, members of a powerful mafia clan. She said her life was in danger because she had had a flirtation with a man on Facebook (whom she hadn’t even met, since he lived in Germany) while her husband was in prison, and her messages to him had been discovered.

‘She wasn’t under investigation, she wasn’t a suspect,’ said prosecutor Alessandra Cerreti, when I spoke to her at the courthouse in Reggio Calabria in summer 2013. ‘She was very nervous, and kept looking at her watch. She had told her family she had gone to report her son’s stolen moped. We had a very limited time to test the truth of what she was telling us, and decide what to do.’ Continue reading

Palermo prosecutor threatened by mafia boss

Prosecutor Nino Di Matteo surrounded by supporters

Prosecutor Nino Di Matteo surrounded by supporters

‘Di Matteo must die. And not just him, but all the prosecutors in this trial, they’re driving me mad. They’re going to die if it’s the last thing I do.’

This threat was uttered in November by the boss of Cosa Nostra, Totò Riina, currently held in a high security prison in Milan, where he is serving a number of life sentences for murder. But that doesn’t stop him declaring his intention to wipe out one of Italy’s foremost anti-mafia judges.

Corleone does not forget,’ the boss added, in a reference to Mafiosi still loyal to the most violent, ruthless family in Cosa Nostra’s history.

The object of Riina’s murderous intent, Nino Di Matteo, is chief prosecutor in a trial  that threatens to expose historical allegiances and covert communications between ministers of state, police chiefs, and the organized criminals they were supposed to be pursuing. The boss’s threat also included assistant prosecutors Vittorio Teresi, Francesco Del Bene and Roberto Tartaglia. Continue reading

Women breaking the mafia’s rules

Magistrate Alessandra Cerreti, working with mafia women

Magistrate Alessandra Cerreti, working with mafia women

The Ndrangheta is facing a new threat to its dominion in Calabria. Its own women.

Alessandra Cerreti is a high profile prosecutor on the front line of the war against the mafia. She is smart, highly professional and glamorous. I met her in her office in Reggio Calabria, where she and her colleagues are fighting the mafia ‘tooth and nail’.

Cerreti recently handled the collaboration of a woman from a powerful criminal family, whose evidence secured the conviction of an entire Ndrangheta clan.

Giusy Pesce was married at 13 (she and her boyfriend ran away together, so a formal engagement was a matter of course) and had a baby at 15. Her husband was in and out of prison, and didn’t make any arrangement for Giusy and the children. She was reduced to begging for handouts from her cousin. Continue reading

‘We need to end slavery in Calabria’

Maria Concetta Cacciola: killed herself by drinking acid

Maria Concetta Cacciola: killed herself by drinking acid

When Maria Concetta Cacciola’s husband held a pistol to her head, she fled to her parents’ house and begged them to protect her. Her father told her: ‘He’s your husband, you stay with him for the rest of your life.’

A new book by Sicilian journalist Lirio Abbate, Fimmine Ribelli (Rizzoli) describes the stories of women in Calabrian mafia families who have rebelled against the male violence and oppression that characterises mafia culture.

‘I wanted to shine a spotlight on these women,’ says Abbate. ‘We need to challenge this reduction of women to slaves.’

The subtitle, ‘How women are going to defeat the Ndrangheta’, is perhaps more of a call to action than a reflection of current reality. Much of the book makes dismal reading for anyone hoping for a tale of triumph over oppression. Continue reading

The people say ‘basta’ to mafia extortion

Maria Teresa Morano: the family was behind her father

Maria Teresa Morano: the family was behind her father’s protest

In a remote part of Calabria, a group of small businessmen dared to stand up to the mafia and refused to pay protection money. Maria Teresa Morano’s father was one of them. 

In 1992, the businessmen and shopkeepers of a small rural town, Cittanova in Calabria, received a series of unwelcome visits. They were each approached by a known mafioso, who took them from their place of work, alone, to a secluded spot, where armed men were waiting. There they were told they must pay protection money (known as ‘pizzo’).

If they refused they were beaten up, threatened at gunpoint, or told that their children would be harmed. Continue reading