The Mafia (also known as Cosa Nostra) is a Sicilian criminal secret society which is believed to have first developed in the mid-19th century in Sicily. An offshoot emerged on the East Coast of the United States and in Australia during the late 19th century following waves of Sicilian and Southern Italian emigration (see also Italian diaspora). In North America, the Mafia often refers to Italian organized crime in general, rather than just traditional Sicilian organized crime. According to historian Paolo Pezzino: "The Mafia is a kind of organized crime being active not only in several illegal fields, but also tending to exercise sovereignty functions – normally belonging to public authorities – over a specific territory..."
The Sicilian Cosa Nostra is a loose confederation of about one hundred Mafia groups, also called cosche or families, each of which claims sovereignty over a territory, usually a town or village or a neighborhood of a larger city, though without ever fully conquering and legitimizing its monopoly of violence. For many years, the power apparatuses of the single families were the sole ruling bodies within the two associations, and they have remained the real centers of power even after superordinate bodies were created in the Cosa Nostra beginning in the late 1950s (the Sicilian Mafia Commission).
Some observers have seen "mafia" as a set of attributes deeply rooted in popular culture, as a "way of being", as illustrated in the definition by the Sicilian ethnographer, Giuseppe Pitrè, at the end of the 19th century: "Mafia is the consciousness of one's own worth, the exaggerated concept of individual force as the sole arbiter of every conflict, of every clash of interests or ideas."
Many Sicilians did not regard these men as criminals but as role models and protectors, given that the state appeared to offer no protection for the poor and weak. As late as the 1950s, the funeral epitaph of the legendary boss of Villalba, Calogero Vizzini, stated that "his 'mafia' was not criminal, but stood for respect of the law, defense of all rights, greatness of character. It was love." Here, "mafia" means something like pride, honour, or even social responsibility: an attitude, not an organization. Likewise, in 1925, the former Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando stated in the Italian senate that he was proud of being Mafioso, because that word meant honourable, noble, generous.
According to the Sicilian ethnographer Giuseppe Pitrè, the association of the word with the criminal secret society was made by the 1863 play I mafiusi di la Vicaria (The Beautiful (people) of Vicaria) by Giuseppe Rizzotto and Gaetano Mosca, which is about criminal gangs in the Palermo prison. The words Mafia and mafiusi (plural of mafiusu) are never mentioned in the play, and were probably put in the title because it would add local flair.
The association between mafiusi and criminal gangs was made by the association the play's title made with the criminal gangs that were new to Sicilian and Italian society at the time. Consequently, the word "mafia" was generated from a fictional source loosely inspired by the real thing and was used by outsiders to describe it. The use of the term "mafia" was subsequently taken over in the Italian state's early reports on the phenomenon. The word "mafia" made its first official appearance in 1865 in a report by the prefect of Palermo, Filippo Antonio Gualterio.
Leopoldo Franchetti, an Italian deputy who travelled to Sicily and who wrote one of the first authoritative reports on the mafia in 1876, saw the Mafia as an "industry of violence" and described the designation of the term "mafia": "the term mafia found a class of violent criminals ready and waiting for a name to define them, and, given their special character and importance in Sicilian society, they had the right to a different name from that defining vulgar criminals in other countries." He saw the Mafia as deeply rooted in Sicilian society and impossible to quench unless the very structure of the island's social institutions were to undergo a fundamental change.
According to popular myth, the word Mafia was first used in the Sicilian rebellion - the Sicilian Vespers - against the oppressive Anjou rule on 30 March 1282. Mafia is the acronym for "Morta Alla Francia, Italia Anela" (Italian for "Death to France. This is Italy's cry"). However, this version is discarded by most serious historians nowadays.
Cosa Nostra was first used, in the early 1960s, in the United States by Joseph Valachi, a mafioso turned state witness, during the hearings of the McClellan Commission. At the time, it was understood as a proper name, fostered by the FBI and disseminated by the media. The designation gained wide popularity and almost replaced the term Mafia. The FBI even added an article to the term, calling it 'La Cosa Nostra'. In Italy the article 'la' is never used when the term refers to the Mafia.
The Mafia has used many other names to describe itself throughout its history, such as The Honoured Society. Mafiosi are known among themselves as Men of Honour.
The Sicilians also have a law of silence, called omertà; it forbids the common man, woman or child to cooperate at all with the police or the government, upon pain of death.
The involvement of the Mafia (or an early form of it) in the Sicilian Vespers uprising of 1282, a rebellion in which many occupying French officials were simultaneously killed as a prelude to throwing the French out of Sicily in favor of allies in Spain, has never been entirely confirmed with certainty.
