2. (U) A string of law enforcement successes, combined with a rebellion by businesses against the payment of protection money, has the Cosa Nostra on the defensive. The latest round of government victories started with the November 5 arrest near Palermo of powerful Mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo and three of his associates. Police believed that Lo Piccolo had taken over the top post in the Cosa Nostra after the April 2006 arrest of Bernardo Provenzano, “the boss of all bosses.” The police and Carabinieri followed up with a joint raid on December 3 on the home in Gela (a heavily mafia-influenced town on the island’s southern coast) of another local boss, Daniele Emmanuello. Emmanuello, wanted for murder and racketeering, was shot to death by police as he tried to flee. The next day, the Carabinieri detained 70 people, including alleged mob boss Vincenzo Santapaola, in Catania. Santapaola’s father, Benedetto, is serving a life sentence and is considered one of the Sicilian mafia’s most feared leaders.
3. (U) Business owners have been emboldened by the continuing string of law enforcement victories, with more and more reportedly refusing to pay extortion money (known in Italian slang as the “pizzo”), particularly since Provenzano’s arrest. According to the recent annual report issued by the National Traders Association (Conferescenti), up to 80 percent of businesses in Palermo and Catania paid protection money in the past year, and the cost of extortion is higher in Sicily than any other part of the country. Several anti-racket associations have been formed, reportedly with good results. The most prominent is “Addio pizzo” (“Goodbye, pizzo”), formed in 2004, which counts 210 traders and entrepreneurs as members and over 9,000 consumers committed to buy only at shops belonging to the “pizzo-free” list. Palermo police and the prefect have agreed to discreetly look after the member shops. “Addio pizzo” has organized programs in more than 90 schools and educational institutes, with the participation of prosecutors and police, and also conducted a “pizzo-free” festival in one of Palermo’s main plazas in May 2006. (One of the association’s leaders has been selected for a State Department International Visitor program in 2008, which will focus on awakening public opinion to rule of law and supporting NGOs who fight organized crime.)
4. (U) In September of this year, the Sicilian branch of the industrialists’ federation (Confindustria) voted unanimously to expel any of its members who continue to pay the Mafia’s tax. The vote came in support of Andrea Vecchio, a well-known construction company owner who told the Cosa Nostra he would no longer pay. Since taking this bold decision, he has received four death threats and two of his building sites have been sabotaged. Vecchio and his family are now living under police protection.
5. (U) On November 11, forty Sicilian business owners launched a new “anti-pizzo” association to assist entrepreneurs who refuse to pay extortion money. The group is called “Libero Futuro,” which translates “Free Future,” but also pays homage to Libero Grassi, a Sicilian businessman who was murdered in 1991 for refusing to pay the “pizzo.” In response to the organization’s founding, Palermo mayor Diego Cammarata promised 50,000 euros to assist merchants who have been victims of extortion. The association’s inauguration was attended by national political leaders; in fact, the auditorium was packed, whereas when a similar launch was attempted two years ago, only around 30 people showed up.
6. (U) During the night of November 26, the offices of Confindustria in the central Sicilian city of Caltanissetta were broken into, and computer disks containing confidential details of business owners backing a campaign against the payment of protection money were stolen. Confindustria leaders immediately blamed the Mafia and declared that they would not be intimidated by the act.
7. (SBU) Comment: The stunning law enforcement successes and a vocal public campaign against extortion have left the Cosa Nostra with its back to the wall. Most of the organization’s top-level bosses have been captured, but national anti-Mafia prosecutor Piero Grasso has stated that he has no intention of declaring the war over. According to Grasso, total victory requires a “cultural revolution,” in addition to arrests. Unfortunately, the success in Sicily stands in stark contrast to the rest of southern Italy, where significantly less progress has been made in fighting the Camorra in Campania and the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria (although there has been good success combating the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia). Our local contacts in the anti-mafia prosecutor’s office tell us that it is hard to apply the Sicilian model to these regions because these other groups consist of clans, many of which compete with each other, while the Cosa Nostra has more of a pyramid structure. Nonetheless, the disparity between the success in combating the Sicilian mafia and the lack thereof elsewhere is striking.
1. (U) Summary: This is the second of a three-part series; this message examines the economic dimension of organized crime in Southern Italy. According to a recent study, organized crime is the biggest individual segment of the Italian economy, accounting for seven percent of GDP. Wherever it occurs, organized crime in Italy distorts markets. While in some instances it lowers prices (but usually with adverse side effects), in general its activities (e.g., extortion, rigging of public contracts) lead to higher costs for the government, business owners and consumers. Estimates of how much organized crime costs the country are at best approximate, and do not always take into account the lost opportunities for foreign investment, the pernicious environmental and health effects, the losses due to corruption and inefficiency, and social costs related to higher rates of drug dependency and drug-related crimes. The three main organized crime groups in Italy earn tens to hundreds of billions of euros a year, depending on the estimate. End summary.
Organized Crime: Businessmen With Guns
2. (U) Often viewed as a political or social phenomenon, organized crime in Italy, as in any country, is first and foremost a business. A 2007 report by the Italian business association Conferescenti estimates that it is the biggest sector of the Italian economy, with a 90 billion euro ($143 b) turnover, accounting for seven percent of GDP, and 20,000 “employees”. However, because illegal activity is by definition clandestine, it is impossible to quantify all of its effects on the economy. Organized crime distorts prices (mostly upwards, but sometimes downwards); undermines legitimate business; discourages entrepreneurship and the establishment of large businesses; and hinders economic growth, not only in the South but throughout Italy. The GOI’s Statistics Institute (ISTAT) calculated in late 2007 that Italy’s underground economy accounts for about 18 percent of total GDP; not all of the black-market economy, however, is run by organized crime. According to a 2008 study by the anti-Mafia Rocco Chinnici Foundation, extortion, loan sharking, money laundering, tax evasion and wasted public funds are estimated to cost the Sicilian economy a hefty one billion euros annually, or 1.3 percent of the island’s GDP. According to another study by the Eurispes Institute (an Italian think tank), the Cosa Nostra earns over eight billion euros ($12.7 b) a year from its activities; the Camorra about 12 billion euros ($19 b) a year; and the ‘Ndrangheta 36 billion euros ($57.2 b) a year — basically tax-free. A May 2008 report by the Eurispes think tank calculates that the ‘Ndrangheta’s business operations represent 2.9 percent of Italy’s GDP, or 44 billion euros ($70.8 b) per year, the equivalent to the combined GDPs of booming EU members Slovenia and Estonia. Sixty-two percent of this amount comes from the drug trade. A CENSIS study estimates that organized crime annually drains 5.7 billion euros from the Italian economy and represents a loss of 2.5 percent in the South’s economic growth. Italy’s Treasury Police estimated in 2005 that the profits realized from illicit activities (not all of which are controlled by these three groups) ranged from 500 to 1,000 billion euros per year. The wide range of these various estimates is an indication of just how difficult it is to calculate the profit and effects of organized crime in Italy.
