A Personal History Lesson about the Mafia

Alessandro enlightened me about the phenomenal economic significance of the Mafia and gave me a simple numeric example related to the drug trade: if of the roughly 60 million Italians 1 million has a drug problem that might require 100 Euros a day, this would result in a daily revenue of 100 million or 3 billion Euros on a monthly basis. Annualized this works out to 36 billion Euros just for Italy and numbers of similar magnitudes would have to be added up for the various other nations in the European Union. To this would be added the revenue from all the other branches of organized crime. Given these numbers I was no longer surprised when Alessandro referred to the Mafia as a “company”.

View of Isola Bella from Taormina

I learned that the Mafia comprises a large network of people in a hierarchical structure: from the frontline drug pushers and enforcers to drug and arms wholesalers to politicians and lawyers who, according to Alessandro, make up the “educated Mafia”, to bankers and financiers who generate and move money at the highest national and international levels. The Mafia is an intricate organization with tentacles in many cities, regions and countries across the world.

Historically the Mafia spread from Sicily, starting in the late 1800s when a lot of Sicilians emigrated to the United States. They were looking for new opportunities and ways to escape the ancient feudal system, but brought many of the old ways of doing things with them. In many ways the Italian Mafia in the United States became better organized and looked for new business opportunities. The Prohibition Era of the 1920s and 1930s became a fertile ground for profitable, yet illicit business activities that involved bootlegging of prohibited alcohol, prostitution and a variety of other illegal activities.

Views of Taormina

The Sicilian Mafia also played a key role at the end of World War II: the Allies wanted to organize a landing, one in the north near Dunkirk, and one in the south in Sicily. Alessandro explained that accordingly to recently discovered documents, former members of the CIA contacted US Mafiosi to get the Sicilian Mafia to help with the Allied Landing. With the help of the Mafia, the incursion of Allied forces in southern Italy near Syracuse indeed went very smoothly and there were no major battles until Montecassino south of Rome on the Italian mainland.

Views of Taormina

The Allies freed Sicily and removed the Italian fascist mayors and instead installed mayors and administrators with Mafia connections. In this manner Mafiosi were given access to powerful political and public positions after World War II, a situation that still occurs to some degree today. After the War, the US often supported Mafiosi candidates in local elections against the prevailing Communist candidates, and this created a situation were Mafia-linked candidates were often thoroughly entrenched in local and regional politics. As a result, public money is sometimes misappropriated for illicit purposes.

Views of Taormina

Alessandro has a thorough understanding of Italian history and the connections were fascinating. He also suggested that I drop by tonight at a cooking class organized by Babilonia, an offer I was definitely planning to take him up on.

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