The Mafia in Sicily

Sicily is the motherland of the Mafia. It is a beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea infested with unlimited series of vendettas, crimes and assassinations. The Sicilian Mafia is a loose confederation of about one hundred Mafia Families. Every single Mafia Family claims sovereignty over a territory, usually a town or village or a neighborhood of a larger city even though they never completely conquered and legitimized their0 monopoly of violence by fully eradicating all other Mafia Families. For many years, single Mafia Families were the sole ruling bodies, and they have remained the real centers of power even after the creation of subordinate bodies in the 1950s like the Sicilian Mafia Commission.

Many Sicilians did not regard these men as mere criminals but as role models for the people to follow and imitate; and as protectors, given that the ruling government appeared to offer no protection for the oppressed, poor and weak. Even in the 1950s, many people were still of the opinion that the Mafia was not criminal, but stood for respect of the law, defense of all rights and greatness of character. In Sicily, “Mafia” once meant something like pride, honor, and even social responsibility. It was like an attitude-cum-organization. Being a mafioso, also meant being honorable, noble and generous.

After the Revolution of 1848 and the revolution of 1860, Sicily had fallen prey to complete disorder, chaos and anarchy. The earliest Mafia Families who at that time were small bands of outlaws offered to fight in the in the revolt. The main reasons for this were believed to be the chance to burn police records and evidence and to kill off police and witnesses in the chaos. Unfortunately, a new government was established in Rome and it became impossible for the mafia to carry out these actions without state prosecution and retaliation. As a result, they began refining their methods and techniques over the latter half of the nineteenth century. Protecting the large lemon groves and huge estates of local nobility became a lucrative but dangerous business. Palermo, the capital of Sicily, was initially the main area of these activities, but the Sicilian mafia’s dominance soon spread all over Sicily. In order to strengthen the bond between the separate Mafia Families and to ensure greater profits and a safer working environment for all, it is possible that the Mafia as it is today was formed in about the mid-19th century.

In 1860, the new unified Italian state took over both Sicily and the Papal States. As a result, the Popes were hostile to the state. In 1870, the Pope declared himself to be besieged by the Italian state and strongly encouraged faithful Catholics to refuse to cooperate with the state. However this did not result in violence in Sicily. The friction and resentment between the Church and the state gave a great advantage and opportunity to the Mafia in Sicily who claimed to the ordinary people that cooperating with the police who worked for the state was an anti-Catholic activity. Protection rackets, cattle rustling and bribery of state officials were the main sources of income and protection for the early Mafia. The Mafia also borrowed from masonic oaths and rituals, such as the famous initiation ceremony.

During the Fascist period in Italy, Cesare Mori, prefect of Palermo, used the special powers granted to him to prosecute the Mafia Families, forcing many Mafiosi to flee abroad or risk being jailed. Many of the Mafiosi emigrated to the United States. The Fascist authorities declared that the Mafia had been vanquished. Though the Mafia had been severely weakened, it had not been defeated as claimed. Many Mafiosi were arrested and many were killed in the violence. People suspected to be involved with the Mafia were arrested and imprisoned without fair trials. The Mafia was in a extremely dire situation and most of its activities were at a standstill.

After Fascism, the Mafia did not become powerful in Italy again until after the country’s surrender in World War 2 and the U.S. occupation of Italy. The United States used Italian connections of the American Mafia Families during the invasion of Italy and Sicily in 1943. The American Mafia Families provided information for U.S. military intelligence and used its influence to ease the way for advancing troops. There arrested comrades and brethren were released as a result. Furthermore, the Mafia’s control of the ports prevented sabotage by any of the enemy agents.

Some say that the U.S. deliberately allowed the Mafia to recover its social and economic position as the “anti-State” in Sicily, and with the U.S.- mafia alliance forged in the invasion of 1943, this became the turning point in the history of the Mafia. Others believe that the Mafia exploited the chaos of post-fascist Sicily to reconquer its social base like had been done before on previous occasions and there was no U.S. – Mafia alliance.

After the invasion of Italy, the Americans were looking for governors and state administrators. They were wrongly told by their Sicilian Mafia comrades who had helped in the invasion that the arrested Mafiosi were hard-line anti-fascists who had refused to yield even under torture. They were therefore seen as potential governors and were appointed by the Americans as mayors of towns and to important government posts.

There was a serious internal conflict within the Mafia in the early 1980s which resulted in large scale fighting among the Mafia Families and also the assassinations of several politicians, police chiefs and magistrates. The new generation of Mafia Families placed way more emphasis on “white-collar” criminal activities as opposed to the traditional racketeering enterprises.

A pentito is a captured mafioso who collaborated with the judicial system in order to save himself from torture, imprisonment or capital punishment. the first major pentito was Tommaso Buscetta who had lost several allies in the war. This led to the Maxi Trial (1986-1987) which resulted in several hundred convictions of leading mafiosi. When the Italian Supreme Court confirmed the convictions in 1992, the Mafia took revenge. The politician Salvatore Lima was killed in March 1992. He had been the main government connection of the Mafia and the Mafia was clearly displeased with his services. Giovanni Falcone and fellow anti-Mafia prosecutor Paolo Borsellino, who were the main people behind the Maxi Trial were murdered a few months later. This led to a public outcry and a massive government crackdown in January 1993. More and more pentitos started to emerge. Many would have to pay a high price for their co-operation with the government through the murder of relatives.

Some of the Mafia Families, prominently the Corleonesi retaliated with a campaign of terrorism through a series of bombings against several tourist spots on the Italian mainland which left 10 people dead and 93 injured and caused severe damage to cultural heritage. Bernardo Provenzano took over as boss of the Corleonesi and halted this campaign and replaced it with a campaign of quietness. This campaign has allowed the Mafia to slowly regain the power it once had. He was arrested in 2006, after 43 years on the run.

By the late 1990s, the weakened Sicilian Mafia had to yield most of the illegal drug trade to the Ndrangheta crime organization. In 2006, the latter was estimated to control 80% of the cocaine import to Europe. However, the remaining activities of the Mafia have remained the same and as strong as before. It now has strong business in the extortion of big companies as well as smaller ones. It is estimated that 7% of Italy’s output is filtered off by the Mafia. The Mafia has turned into one of Italy’s biggest business enterprises with a turnover of more than 120 billion US $ (120,000,000,000$) a year.