3. (C) In addition to extracting money from others, the Mafia engages in its own entrepreneurship when it comes to public contracts, especially in the construction industry. In the case of Cosa Nostra, for example, the criminal organizations, using money laundered from other illegal activities such as extortion, turn private real estate companies into Mafia-controlled monopolies. Through a system of programmed rotation, all of the companies controlled by the Mafia are guaranteed contracts while offering only a minimal discount; the lucrative profits allow the contract winners to deliver larger bribes to both the Mafia and the corrupt politicians and public officials who accomodate it. Through such transactions, billions of euros in central government and EU development funds have wound up in the hands of organized crime. Lorenzo Diana, a former Senator and former head of the Democratic Left Party’s anti-Mafia unit, makes the credible assertion that most of the highway running from Naples to Reggio Calabria was built — using substandard materials and methods — by Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta clans. According to Vincenzo Macri, a deputy anti-Mafia prosecutor, the proposed Strait of Messina bridge (linking Sicily to the mainland) is another goldmine on the horizon for organized crime. Although the crime syndicates would be only marginally involved in the planning, the realization phase will offer billions of euros in contracts and subcontracts for construction, materials, services and other forms of what he terms “indifference.” 4. (C) Prices for most goods and services in Southern Italy are anywhere between two and five percent higher than what they would be in the absence of organized crime, according to several sources. Giuseppe Gennaro, and anti-Mafia prosecutor in Catania, Sicily, tells us that the Cosa Nostra takes a two to three percent “tax” on most transactions in Sicily. In Reggio Calabria, Prefect Salvatore Montanaro says 70 to 80 percent of businesses in his province pay protection money; estimates for Sicily are similar, while about 40 percent of businesses in Campania and Apulia reportedly make extortion payments. SOS Impresa, an anti-racket association, estimates that the mafia-related cost to Italian merchants is 30 billion euros ($47.7 b) annually, including 12 billion from usury, 11 billion from rigged contracts and six billion from extortion. Protection “fees” range from 100 to 500 euros per month for small stores to 10,000 euros per month for construction sites. Those who refuse to pay are threatened, harassed and sometimes attacked or killed, or their businesses are burned. According to the Chinnici Foundation study, however, those who do pay do not feel any safer. One long-term extortion victim claimed his payments “resulted in no concrete benefit, either in terms of security or business growth.” Another called it “a liberty-killing event, the worst insult, an attack on your very existence…like kicking yourself in the face.” 5. (C) This is not to say that the market distortions always raise prices. According to Roberto Saviano, author of a best-selling book about the Camorra, industries can save up to 80 percent of the cost to legally dispose of their toxic waste by hiring the Camorra to dispose of it clandestinely. This actually makes many factories (virtually all of which are located in northern Italy) more competitive, but at a terrible environmental cost (the brunt of which is paid by residents in the South, where the waste winds up). According to former MP Isaia Sales, an expert who has written two books on the Camorra, organized crime sometimes lowers agricultural and food prices, too, by favoring certain business owners who are able to produce more efficiently due to increased business. The Camorra also lowers real estate values, by forcing property owners to sell at ridiculously low prices through intimidation. Similar to the Camorra’s trafficking in toxic waste to reduce the burden for northern Italian business, the ‘Ndrangheta (according to Mario Spagnuolo, anti-Mafia prosecutor in Catanzaro) manages illegal immigration rings that provide foreign workers to Calabrian employers for a mere 20 to 30 euros a day, thus lowering labor costs for some businesses. Spagnuolo also says the ‘Ndrangheta has so streamlined the arms market (trafficking, for example, in leftovers from the Bosnia war) that one can purchase a Kalashnikov assault rifle for one-third the price of a legally purchased pistol.
Environmental and Health Costs
6. (U) The effects on the environment and health are stunning. Saviano told a recent interviewer that the Camorra earned six billion euros in two years from toxic waste disposal. “Farmlands bought at extremely low prices are transformed into illegal dumping grounds…. The type of garbage dumped includes everything: barrels of paint, printer toner, human skeletons, cloths used for cleaning cow udders, zinc, arsenic and the residue of industrial chemicals.” Authorities near Naples discovered in February 2008 a dump brimming with hospital waste, including used syringes, thousands of vials of blood samples and a human embryo. Legitimate landfills have also been also used for illegal dumping, one of the reasons they are now at capacity, which has led to a waste disposal crisis throughout a large part of Campania region (ref B). In 2006, the World Health Organization found rates for stomach, liver, kidney, lung and pancreatic cancer to be up to 12 percent higher than the national average in areas just north of Naples where the Camorra has dumped thousands of truckloads of toxic waste. The environmental costs of organized crime may never be calculable, and the overall costs in terms of human and animal disease and mortality cannot be quantified.
7. (U) Organized crime’s environmental impact extends to food frauds, and Campania leads the country in this sector. According to police reports, the Camorra runs an estimated 2,000 illegal bakeries (two thirds of the region’s total), using expired flour and ovens which emit toxic fumes (the “wood” is often old doors covered in paint). Caserta has illegal cheese factories which mix buffalo milk with powdered milk from Bolivia, cutting retail mozzarella costs by a third; they also use lime to help ricotta “keep” longer. According to a Commander of Naples‘ Carabinieri, the most flourishing business is recycling expired products. The Camorra also passes off low-quality imports with made-in-Campania labels, from pesticide-laden Moldovan apples to E. coli-infested Moroccan industrial salt. Organized crime is also heavily involved in IPR fraud, from fake designer fashion bags to bogus DVDs; Sicilian authorities even discovered recently several garages where fake Ferraris were being manufactured.
8. (C) Organized crime also has insidious effects on the urban landscape. Giap Parini, a researcher who met us at the University of Calabria in Cosenza, says that it is wrong to think of mob-infested cities as poor; on the contrary, they can be inhabited by wealthy bosses. Behind the run-down exterior walls are golden faucets and marble bathrooms. No, the main characteristic of a mob city, Parini argues, is chaos. Uncontrolled expansion, illegal construction, lack of green spaces, failed urban planning, incomplete public works, poor infrastructure, low educational standards, and general government inefficiency are all signs of organized crime. Mayors who try to install illumination in public areas often find the lights broken within a day, as streetlamps are not propitious for drug dealing. Naples Prosecutor Giandomenico Lepore says politicians and citizens do not realize the burden that organized crime is on the economy: “There’s no development here.” Indeed, the Camorra made an enormous profit in the early 1980s by constructing public housing in Naples after a major earthquake; today, these neighborhoods are characterized by crumbling cement high-rises and an absence of piazzas, stores, parks and trees.
9. (C) Ironically, according to University of Calabria sociology professor Pietro Fantozzi, there are more giant shopping malls per capita in poverty-stricken Calabria than in the prosperous Milan metropolitan area. Throughout Southern Italy, highway exits are lined with luxury car dealerships, expensive home decoration stores, and ostentatious, neo-classical villas — fantasies about which the general public (nearly a third of whom are living at or below poverty level) can only dream.
10. (SBU) Comment: Put all these factors together and it becomes clear that organized crime is a major, if not the main reason why the southern Italian economy lags so far behind that of the rest of the country, and one of the main causes of Italy‘s growth lagging behind the rest of the European Union. Organized crime keeps away investors and ensures that small businesses cannot become large, which in turn perpetuates the high unemployment rates (averaging 20 percent in the South, and 35 percent for young people). Extortion and the imposition of Mafia-associated suppliers make many businesses unprofitable; business owners must compensate by raising prices and/or by not paying taxes. Attempts by the government or the EU to spark development in the South are frustrated by Mafia-run corruption and mob fixing of contracts and sub-contracts. Legitimate businesses are also undercut by Mafia-led production and distribution of pirated and counterfeit products. Development would create an alternative to organized crime that would put its practitioners out of business, so it is in the mob’s interest to retard economic and social development. Not surprisingly, a study published in January 2008 by researchers at the Magna Grecia University of Catanzaro and Naples‘ Federico II University showed that the presence of organized crime is a strong disincentive for foreign investors. While the established U.S. businesses in the South (almost all of which are relatively large) have not complained to ConGen Naples about organized crime, countless potential investors have expressed to our Commercial Service office a reluctance to invest out of fear of the mob. Southern Italy has few major U.S. investments compared to the rest of the country. In the end, the costs of organized crime are felt directly or indirectly by virtually every Italian citizen. While the problem might seem intractable, the third and final cable in this series will examine ways Italy and the United States can successfully confront organized crime. End comment.