After the Revolution of 1848 and the revolution of 1860, Sicily had fallen to complete disorder. The earliest mafiosi (at that time separate small bands of outlaws) offered their guns in the revolt. Author John Dickie claims that the main reasons for this were the chance to burn police records and evidence, and to kill off police and pentiti in the chaos. However, once a new government was established in Rome and it became clear that the mafia would be unable to execute these actions, they began refining their methods and techniques over the latter half of the nineteenth century. Protecting the large lemon groves and estates of local nobility became a lucrative but dangerous business. Palermo was initially the main area of these activities, but the Sicilian mafia's dominance soon spread over all of western Sicily. In order to strengthen the bond between the disparate gangs and so ensure greater profits and a safer working environment, it is possible that the mafia as such was formed at this time in about the mid-19th century.
The first mention in official law documentation of the 'mafia' came in the late 1800s, when a Dr. Galati was subject to threats of violence from a local mafioso, who was attempting to oust Galati from his own lemon grove in order to move himself in. Protection rackets, cattle rustling and bribery of state officials were the main sources of income and protection for the early mafia. Cosa Nostra also borrowed heavily from masonic oaths and rituals, such as the now famous initiation ceremony.
Some say that the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA, 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 1943, this became the true turning point of mafia history and the new foundation for its subsequent 60-year career. Others, such as the Palermitan historian Francesco Renda, have argued that there was no such alliance. Rather, the mafia exploited the chaos of post-fascist Sicily to reconquer its social base. The OSS indeed, in its 1944 "Report on the Problem of Mafia" by the agent W. E. Scotten, pointed to the signs of mafia resurgence and warned of its perils for social order and economic progress.
An alleged additional benefit (from the American perspective) was that many of the Sicilian-Italian Mafiosi were hard-line anti-communists. They were therefore seen as valuable allies by the anti-communist Americans, who allegedly used them to root out socialist and communist elements in the American shipping industry as well as wartime resistance movements and postwar local and regional governments in areas where the Mafia held sway.
According to drug trade expert Dr. Alfred W. McCoy, Luciano was permitted to run his crime network from his jail cell in exchange for his assistance. After the war, Luciano was rewarded by being released from prison and deported to Italy, where he was able to continue his criminal career unhindered. He went to Sicily in 1946 to continue his activities and according to McCoy's landmark 1972 book The Politics of Heroin in South-East Asia, Luciano went on to forge a crucial alliance with the Corsican Mafia, leading to the development of a vast international heroin trafficking network, initially supplied from Turkey and based in Marseille — the so-called "French Connection".
Later, when Turkey began to eliminate its opium production, he used his connections with the Corsicans to open a dialogue with expatriate Corsican mafiosi in South Vietnam. In collaboration with leading American mob bosses including Santo Trafficante Jr., Luciano and his successors took advantage of the chaotic conditions in Southeast Asia arising from the Vietnam War to establish an unassailable supply and distribution base in the "Golden Triangle", which was soon funneling huge amounts of Asian heroin into the United States, Australia and other countries.
The first major pentito (a captured mafioso who collaborated with the judicial system) was Tommaso Buscetta who had lost several allies in the war and began to talk to prosecutor Giovanni Falcone around 1983. 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 January 1992, Riina took revenge. The politician Salvatore Lima was killed in March 1992; he had long been suspected of being the main government connection of the Mafia (later confirmed by testimony of Buscetta), and the Mafia was clearly displeased with his services. Falcone and fellow anti-Mafia prosecutor Paolo Borsellino were killed a few months later. This led to a public outcry and a massive government crackdown, resulting in Riina's arrest in January 1993. More and more pentitos started to emerge. Many would pay a high price for their co-operation usually through the murder of relatives. For example, Cosa Nostra defector Francesco Marino Mannoia's mother, aunt and sister were murdered.
The Corleonesi retaliated with a campaign of terrorism, a series of bombings against several tourist spots on the Italian mainland: the Via dei Georgofili in Florence, Via Palestro in Milan, and the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano and Via San Teodoro in Rome, which left 10 people dead and 93 injured and caused severe damage to cultural heritage such as the Uffizi Gallery. Bernardo Provenzano took over as boss of the Corleonesi and halted this campaign and replaced it with a campaign of quietness known as pax mafiosi. 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.
The deal that he says was alleged to have been made was a repeal of 41 bis, among other anti-Mafia laws in return for electoral deliverances in Sicily. Giuffrè's declarations have not been confirmed. The Italian Parliament, with the support of Forza Italia, extended the enforcement of 41 bis, which was to expire in 2002 but has been prolonged for another four years and extended to other crimes such as terrorism. However, according to one of Italy’s leading magazines, L'Espresso, 119 mafiosi – one-fifth of those incarcerated under the 41 bis regime – have been released on an individual basis. The human rights group Amnesty International has expressed concern that the 41-bis regime could in some circumstances amount to "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment" for prisoners.
By the late 1990s, the weakened Cosa Nostra had to yield most of the illegal drug trade to the 'Ndrangheta crime organization from Calabria. In 2006, the latter was estimated to control 80% of the cocaine import to Europe. The mafia also have a strong business in extortion big companies as well as smaller ones. It estimates that 7% of Italy's output is filtered off by organised crime. The Mafia has turned into one of Italy's biggest business enterprises with a turnover of more than US$120bn a year.
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