Remarkable though it may now seem, the biggest criminal organization the world has ever seen actually started as an alternative form of local government in the Sicilian countryside, and was once arguably a force for "good." But this first incarnation of the Mafia was crushed by Mussolini, and its post-war successor took the more familiar form immortalized in films such as The Godfather. This exhaustively researched account examines these eras before going on to address the "third" Mafia and the connections between politicians and the underworld. Along the way, A. G. D. Maran poses many provocative questions, including Why was Lucky Luciano, the father of modern organized crime, freed from a life sentence in America and deported to Italy, allowing him to organize the international drug trade? Why did the Mafia murder Roberto Calvi, known as God’s Banker? What is the relationship between the Mafia and Freemasonry? and Why did it take 40 years to find the Last Godfather, Bernardo Provenzano, captured in 2006? He uncovers a number of genuine revelations along the way.
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A. G. D. Maran is of Italian descent, and members of his family fled to England after being targeted by the Mafia in New York. He wrote the book after witnessing Mafia corruption spread quickly throughout Italian society.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
MAFIA: INSIDE THE DARK HEART (Chapter 1)Why the Mafia Developed
Criminal organisations start because there is an opportunity to make money illegally. It is the creation of an organisation rather than reliance on individual effort that distinguishes the major crime boss from the petty criminal. Neither an unlocked house or motor vehicle nor a visible purse in a handbag requires an organisation to profit from someone’s carelessness. But smuggle people, provide prostitutes, run protection rackets, control illegal gambling, distribute drugs or sell arms illegally and there is a need for something bigger.
The biggest criminal organisation the world has ever known, the Sicilian Mafia, was not created with criminal intent in mind. It started as an ‘alternative’ form of local government in the Sicilian countryside during the nineteenth century in response to the collapse of the ruling Bourbon Empire, which comprised the whole of the south of Italy, together with Sicily. Its replacement by the government and army of Piedmont, the most northerly of present-day Italian regions, which would at that time have been as cogent to Sicilians as Belgium would have been to Australians.
It is perhaps ironic that the two men whose decisions and actions caused the upheaval in the Sicilian countryside and were the catalyst for the Mafia are regarded as heroes worthy of remembrance in statuary both in Italy and Britain.
There is not a town or village in Italy that fails to honour the role of Giuseppe Garibaldi in the formation of the Italian nation with a statue or an eponymous road or piazza. More surprisingly, however, it was an action by Admiral Horatio Nelson almost 50 years before Garibaldi arrived that was the real catalyst for change in Sicily, and which indirectly spawned the Mafia.
When Nelson defeated Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, the Sicilians, and especially the Bourbon King Ferdinand, were so grateful that they gave him a 30,000-acre estate and awarded him the Dukedom of Bronte. This gesture was so well received in England that Patrick Brunty, the father of Charlotte, Emily and Anne, changed the family name to Brontë!
Unfortunately, Nelson never had time to enjoy his estate, but it stayed in his family until it was sold back to the Sicilians in 1980. The British occupied Sicily from 1806 to 1815 under the governorship of William Bentinck. They introduced many useful changes to the island’s administration, such as a bicameral system of government and a new constitution, but, like all later invaders, they did not understand that by altering the traditional way of life they were opening doors for changes other than their own to be introduced. Feudalism was an anathema to nineteenth-century Britons and while its abolition would threaten the way of life of the aristocrats and their retainers it also actually harmed the apparently downtrodden peasants whom the British were hoping to liberate. No one was realistically going to let the peasants set up their own smallholdings in the first decade of the nineteenth century. They tried to introduce the changes just 20 years after Figaro, the play on which Mozart’s opera was based, had been banned. It dared to challenge the social hierarchy: servants were servants and masters were masters. More importantly, when the abolition of feudalism was passed into law, the peasants lost their traditional feudal rights, which for them was a disaster.
At the time, the British held the same inflated opinion of their way of life as the Americans do today, when it came to transplanting their domestic institutions onto an alien culture. What worked well in England in regard to landownership was not going to work as well in Sicily, but the English did not understand this.
But British rule gave confidence for outside investment and many English families bought into the development of sulphur mining and the wine industry in Marsala.
The Sicilian aristocrats had remained comfortable and saw it as their duty to look after their serfs, who in turn were grateful for any handouts from their lords. The now more liberal British did not approve of this, but, with so few troops and little interest in creating socio-political upheaval, change had to await the arrival of Garibaldi 50 years later, who insisted on abolishing feudalism and so again, unwittingly, changed the system to the disadvantage of the group he was trying to help.