1. (C) Summary: This is the third of a three-part series (see reftels A-B for parts I and II); this message offers views on how to combat organized crime in Italy. The USG has a significant stake in the fight against organized crime in Italy. The Italian crime syndicates help support terrorist groups in Colombia and Central Asia through drug trafficking; violate the intellectual property rights of American businesses and artists; buttress organized crime in the United States; pose potential public health risks to U.S. military and dependents stationed in southern Italy; and weaken an important ally. Law enforcement cooperation has led to many important arrests, particularly in Sicily, but could be strengthened. However, the apprehension of criminals is not enough. Trials need to be swifter and sentences tougher. The seizure of mob assets, not only in Southern Italy but in the North and in other countries, is another way to hit hard at these groups, and the economy needs to offer young people an honest alternative to crime. Education and awareness-raising among politicians, average citizens and students are essential elements to any successful strategy against organized crime. The Italian Catholic Church can also play a more prominent role, as a couple of brave clerics have demonstrated. We can also publicly support grassroots strategies to foster a societal rejection of organized crime. ConGen Naples strongly supports OFAC’s decision to add the Ndrangheta to its Drug Kingpin list. End summary.
2. (C) The first two cables in this three-part series were descriptive, explaining how organized crime is the greatest threat to economic growth in Southern Italy. This message is prescriptive, proposing a multi-faceted approach to more effectively combat organized crime in Italy. Specifically, we propose consideration of the following tactics as part of a multi-faceted approach by the USG: — Publicly acknowleding both the scope of Italy’s organized crime problem and USG support for Italian efforts to combat it. — The committing of greater resources to law enforcement cooperation with Italy. — Fostering closer cooperation between Italian law enforcement officials and counterparts in other key countries. — Conveying to the GOI the view that it has far too few anti-Mafia magistrates in Calabria, home to the country’s largest criminal organization. — Pressing the GOI to root out corruption at its ports. — Cooperating more closely with Italy’s Central Bank, and pressing other countries (e.g., Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco) to cooperate more, in order to crack down on money laundering. — Working with the GOI to improve a flawed judicial system. If organized crime is to be brought under control, sentences must be tougher, appeals limited, and the judicial process made more efficient. Convicted prisoners cannot be set free because judges failed to complete paperwork on time. — Sharing the USG experience on penal institutions. One of Italy’s biggest problems is a lack of prisons, which means many of the accused are never jailed and many convicts are released far in advance of completing their sentences. — Giving more visible support for grassroots efforts to fight organized crime (e.g., groups in Sicily that are leading a public rebellion against paying extortion). — Helping raise public awareness about the deleterious effects of organized crime and how it has been dealt with in the United States. — Enlisting the assistance of the Roman Catholic Church to be more outspoken against organized crime. — Encouraging the GOI and EU to invest in infrastructure, particularly improvements to public security, in southern Italy and at the same time to tighten accountability for how this money is spent.
Why We Should Care
3. (SBU) The USG can and should become more engaged for several key reasons: — Drug trafficking by Italian mobs sends money to narcotraffickers (and thus indirectly to terrorist groups) in Colombia and Afghanistan, affecting U.S. national security. — A 2005 FBI intelligence assessment reported that “Criminal interaction between Italian organized crime and Islamic extremist groups provides potential terrorists with access to funding and logistical support from criminal organizations with established smuggling routes and an entrenched presence in the United States.” In a public statement given on April 19, 2004, Italy’s national anti-Mafia prosecutor, Pierluigi Vigna, indicated a link between Islamic militant groups and the Camorra, stating that evidence existed implicating the Camorra in an exchange of weapons for drugs with Islamic terrorist groups. — Counterfeiting and piracy of American-made products (particularly movies, music and software) directly impact U.S. economic interests. — Ties between Italian and U.S. organized crime mutually reinforce these groups. The links between the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the U.S. Mafia go back nearly a century, but the Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta also have affiliates in the United States, according to the FBI. — Amcit residents (including thousands of Navy personnel and their families in Campania and Sicily) and tourists are affected by street crime and potentially by the Campania waste crisis (which result in large part from organized crime — see reftels) and illegal toxic dumping in the region. — U.S. businesses that would like to invest in Southern Italy refrain from doing so because of concerns about organized crime. — Organized crime weakens an important ally politically, economically and socially.
Why Law Enforcement Alone is Not Enough
4. (U) In its efforts to defeat organized crime, the Italian government has been most successful in Apulia, where the Sacra Corona Unita has been mostly dismantled, and Sicily, where a multi-faceted approach has led to the arrests of dozens of Cosa Nostra bosses, important seizures of mob assets, and a growing rebellion by business owners against the protection racket. Law enforcement has been one of the keys to progress in Sicily, where authorities cracked down following the 1992 mob assassinations of anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Wiretapping, plea-bargaining agreements, the strengthening of a witness protection program, and greater security for judges and prosecutors have resulted in the apprehension of hundreds of Mafia members and associates. The captures of top bosses Toto Riina in 1993, Bernardo Provenzano in 2006, and Salvatore Lo Piccolo in 2007 proved to be significant blows to an organization built on a pyramidal hierarchy. However, law enforcement successes have not been the only factor in Sicily’s progress against organized crime. Sicilian citizens’ efforts to reject the Mafia are finally getting traction. The Industrialists Confederation (Confindustria) has started expelling members who have paid protection money and not complained to police. At least two new anti-racket NGOs have been formed, one by consumers and one by business owners (more below). And even the Church, long considered complicit for not refusing to preside at lavish Mafia funerals, has seen a bishop forced to seek police protection for just that.
5. (C) The situation is starkly different in Campania and Calabria. Because the Camorra in Campania is not one organization, but a multitude of armed gangs, there is no one boss whose capture could cause a significant blow to organized crime in the region. The war on the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria has been even more difficult. With members recruited on the basis of family ties, the ‘Ndrangheta is virtually impervious to police infiltration. “Every cell is composed of people who belong to family, and this is why there are no justice collaborators,” according to Nicola Gratteri, Calabria’s senior anti-Mafia prosecutor, who adds that only 42 turncoats have come from the ‘Ndrangheta, compared with 700 to 1,000 from the Cosa Nostra and 2,000 from the Camorra. It would be difficult to completely duplicate the Sicilian strategy in Campania and Calabria, but what is clear is that relying merely on arrests is not enough. As another anti-Mafia prosecutor, Catania-based Giuseppe Gennaro, told us, “You can apprehend mobsters, but most are released within five years.”
6. (C) Law enforcement alone, however, cannot solve Italy’s organized crime problem. Apulia’s success in dismantling Santa Corona Unita was certainly facilitated by economic development which offered its citizens an honest alternative; it is southern Italy’s principal economic success story (ref C). Cosenza sociology professor Giap Parini explained to us that any overall strategy must include political, economic, and socio-cultural components in addition to law enforcement elements. Banco di Napoli President Antonio Nucci told the CG that “the police can lock up all the people they want, but it won’t be enough if crime is the only job that pays.”
7. (SBU) A multi-faceted approach must necessarily include components designed to change public attitudes towards organized crime. Ivan Lo Bello, the President of the Sicilian Industrialists Confederation, told us in December 2007 that the first step is to “reject the fatalist perspective that things cannot change. To defeat the Mafia, you need society to band together. Sanction by society hurts more than sanction by the state. Gaining greater consensus is the solution, not bringing in the army.” With this in mind, the prescription must include education and awareness-raising, and support for grassroots organizations that are standing up to the criminals.
Law Enforcement Approaches
8. (C) As noted above, law enforcement successes have been one of the keys to the progress in Sicily. A February 2008 joint U.S.-Italian sting, called “Operation Old Bridge,” resulted in the arrests of over 80 suspects in the United States and over 30 in Sicily, and exposed attempts by the Cosa Nostra to reestablish ties with New York’s Gambino family that would have increased drug trafficking to Italy. Ironically, there are significantly more anti-Mafia prosecutors and magistrates in Sicily and Campania than in Calabria, where the largest and most dangerous mob, the ‘Ndrangheta, is based. The USG should consider: — Greater cooperation with Italian authorities (on the order of “Old Bridge”), committing more resources and intelligence-sharing to fighting the Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta; we could also foster much closer cooperation between Italian authorities and their counterparts in Colombia, Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Nigeria, Afghanistan and elsewhere. At least two prosecutors have complained to us about the ineffectiveness of authorities in Spain to combat drug trafficking by Italian and Spanish organized crime groups. (Comment: DEA, by contrast, has found Spain to be an outstanding partner in international drug investigations. The issue may be one of poor cooperation, rather than any lack of dedication or competence on either side. End comment.) — The need to impress on Italian authorities that far more law enforcement resources are needed in Calabria, including dramatically increased numbers of anti-Mafia judges and prosecutors. — Pressing Italian authorities to root out corruption at Italy’s ports. There are USG Container Security Initiative officials present at some ports, but they are focused on containers destined for the United States. Having seen the tight security at Calabria’s Gioia Tauro port (ref A), ConGen Naples believes that the reported in-flow of narcotics there can only be done with the assistance and complicity of corrupt personnel.
