Living among the Mafia blurs borders in southern Italy
Vibo Valentina, Italy – Two years ago, thousands of people in the Calabrian town of Vibo Valentia took to the streets on Christmas Eve morning to celebrate a massive police sweep that targeted hundreds of suspected Mafia members.
For those living under the shadow of the ‘Ndrangheta, it was the first time that locals dared publicly denounce Italy’s most powerful organized crime syndicate which for decades has infiltrated institutions in the region of south, stifled its economy and terrorized its people.
Unlike previous cases – when relatives of arrested ‘Ndrangheta members showed up at police stations to heckle the authorities and applaud those arrested – this time the cheers were for the police.
“There was endless applause, it gave me chills,” recalls Giuseppe Borrello, the local representative of the anti-mafia association Libera.
“From a symbolic point of view, it was important.
Two years later, however, the future is far from certain for the city and province of the same name – often referred to simply as Vibo – as 355 bosses, agents and white-collar workers at its Ndrangheta stand have been arrested, charged. a laundry list. from crimes, extortion and usury to money laundering and murder in an ongoing “maxi-trial”.
A shooting last month has rekindled fears that a period of relative calm after the arrests is drawing to a close, as strong divisions remain among the city’s 31,000 residents.
Some see Vibo at a turning point, while others insist that the ‘Ndrangheta is still too powerful to overcome. Many also accuse the state of overzealousness with its hundreds of arrests.
“Go to the boss”
At the end of 2017, restaurateur Filippo La Scala received two anonymous phone calls, ordering him to “bring money to Vibo’s friends”.
After a Molotov cocktail was thrown on the restaurant terrace, he walked over to the police.
“It was a difficult time,” La Scala said. “These things really stress you out.”
La Scala, a civil party in the ongoing trial, said he felt “very confident” in the authorities ‘new commitment to confront the’ Ndrangheta after decades of institutional inertia, inefficiency and corruption.
“We felt a new atmosphere of freedom in Vibo” after the crackdown in December 2019, La Scala said.
The chief of the provincial riflemen of Vibo, Colonel Bruno Capece, agrees, while warning that much remains to be done.
“Before, practically every night, we had heard about burnt cars, knocked down or damaged rolling doors, people with knees, mafia phenomenon,” Capece said.
The last murder in Vibo dates back to April 2020 and its perpetrator was quickly found.
Police also solved the roughly 10 attempted murders since the raids within 48 hours, he said.
The outreach work of police and prosecutors, he said, is another sign of credibility in a territory where residents have long been used to denunciations that lead nowhere and dragging on trials. or end with acquittals – often by collusion between the ‘Ndrangheta and those in power.
Until relatively recently, “only clans reigned here, and the state response was virtually non-existent,” Vibo District Attorney Camillo Falvo said.
Confidence in the authorities is won by results, Falvo said, and so far the weak state has played directly into the hands of the ‘Ndrangheta.
“If you take a civil action and it’s never decided… the second time you have a problem, you go to the boss nearby and say, ‘Look, this guy has to pay my money back. “”
Site of the ancient Greek colony of Hipponion, Vibo still has a perfect 12th-century castle on a hill where goats graze in the evening, offering spectacular views of the distant Stromboli volcano.
But descend into the city, marred by abandoned storefronts and unsightly, half-finished concrete structures, and there’s little to recommend a detour, other than – ironically – the Vibo Institute of Criminology. .
Some 47% of young people are unemployed in the province, the fifth highest rate in Italy.
“Vibo is a sad, abandoned city, which makes people ugly and does not encourage them to give the best of themselves”, is how blogger and journalist Argentino Serraino describes his hometown.
“That’s not to say it should continue this way, however,” said the 25-year-old.
Decades of ‘Ndrangheta interference have contributed to Vibo’s economic decline, through embezzled public funds, businesses that shut down rather than pay protection money, or contractors who turned down public contracts in because of bid rigging. The phenomenon is repeated throughout Calabria.
And despite the ‘Ndrangheta’s virtual monopoly on the European cocaine trade and billions laundered through investments in the legal economy across Italy and abroad, the Mafia is still crushing the locals.
The lawsuit includes countless usury allegations, landowners forced to sell cheaply to the Mafia, and shopkeepers and others have regularly demanded “contributions.”
‘Ruined my life’
Not everyone in Vibo is convinced that the state supports them.
The indictment includes a Vibo merchant who is both victim and accomplice of the ‘Ndrangheta, highlighting the murky gray area often observed in Mafia territory.
“They ruined my life,” Rocco Tavella said of authorities who kept him behind bars for five days after the 2019 sweep.
Tavella, who prosecutors say was pressured to sell discounted clothes to Mafia members, denies being an intermediary in a money-lending episode in 2011, as claimed by one of the many informants who became state witnesses at trial.
“We will see how many people will be acquitted,” he said skeptically.
A woman, Paola, who declined to give her last name, said the residents of Vibo were paranoid, given the close family and social ties with the accused.
“You can’t lock someone up just for hearing something or being seen with someone,” she said, complaining that prosecutors had gone overboard by not limiting arrests to senior executives.
“Am I not supposed to greet these people anymore?” “
Nothing to see here
The battle against the ‘Ndrangheta is made more difficult by the scarcity of resources, said prosecutor Falvo.
Few seasoned magistrates wish to settle in the region, so cases are conducted by inexperienced young lawyers who move on to other jobs at the first opportunity.
“How can we wage a war against the Mafia with our bare hands?” ” He asked.
The violence did not end in Vibo. Last month, an accused at trial was shot dead, allegedly by the son of a mafia boss.
Security video footage showed cars driving past the injured man, and no witnesses – not even the victim – came forward to report the crime.
“It was like we had stepped back three years, all of our work in smoke,” said Capece of the Riflemen.
The owner of La Scala restaurant said when threatened he wondered whether he should leave Vibo.
“Calabria is such a beautiful place, and Vibo is the most beautiful of beautiful – mountains and a splendid sea,” said La Scala.
“If only he wasn’t tarnished by this cancer of the ‘Ndrangheta.”
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