To implement the abolition of a centuries-old system and institute change was virtually impossible for 17,000 British troops, none of whom could speak Sicilian dialect. Neither was there a ‘popular’ revolt since the peasants, being 100 per cent illiterate, had no means of knowing that the law had indeed changed and that there was now an opportunity to no longer work at the grace and favour of employers. So, as they do to this day with laws that are not considered ‘suitable’, the Sicilians ignored them and the peasants went to work as they had always done.
At that time, the huge estates were among the richest and most fertile in Europe and their unique value lay in the citrus crop. Originally developed by the Saracens when they occupied the island in the ninth century, the fruit had been enormously profitable, especially since Dr Lind had shown that it could prevent scurvy. This small discovery transformed long-distance voyages, which contributed massively in particular to the wealth of Great Britain.
As far back as 1834, the west of Sicily had exported almost half a million cases of oranges, lemons and limes a year, and by the end of the century this total had risen to three million. It was a high-investment but high-profit crop. It took about ten years before trees produced fruits large enough for export and in that period, because their water supply was critical, they became a common target for vandals who had not been satisfied by the pizzu payments. The word ‘pizzu’ meant ‘the bird’s beak’ and the term arose from an old Sicilian tradition allowing the baron, and subsequently his employees, his ‘right’ to scoop some grain from the threshings of the peasant. Decades of hard work could be undone if the water supply for the irrigation of an estate was dammed, diverted or otherwise interfered with. But what was a threat to some was also an opportunity for others to profit and so, in some ways, the landowners had become prisoners of their own possessions.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, Palermo, the capital city, was the ‘party town’ of Europe, mainly because of the ease of access and the gentle winter climate. The then huge number of European royals spent their winters there and this drew the increasingly affluent Sicilian aristocrats away from their estates to the centre of social activity. When the aristocrats left the countryside, the management of their estates was put in the hands of trusty employees who, in author Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s words, were the ‘new men’ of the early Mafia. These gabellotti, as they came to be known, were virtually estate managers and their primary role was to provide protection against vandalism and ensure profitability. Their primary helpers were overseers called campieri and protection was supplied by their own guards, called ‘the boys’ – picciotti.
The feudal system that they advanced had been in place since the Norman Conquest in the eleventh century and when the aristocratic migration to Palermo left a social vacuum, the new men became central to the community. There was little evidence of the State in the countryside, and the police, who were so poorly paid that they took what they could squeeze from the peasants, were practically powerless; they certainly were not about to upset or challenge the new Sect and so the gabellotti and their employees became the local rulers. Long before Britain had a middle class, Sicily had developed one.
Another important factor in the social equation was the priests, nuns and monks, who acted as a bridge between the gabellotti and the desperately poor peasants, doling out charity along with the new men as a glue to keep the community together.
When, by the 1860s, to the horror of the ruling classes, Garibaldi attempted to resurrect the law to abolish feudalism, the situation was slightly different. Garibaldi was a hero. He was not a ‘foreigner’, like the British had been. He had got rid of the Bourbons, who had used Sicily like a cash cow, and he was, at least to the Sicilians, the dawn of their independence. Italy had had very few heroes since the Romans and here was a man who seemed to defy bullets, wore a poncho and a large hat with an ostrich feather in it, and cracked a whip. He was an early-day Che Guevara: a brilliant soldier and general, who had experience of helping in South American revolutions but was a useless politician. He had come to the notice of Camillo Cavour, the real architect of Italian unification, in the early wars with Austria in the north and after a failed occupation of Rome.
After tasting power at the top table of Europe, Cavour craved a place for himself, but this was not going to come to pass unless he had a country bigger than Piedmont. He saw that opportunity in making the geographic entity that was the Italian peninsula into a political force. Originally his aim was more modest – to unite the North with Central Italy, leaving Rome to the Popes and the South to the Bourbons. He realised that if he ordered the Piedmontese Army to march towards Rome, the Austrian and French forces would interpret the move as a threat to the Vatican and would intervene to protect the Pope.
His tactics, however, changed when Garibaldi put forward the idea of invading Sicily and the South. Unknown to Cavour, this idea had been planted in Garibaldi’s mind not only by Sicilians but also by fellow Freemasons and it was their cause of ‘freedom’ that he was supporting rather than Cavour’s unification agenda. Garibaldi had been a...
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