Financial and Economic Strategies
9. (C) Anti-Mafia prosecutor Gennaro believes that seizure of assets is a much more important weapon than arrests. “To defeat the Mafia, you have to attack their profits and investments,” he told us in Catania, Sicily in January 2008. Gennaro expressed frustration over the discovery that many banks in Italy do not report suspicious transactions to the Central Bank. It has also been very difficult for Italian authorities to obtain information from banking authorities in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Monaco, where Mafia members stash away their earnings in secret accounts. In February 2008, the Treasury Police in Sicily confiscated mob assets with an estimated worth of nearly 309 million euros (USD 487 million) — “a tremendous blow,” according to then-Interior Minister Giuliano Amato, one that could lead to “a crisis for the entire organization.”Unfortunately, confiscations of this sort happen much less frequently in Campania and Calabria, let alone in northern Italy, where much of the money laundering takes place. The USG should consider: — Working more closely with Italy’s Central Bank and Fiscal Police, perhaps via greater sharing of intelligence and information obtained from investigations, to identify organized crime assets and ensure that they are frozen or confiscated. — Adding all three major Italian mobs to the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s Drug Kingpin list. OFAC has included the ‘Ndrangheta on the Tier One list, which could eventually lead to sanctions on companies dealing with the organization and front companies that launder money. The ‘Ndrangheta is by all accounts one of Western Europe’s biggest drug trafficking groups, but the Cosa Nostra and Camorra are also heavily engaged in the narcotics trade. — Reinforcing and re-orienting existing programs such as the Partnership for Growth, to increase economic growth, which will create more well-paying alternatives to organized crime.
10. (C) In February 2008, the son of Cosa Nostra boss Toto Riina was released from jail under a law that frees those who have been held for five years without a trial, and a prosecutor was recently skewered by the press for allowing several Mafia cases to expire (resulting in the release of suspects). Naples-based former Senator Lorenzo Diana, an organized crime expert, believes that the Italian justice system needs quicker trials and stiffer sentences. And Gratteri (the top anti-Mafia rosecutor in Calabria) contends that, in order to bring down the ‘Ndrangheta, new legislation is needed. “We have no laws that are proportional to the force of the ‘Ndrangheta,” he told us, echoing Gennaro’s lament that well-behaved convicts can leave prison after five years. “I would like … [them] not to be released before 30 years.” Diana also believes the system that conducts background checks on those bidding on government contracts is not working. Unfortunately, the country’s politicians are not focused on these issues, as was clear from the March-April 2008 election campaign in which organized crime was barely mentioned. Strengthening the efficiency of the judiciary and its ability to impose stronger sentences should be a priority for the next parliament. Furthermore, Italy must improve civil and criminal courts to enforce commercial contracts, consumer protections, criminal law, health and safety standards, building codes, and general quality-of-life standards. As long as the court systems are dysfunctional, it will be impossible to reduce organized crime to a manageable level.
11. (C) We may also want to consider sharing with the GOI the U.S. experience in construction, management and privatization of prisons. One of the most serious issues facing Italian law enforcement is the lack of prisons. At the end of 2007, according to the Justice Ministry, Italian jails held 113 inmates for every 100 beds. In 2006, the GOI granted early release to several thousand convicts in an effort to alleviate the overcrowding; MOJ statistics show the recividism rate to be 31 percent. A Carabinieri colonel complained to the CG in April 2008 that police are frustrated by their inability to keep accused or suspected mobsters in jail because of the lack of cells.
Support for Grassroots Change
12. (C) Lo Bello, the President of the Sicilian Confindustria, took the bold step in September 2007 of instituting a policy (adopted by unanimous vote) of expelling members who have paid protection money to the Mafia and not complained to police. Since that time, around 35 members have been asked to leave the Confederation. This courageous move has been praised by business owners, the media and political leaders. Lo Bello told us in January 2008 that “The time has come [for Sicily] to move from an archaic, feudal past to modernity.” When we met with them in late 2007, the Calabrian Industrialists were much more timid, looking over their backs before telling us that the time is not right for business owners to take a public stand against extortion there. (In June 2006, one of the founders of the Calabria anti-racket association, Fedele Scarcella, was brutally assassinated; his charred corpse was discovered in his burned car in what authorities described as “very probably a Mafia homicide.”) Nonetheless, the media reported in March 2008 on talks between the two regions’ Industrialists Confederations on collaborating against organized crime. Lo Bello was quoted as declaring, “It may seem simple, but what has happened has changed the framework of the entire region: the idea that the fight against the Mafia cannot be delegated only to the State, but needs to include an assumption of responsibility on the part of Southern Italian society: in this case, the world of entrepreneurship.” Also in March, the Industrialists Confederation in Caserta (Campania) took initial steps toward a similar policy, drawing praise from the anti-Mafia prosecutor. Lo Bello hopes to enlist other business and trade associations to adopt similar rules. Unfortunately, most Sicilian business owners are still unwilling to complain about extortion. In May 2008, a prominent businessman, Vincenzo Conticello, who has refused to pay protection money for his Palermo focaccia restaurant, told the CG that he had heard (probably from his police escort) that of 170 companies named in the accounting books of apprehended Mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo, only three have owned up to it, while the others claim the accounts are in error.
13. (SBU) Sicilian businesses, emboldened by the arrests of top Mafia bosses, are openly defying the Mafia by signing on with a grassroots organization called “Addiopizzo” (Goodbye “Pizzo,” the Italian word for extortion payments), which brings together businesses in Palermo that are resisting extortion. The campaign was launched in 2004 by a group of youths thinking of opening a pub. They started off by plastering Palermo with anti-pizzo fliers, reading “AN ENTIRE PEOPLE THAT PAYS THE PIZZO IS A PEOPLE WITHOUT DIGNITY,” and eventually brought their campaign online where it struck a chord with Sicilians fed up with Mafia bullying. The rebellion has since spread to other strongholds of the most ruthless Mafia clans, including places such as Gela, an industrial coastal town, where some 80 business owners in recent months have denounced extortion attempts. This is a dramatic turn since the early 1990’s, when a Gela merchant who denounced extortion was slain by the Mafia, and a Gela car dealer, whose showroom was repeatedly torched, had to move his family and change his name after he testified in court. “Addiopizzo” has recently launched a supermarket selling products certified as being “pizzo” free, and maintains a public list on the internet of businesses rejecting extortion. Another NGO was launched last November by forty Sicilian business owners to assist entrepreneurs who refuse to pay extortion money. The group is called “Libero Futuro,” which translates “Free Future,” but also pays homage to Libero Grassi, a Sicilian businessman who was murdered in 1991 for refusing to pay protection money. In response to the organization’s founding, Palermo mayor Diego Cammarata promised 50,000 euros to assist merchants who have been victims of extortion. “This rebellion goes to the heart of the Mafia,” says Palermo prosecutor Maurizio De Lucia, who has investigated extortion cases for years. “If it works, we will have a great advantage in the fight against the Mafia.”
14. (SBU) For authorities battling the ‘Ndrangheta, a welcome ally has been “Ammazzateci Tutti,” (“Kill Us All”) formed three years ago by fed-up young people in the wake of the mob assassination of Calabria regional Vice President Fortugno. In a recent news interview, Bruno Marino, a student whose father was killed by the ‘Ndrangheta, likened the ‘Ndrangheta to “an octopus that tries to control everything and to kill all of the fish.” Since its founding, Ammazzateci Tutti has held regular demonstrations designed to pressure the Italian state into taking action against the ‘Ndrangheta. In February 2007, a protest in Reggio Calabria drew thousands into the streets. Later in the year, the group staged regular protests against the government’s pending transfer of Luigi De Magistris, an anti-Mafia prosecutor investigating links between politicians and the ‘Ndrangheta. “Ammazzateci Tutti is a message that expresses both hope and challenge to the ‘Ndrangheta, saying, ‘See if you have enough lead to kill us all,’ ” according to Aldo Pecora, a law student and spokesman for the group. “It is also a challenge to normal people to rebel against the the ‘Ndrangheta.” These groups are having an impact, but they remain fledgling organizations with little official backing. The USG can lend public support to these groups (a member of Addiopizzo, for example, was selected for the State Department’s International Visitor program.)
Education and Public Awareness
15. (SBU) Many of our interlocutors believe that the long-term solution to organized crime is education. This means breaking the pervasive culture of organized crime which controls societies through power and fear. It means destroying the glamorous image that young people have of Mafia bosses and more openly and directly supporting those who defy the Mafia. It means getting consumers to realize that the prices of a bottle of olive oil, a jar of tomato sauce, a bottle of wine – the staples of Italian life — have been inflated by organized crime, or that the products themselves have been adulterated by the same sources. It also means breaking the culture of illegality that is so rampant in Southern Italy but also felt countrywide; that is, the blatant disregard for the law by average citizens and the lack of a sense of civic responsibility. Naples Chief Prosecutor GianDomenico Lepore told the CG — while lighting a cigar in a no-smoking office to underscore his point — that Neapolitans have something “in their DNA” that causes them to react to any law by breaking it. Campania Carabinieri General Franco Mottola told the CG that the Camorra exploits a general atmosphere of delinquency in Naples. He suggested the change needed to start in the schools, but added that first teacher training would be required (“they can’t teach what they don’t know”). We could perhaps encourage the Italian government to make greater outreach efforts in poor neighborhoods, and to offer alternatives to a life of crime for young people. There is a conspicuous lack of a visible police presence throughout Naples, and there have been countless cases of Neapolitans protecting criminals from police trying to apprehend them.
16. (U) Instead of Mafia dons, those fighting them need to be regarded as the real role models. Roberto Saviano, whose book “Gomorrah” was an international best-seller in 2007, may be well on his way. He appears regularly in print and broadcast media as not just an authority on the mob, but more importantly as a moral compass for those willing to listen. The film version, released in May 2008, will probably have an even bigger impact, as it underscores the Camorra’s influence in toxic waste dumping and features hip young actors and a score by popular musicians. Saviano’s book and the film (for which he wrote the screenplay) are also keys to convincing Italians that organized crime is not just a southern problem, but an Italian problem. When asked how the USG could best assist in the fight against organized crime beyond law enforcement cooperation, Saviano told the CG in April 2008, “Just talking about it, you give the issue a credibility that the rest of the world, including the Italians, cannot ignore.
The Role of the Church
17. (C) The Italian Catholic Church has often come under fire for not taking a stronger public stance against organized crime. One of the few priests who have, Father Luigi Merola, is now under police escort after working against the Camorra in the poor Naples neighborhood of Forcella. In February 2008, he inaugurated a foundation for at-risk youth in the confiscated villa of a former Camorra boss. ConGen Naples and local U.S. Navy personnel are lending their support to the foundation by volunteering to teach English, build sports facilities and coach the kids who participate in the foundation’s programs, which are designed to offer the kids an alternative to crime. Another Church official, Bishop Michele Pennisi of Piazza Armerina in Sicily, is also under police escort after refusing to preside over funerals of mafiosi. We may want to consider seeking greater Church cooperation against organized crime, perhaps through channels at the Holy See or with Italian Church leaders.
“Heal the Periphery” – Improve Infrastructure
18. (SBU) The GOI and European Union should be encouraged to review the way public money is invested in Southern Italy. As noted in ref B, infrastructure contracts often wind up going to mob-owned businesses, who steal millions while building sub-standard roads, tunnels, bridges and public housing. Instead, recommends Naples-based former Senator Diana, “Heal the periphery. Take ten places and invest 100 – 200 million euros in them.” He says that money could be spent building parks and improving security (e.g., with lighting and video cameras), creating conditions unfavorable to organized crime.
19. (C) Comment: Although law enforcement, business associations, citizens’ groups, and the church, at least in some locations, are demonstrating promising engagement in fighting organized crime, the same cannot be said of Italy’s politicians, particularly at the national level. As Roberto Saviano has reminded us, the subject was virtually absent from the March-April election campaign. At the national level it is generally referred to, if at all, as a “southern” issue, although it affects the entire country and although the South’s criminal organizations have made worrying advances in the North. Even in Sicily, where regional elections were precipitated by former governor Cuffaro’s conviction for Mafia-related crimes, discussion of crime was not a major part of the campaign (and Cuffaro was elected to the Senate). We should work to convey to Italy’s new government that organized crime is a serious USG priority, and that the dramatic economic costs of organized crime present a convincing argument for immediate action. However, we should not limit our support for Italy’s organized crime efforts to private conversations; on the contrary, our public advocacy for the efforts of Confindustria, Addiopizzo, Church clerics, and others will give them both greater visibility and enhanced credibility, just as many Italians ignored the impressive innovations of their own research institutions before the Mission’s Partnership for Growth program began to champion them. End comment.
20. (U) This three-part cable series was coordinated with and cleared by relevant agencies and sections in Embassies Rome and Vatican.
1. (SBU) Summary: If it were not part of Italy, Calabria would be a failed state. The ‘Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate controls vast portions of its territory and economy, and accounts for at least three percent of Italy’s GDP (probably much more) through drug trafficking, extortion and usury. Law enforcement is severely hampered by a lack of both sources and resources. Calabrians have a reputation as a distant, difficult people, and their politicians are widely viewed as ineffective. Much of the region’s industry collapsed over a decade ago, leaving environmental and economic ruin. The region comes in last place in nearly every category of national economic assessments. Most of the politicians we met with on a recent visit were fatalistic, of the opinion that there was little that could be done to stop the region’s downward economic spiral or the stranglehold of the ‘Ndrangheta. A few others disingenuously suggested that organized crime is no longer a problem. Nearly every interlocutor complained that the region lacks a civil society. Amid the doom and gloom, there are a few positive signs, nearly all from young people. This most problematical of Italy’s regions will continue to be a drag on the country until the national government devotes the necessary attention and resources to solving these thorny problems. End summary.
2. (U) Calabria, the foot and toe of the Italian boot, is beset by seemingly intractable problems. During a November 17-20 visit to all five provinces, virtually every interlocutor painted a picture of a region of weak and corrupt government, throttled by the iron grip of Western Europe’s largest and most powerful organized crime syndicate, the ‘Ndrangheta. The formal economy is in a shambles, with GDP per capita only half that of northern regions and official unemployment rates over 20 percent. No one believes the central government has much, if any, control of Calabria, and local politicians are uniformly seen as ineffective and/or corrupt. If Calabria were not part of Italy, it would be a failed state.
Catanzaro: “We Are Used to Organized Crime”
3. (C) We spent our first night in the bleak and chaotic regional capital of Catanzaro, where, after repeatedly declining our requests for an appointment over the course of a year, the Regional President, Agazio Loiero, finally received us. Loiero complained about the region’s negative image and noted that organized crime, relatively inaccessible markets and poor infrastructure combine to discourage investment in the region. The perceived high risk of investing in Calabria has also meant higher interest rates for entrepreneurs. However, Loiero was unable to offer any solution to the region’s difficulties, other than an idea to make low-interest loans available to small and medium enterprises with EU structural funds. When the CG asked how Loiero envisioned utilizing the nearly 14 million euros that the EU has allocated for Calabria, the President gave a vague reply and changed the subject. When the CG asked whether Sicily, where citizens’ and industrialists’ associations have joined law enforcement in actively opposing organized crime,could serve as a model for Calabria, Loiero responded, “We are the real island.”
4. (C) We got an even more downbeat assessment from Catanzaro’s chief prosecutor, Antonio Lombardo. Lombardo echoed what we had heard from other prosecutors about the difficulty of combating the ‘Ndrangheta: its family-based structure and the lack of informers make it nearly impossible to penetrate. He bitterly complained about the lack of funding and personnel resources in a province where organized crime seems to control almost every facet of society. Only 12 of the 18 prosecutor positions are currently filled, and there are only five anti-Mafia prosecutors; Lombardo bemoaned that few magistrates seek assignment to Calabria and the central judicial authorities do not consider it a priority to fill the vacant positions. He added that his office does not even have the resources for an effective wiretapping program. Organized crime is not considered an emergency in Italy, Lombardo observed: “It is a stable factor in our country. We are accustomed to losing part of our GDP to organized crime and we factor it in to our economic planning.” In Calabria it is nearly impossible to avoid paying extortion or collaborating with the ‘Ndrangheta, he went on; “People are victims and accomplices at the same time.” While not denying the importance of law enforcement, Lombardo said that in an ideal environment it should have a marginal role. “We are no substitute for a clean and civil society and well-managed businesses.
” Vibo Valentia: An “Indifferent Society”
5. (C) The Prefect of Vibo Valentia province, Ennio Sodano, has practically written Calabria off. In his view, “the entire Calabrian society is involved” in perpetuating an intractable situation. “Business owners pay extortion, but don’t complain. They don’t pay their taxes,” he said. “It’s a cultural problem, this indifferent society.” Sodano was highly critical of the lack of vision for spending the EU structural funds. He made no bones of his desire to transfer out of Calabria at the first opportunity.
6. (C) The mayor of Vibo Valentia apparently hoped our meeting would yield nothing more substantive than a photo op. He and his coterie clearly became uneasy when the CG asked how the city is confronting the problem of organized crime, and he continually tried to steer the conversation to more superficial topics. The Provincial President was not much more communicative, never speaking above a whisper.
7. (C) The regional president of the national environmental NGO Legambiente, Nino Morabito, who met us in Vibo, opined that Calabria has very few good politicians — and none in leadership positions. Like Campania, Calabria has also experienced illegal dumping of toxic waste on its territory, but because the population is smaller, it often goes unnoticed. A lot of illegal waste comes into Calabria not by land but by sea. One of the issues Legambiente is following closely is the almost ubiquitous illegal construction along the coast. The week before our visit, the Legambiente representative in Vibo Valentia had his car set on fire, presumably to intimidate him from denouncing the rampant zoning and construction violations occurring in the province. He was able to extinguish the burning vehicle just before the fire spread to his house.
“Now Kill Us All”
8. (U) The morning of November 19, we traveled to the town of Polistena to meet with about 30 members of the group “Ammazzateci Tutti” — “Now Kill Us All,” so named in defiance of the ‘Ndrangheta following the 2005 mob assassination of Calabria regional Vice President Francesco Fortugno. The young people had traveled from all over the region to meet with us. Since its founding, Ammazzateci Tutti has held regular demonstrations designed to pressure the Italian state into taking action against the ‘Ndrangheta; in February 2007, a protest in Reggio Calabria drew thousands into the streets. One of the group’s organizers, law student Aldo Pecora, observed that organized crime and Masonic societies control virtually every facet of society, including the economic and political systems. He asserted that the ‘Ndrangheta may be viewed as the armed forces of powerful people. Unlike the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, he said, the ‘Ndrangheta has close ties to Calabrian government structures. The group formally asked the CG to “save Calabria.”
“Children of Pythagoras”
9. (U) Our next stop was Crotone, on the Ionian coast, where some 2,500 years ago Pythagoras taught math at one of the premier universities of the Ancient Greek world. Today Crotone is beset by economic and environmental ruin after its three factories shut down in the 1990’s, leaving behind industrial slag and an unemployment rate of 24 percent. The local director of the Industrialists’ Federation (Confindustria) pointed out that Crotone has the lowest income per capita of any province in Italy. The mayor and city council president told us that the city is trying to increase tourism by promoting the area’s Greek heritage. “We are the children of Pythagoras,” the city council president said proudly. But the officials observed that a major cleanup of the former industrial sites is a prerequisite; contaminated with millions of tons of industrial zinc and other waste, these sites are opposite a major archeological zone. They expressed concern about awarding a contract for the cleanup, given the pervasive presence of organized crime. At our meeting with the provincial president we noted the innovative technology of the California-based company, AdaptiveArc, which may be the ideal solution for Crotone’s environmental cleanup, and which already has attracted potential waste-to-energy contracts in Cosenza and Vibo Valentia. In the evening, the CG addressed the local Rotary Club, reiterating that the United States is an engaged and dependable partner in a wide range of challenges from economic development to organized crime, but no one but the Calabrians themselves can create a civil society in their territory.
10. (U) American business interests are limited. General Electric has a small plant (producing air coolers and steam condensers) in Vibo Valentia, and the provincial president unrealistically hopes to get a second one. The savvy general manager of one of the best hotels in the region has spent two years and over one million euros to obtain authorizations for a five-star Marriott resort on the Tyrrhenian coast, but has been waiting for months for a ministry in Rome to move the necessary paper. (Embassy Rome is assisting.) AdaptiveArc’s gasification plants are the only other potential investments on the horizon.
11. (SBU) We had a useful meeting with the Calabria Confindustria young entrepreneurs in Catanzaro, where the CG explained many of the Mission’s initiatives to promote innovation and growth. Unfortunately, an expected with regional Confindustria president Umberto de Rose was canceled – the third time he has missed a meeting with the CG. The local Confindustria director in Crotone told us that de Rose has not taken a strong stand against members who pay extortion (unlike in Sicily, where Confindustria expels those who do) because he considers them to be victims who need support rather than expulsion. She added that law enforcement successes have not been as numerous in Calabria as in Sicily, and therefore business owners do not feel so bold. A year ago, when the CG met with Confindustria members in Reggio Calabria, and asked whether they were prepared to follow the Sicily’s lead, he received a decidedly nervous reaction.
12. (C) Tourism remains one of the region’s hopes, despite inadequate infrastructure (the Salerno-Reggio Calabria highway has been under construction for decades and rail connections to and from anywhere off the Tyrrhenian coast are terrible), environmental degradation, and organized crime. A year ago the CG suggested that the President of the Province of Reggio Calabria talk to tour operators representing the booming U.S. cruise ship industry, whose thousands of customers regularly call at Sicilian ports, just across the Strait of Messina, about including a day in Reggio to see the prized Greek bronze statues and perhaps visit the archaeological site of Locri. The President’s response was, “What’s a tour operator?” When asked by Confindustria’s young entrepreneurs in Catanzaro how to attract U.S. tourists, the CG emphasized the need for the region to create a tourist identity, a brand that would set it apart from dozens of other possible destinations.
Not Entirely Hopeless
13. (C) Despite the myriad difficulties facing the region, not everything is doom and gloom in Calabria. During our November 17 stop in Cosenza, the CG discussed the U.S. elections with a group of smart, articulate and well-prepared political science students at the University of Calabria, one of the few bright spots in the region and where post has established a strong relationship (the university is also developing an innovative technology transfer center, about which Regional President Loiero surprisingly seemed to know nothing). Our final stop, on November 20 in the town of San Giovanni in Fiore, was an unexpected and welcome ray of hope. The town was home to Gioacchino da Fiore, the medieval theologian whose message of hope President-elect Obama repeatedly mentioned during the recent campaign, leading the town to invite him to visit. The remarkably upbeat, dynamic mayor had just returned from the U.S., where he negotiated a simulation training center for doctors and nurses with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (which already runs the highly successful ISMETT transplant center in Palermo). The city of 19,000 has a small but active American center, where our AmCit warden serves residents and visitors alike, and where the city offers English lessons to young and old.
14. (C) Comment: Throughout Calabria, we heard the same laments over and over: the ‘Ndrangheta calls the shots and there is little hope for the region. The lack of optimism has resulted in a continuous brain drain, with the best and brightest young people emigrating to the North or to other countries in search of opportunity. As was the case during our previous visits to Calabria, we were struck by the lack of vision and energy on the part of its politicians (see refs A and D). Indeed, if Calabria’s problems are going to be solved, it will take a concerted effort by the central government to reclaim the region as part of the Italian state. While law enforcement successes (which so far have been modest) would no doubt contribute, there also needs to be a revolution in the way Calabrians themselves view organized crime, corruption and above all civil society. We can help — by encouraging the young members of Ammazeteci Tutti, by spreading our message of shared values, and by implementing USG initiatives such as Mission Italy’s Partnership for Growth. In the absence of strong government and institutions, we need to network with non-governmental interlocutors; we productively used this trip to identify an important array of new audiences. But unless the central government gives greater priority to the region, Calabria will continue to be a drain on the national economy and a territory in the hands of extortionists and drug smugglers.
1. (C) Summary: As host to an important U.S. Navy base, location of recently discovered gas reserves, and home to 17,000 U.S. citizens, Sicily’s future is clearly of interest to the United States. For now, political feuding has replaced the war on organized crime in the headlines: Regional President Raffaele Lombardo dissolved the regional cabinet on May 25 after months of tensions with his coalition partner, Prime Minister Berlusconi’s party. The rocky relations between Palermo and Rome have resulted in Berlusconi’s blockage of four billion euros in EU structural funds for the region. Political grandstanding blocked an American gas drilling operation last year, and threatens to at least delay an important U.S. Navy satellite communications system. However, the major challenge to economic development remains the Mafia, which may well be the principal beneficiary if the bridge over the Strait of Messina, talked about for centuries, is eventually built. A variety of interlocutors in several Sicilian cities told us during recent visits that the grip of organized crime has loosened through a combination of law enforcement success and civil society rebellion against the Cosa Nostra. Anti-Mafia prosecutors are optimistic they can continue to make progress against the mob, but note that ongoing budgetary and personnel constraints (particularly the difficulty in filling magistrate positions) hamper their effectiveness. The one exception we have heard to the optimistic outlook is from a journalist under police protection from the mob, who believes that most anti-Mafia measures have been superficial and have not taken root in society. End summary.
Crossroads of the Mediterranean
2. (SBU) Sicily — the largest island in the Mediterranean and Italy’s fourth-most populous region — is in some ways a world unto itself. At a strategic maritime crossroads, throughout history it has been conquered and occupied by virtually every Mediterranean power. Its geographical position may have contributed to a historical sense of psychological separation from mainland Italy, manifested today in a thriving local dialect and the homegrown political party that now holds the power in the regional government, the Movement for Autonomies (MPA). It is also the region in our consular district that has seen the most success in battling organized crime (reftel A), with numerous arrests of high-level mobsters in the last 16 years and a growing number of anti-extortion NGOs making headlines. Sicily also has the highest official unemployment rate and highest poverty rate of any Italian region. Its importance to the United States is clear: Sicily hosts the U.S. Navy’s Sigonella Naval Air Station (the second-busiest military air station in Europe); several American companies have substantial direct investments there, including IBM, Wyeth and Exxon-Mobil; and the region hosts large natural gas deposits.
Prosecutors Understaffed and Underfunded
3. (C) During two recent ConGen 2009 visits to Sicily, anti-Mafia prosecutors in Palermo, Caltanissetta and Trapani — three of the four anti-Mafia judicial districts in the region — told us they are optimistic that they are winning the battle against organized crime. Without exception, they praised cooperation with U.S. law enforcement, noting that there are still strong ties between the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and American organized crime groups. Antonio Ingroia, a prosecutor in Palermo, noted happily that Sicilian schools are now conducting anti-Mafia awareness programs, and anti-extortion movements (such as the Industrialists Confederation and the NGO “Addio Pizzo” — see ref A) are having a positive effect. Nonetheless, all is not rosy: like their colleagues in other parts of southern Italy, the prosecutors complained that they are understaffed and underfunded. Indeed, over a quarter of the anti-Mafia magistrate positions are vacant in Palermo, and only three of seven positions are filled in Caltanissetta. Palermo’s Prosecutor-in-Chief, Francesco Messineo, told the CG that 14 of 64 overall prosecutor positions (not just anti-Mafia) there are unfilled, and the understaffing is likely to continue for at least four years. Ingroia opined that his team had been a victim of its own success; the central government, believing the Sicilian Mafia to be reeling from so many arrests, has cut the budget for investigators there. Sergio Lari, the chief anti-Mafia prosecutor in Caltanissetta, noted that investigators have to “beg for gasoline” for official vehicles. Prosecutors are also deeply concerned over GOI proposals to limit wiretapping, which they feel is one of their most important weapons in the fight against organized crime.
Reasons to be Optimistic….
4. (SBU) The Sicilian Mafia’s principal activities are drug trafficking, extortion, rigging of public contracts and trafficking in persons, though the mob has also invested heavily in legal enterprises in the construction and food industries, and more recently, wind energy. In recent years, law enforcement authorities have shifted their focus from merely arresting mobsters to also seizing their assets — a strategy described by all our contacts as a powerful tool. However, local politicians complain that the average time to convert seized assets into legitimate uses is fifteen years; last November at the opening of a rural hotel and restaurant in a former Mafia villa, Interior Minister Maroni pledged to introduce legislation to streamline the process. The Palermo anti-Mafia prosecutors group now has a special unit dedicated to investigating economic and financial crimes; if successful, this experimental unit may be replicated in other parts of the country. In addition to asset seizures, investigators spend more time than ever following money-laundering trails, which used to be local but are now international. Palermo Chief Prosecutor Messineo asserted that with the Cosa Nostra’s leadership behind bars, the organization’s economic troubles are such that it is having difficulty making support payments to family members. 5. (C) A young anti-Mafia activist, Andrea Cottone, told us in Palermo that a bolder generation is coming of age in Sicily. The spectacular public assassinations of two anti-Mafia prosecutors in 1992 left their imprint on those who were then children and are now young adults. Cottone firmly believes that this generation will lead the societal rebellion against extortion. Democratic Party (center-left) national Senator Beppe Lumia, who sits on the parliamentary Anti-Mafia Committee, asserted that the state is winning the “military” war against the Cosa Nostra, but had to do a better job on the political and economic fronts. He, too, was heartened by civil society movements against organized crime. Chief Prosecutor Messineo reported that there have been no verified mob-related killings in Palermo in two years, in contrast to the long-time average of 60 or 70 per year.
….But Not Over-Optimistic
6. (C) Other interlocutors cautioned against over-optimistic assessments. Pietro Vento, the director of Demopolis, Sicily’s best-known polling organization, reported to us that 80 percent of Sicilian businesses still pay extortion, and only a handful of businesses owners are actually standing up to the Mafia. (He said that most businesses that do not pay do so because they are not asked for the “pizzo” not out of a brave act of refusal.) Trapani Chief Prosecutor Giacomo Bodero Maccabeo told the CG that the environment of “unemployment, fear and ignorance” provided ample breeding ground for organized crime. According to Maccabeo, Trapani’s cement and concrete industries are dominated by the Mafia, and he had personally ordered the seizure of sixteen production plants. He told the CG that organized crime tries to rig all public works contracts, and that the mob has a virtual monopoly on what little employment there is in the area. Lirio Abbate, a Palermo journalist who has exposed mob activities and lives under police escort after authorities uncovered a plot to kill him, was even more downbeat. Abbate is convinced that the Cosa Nostra is not in decline, and asserted that the civil society rebellion is actually very small and has little effect. As an example, he cited the regional Industrialists Confederation, which in September 2007 adopted a highly publicized policy to expel members who pay extortion. Abbate stated that, despite announcements to the contrary, the Confederation has not expelled a single member, even though it has evidence that many of its members are cooperating with the Mafia. He added that acts of arson against non-payers are almost daily events, but receive little publicity. Abbate also railed against corruption in Sicilian politics, accusing all political parties of having ties to organized crime, an observation echoed by the prosecutors in Caltanissetta. They told us that although the Cosa Nostra controls a relatively small percentage of votes, it is enough to tip elections in favor of their preferred candidates in most cases. In January 2008, then-regional president Salvatore Cuffaro was convicted of aiding the Mafia and sentenced to five years in prison; he was also barred for life from holding public office (ref B). Cuffaro promptly appealed, after a much-publicized “celebration” with a tray of cannoli, and while waiting for the decision (still pending, a year-and-a-half later), won election to the national Senate.
7. (C) Cuffaro’s successor is the Catania-born founder of the Movement for Autonomy (MPA), Raffaele Lombardo, whom several contacts described as a conventional politician who effectively doles out patronage for support. The MPA, founded in 2005, seeks to give Italy’s regions greater autonomy, and in particular to “restore” to Sicily and the South their “guiding role” for the Mediterranean countries. Lombardo — who sees himself as the South’s counterpart to the Northern League’s Umberto Bossi — allegedly wants to expand his sphere of influence by founding a new party called the Party of the South (PDS), but is unlikely to find support from other southern regions. Lombardo came to power in coalition with the PDL, but the lack of any common ideology or interests quickly led to an open breach between them. The MPA has openly opposed Rome’s anti-immigration policies (refs C-D), and is currently holding up the installation of a GOI-approved U.S. Navy satellite communications system near the town of Niscemi. The latter was opposed by a group of local mayors, who have successfully used local media to spread conjectures — unsupported even by scientists brought in by the mayors as experts — that the installation poses grave environmental health risks to the local population. (Note: U.S. Navy studies, which have been validated by the Italian Ministry of Defense, make clear that the electromagnetic emissions of the proposed antennae fall well below Italian and EU limits. End note.) Sicily’s regional minister for environment has delayed granting approval to operate pending further environmental impact analysis, but the Consulate continues to press for resolution. The disinformation campaign by the local mayors parallels a successful campaign a year ago to block natural gas drilling by Texas-based Panther Eureka Gas in the province of Ragusa, after the regional government had initially approved the environmental impact assessment and granted an exploration license. Local mayors blocked drilling through a series of unsubstantiated but successful court suits, alleging the drilling would damage the area’s cultural heritage; as a result Panther has all but stopped operations after the delays cost the company hundreds of thousands of euros.
8. (C) Lombardo’s Sicily-first approach means he has little time for foreign officials; in his previous position as President of the Province of Catania he granted the CG a five-minute courtesy call, and as President of the Region has declined to receive either Ambassador Spogli or the current Charge on trips to Palermo, to the chagrin of his staff. The feud between Lombardo and the PDL is also fueled by personality clashes between Lombardo and Italian Senate President Renato Schifani, Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, and Regional Assembly President Francesco Cascio (all PDL). On May 25, two weeks before elections for the European Parliament, Lombardo dissolved his cabinet; according to press reports, the move came in reaction to an interview by Berlusconi with local Sicilian television indicating that four billion euros in structural funds for the region, which have been blocked in Rome for five months, would only be delivered when it is certain they will be spent for structural improvements and not current expenses. A concurrent strike by Palermo garbage collectors added to the political turmoil; several people were arrested in early June for setting fire to the mounds of trash piled up on the city streets, and Berlusconi dispatched his top emergency official to the area to try to prevent a health emergency. The Demopolis pollster Vento told us that despite the bad blood between MPA and PDL, both parties will continue to garner strong support at the expense of the center-left. Lombardo is expected to patch up his differences with Berlusconi in the near future now that the elections for the European Parliament, in which Lombardo’s MPA ran in coalition with several minor parties.
9. (C) Not all of Sicily’s politicians are embroiled in controversy, and some have publicly stood up to the Mafia. The mayor of the mob-controlled town of Gela (and successful PD candidate for the European Parliament) is under police protection after Prosecutor Lari’s team discovered a Cosa Nostra assassination plot. Antonino Iannazzo, the PDL mayor of Corleone, a town whose name is synonymous with the Mafia, is also working to eradicate the scourge of organized crime. He told us that law enforcement authorities have had tremendous success in recent years against the infamous Corleonese mob, to the astonishment of older residents who had insisted that change was impossible. Iannazzo tirelessly promotes law and order in his territory, and has formed a consortium with nearby municipalities to make the best use of property confiscated from the Mafia. Homes formerly belonging to captured mob bosses Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano are being used as recreation centers for youth and disabled people, and another property is now a cooperative producing “Mafia-free” wine. Iannazzo is overseeing the implementation of one of his own ideas – the conversion of a former mob boss’s home into a “Museum of Legality,” due to open in Fall 2009. He also claims to be very meticulous in excluding mafiosi or those paying extortion from bidding on public contracts.
Catania: The Wild East
10. (C) In Sicily’s second-biggest city and busiest commercial center (as well as the city closest to the USN’s Sigonella Naval Air Station), Catania, the provincial Treasury Police commander, General Ignazio Gibilaro, told us that organized crime continues to thrive on the eastern side of the island. Catania is a final destination for narcotics (which, he noted, are trafficked into Italy by the ‘Ndrangheta across the strait in Calabria and distributed in Catania by the Cosa Nostra), weapons and contraband. General Gibilaro noted that the Mafia is less hierarchical in Catania than in the rest of the region, and thus gang wars between different mob factions are commonplace his district, and weapons have become more potent and prevalent in recent years. Fraud, rigging of public contracts and money laundering are also lucrative activities in Catania. In fact, crime has increased so much that the Treasury Police decided to upgrade the rank of the provincial commander position to general from colonel (Gibilaro, recently arrived, is the first general to oversee the province). The Treasury Police also have a full-time dedicated task force to protect intellectual property rights; in the past year, this group has been among the most active and most successful in southern Italy in confiscating pirated and counterfeit products, a large proportion of which are American brands of clothing and shoes.
The Bridge to More Organized Crime
11. (C) Berlusconi has announced his intention to revive the long-talked-about bridge over the Strait of Messina as a major public works project to create jobs and improve Sicily’s infrastructure. Although polls indicate that the project enjoys widespread support both in Calabria and Sicily, there is enormous concern that the contracts and sub-contracts will end up enriching the Mafias on both sides of the Strait. The prefect of Reggio Calabria recently told the CG that the bidding process would have to be “armored,” but that it could be kept perfectly clean. However, the prefect of Messina acknowledged that the bridge, which is supposed to link “insular” Sicily to the “developed” mainland, could end up having the counter-productive effect of bringing Sicily, which has comparatively done a better job of tackling organized crime than Calabria, physically and psychologically closer to the `Ndrangheta, Europe’s most dangerous organized crime syndicate. Given the endless delays which have plagued construction of the Salerno-Reggio Calabria highway, still unfinished after several decades, the bridge over the Strait is not going to be constructed anytime soon, and will serve little purpose without massive investments in road and rail infrastructure in both Sicily and Calabria, both of which are substandard.
12. (C) Comment: The law enforcement success in recent years against the Cosa Nostra has been crucial to Sicily‘s undeniable progress. Twenty years ago, politicians would never have dared stand up to the Mafia — their chances of being assassinated would have been far greater than their chances of being elected. The ability of anti-Mafia activists to open “extortion-free” businesses in Sicily and the existence of a public debate over how to defeat organized crime are clear signs that Sicilian society is changing. The situation has improved, but it is evident that the Cosa Nostra is far from defeated, and in places such as Trapani still has a stranglehold on the local society. In addition to organized crime, Sicily suffers from the same problems as the rest of Italy’s South: bad government, crooked politicians, relatively little industry, and a brain drain as university graduates leave to seek employment in greener pastures. Sicily has made progress in many ways in recent years, but the change is plainly more of an evolution than a revolution. All in all, we tend to side with the optimists, and believe that it is in USG interest to actively support civil society initiatives against organized crime and to press the GOI to expand funding for anti-Mafia investigations and prosecutions.