C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 NAPLES 000069
TREASURY FOR OFAC
E.O. 12958: DECL: 6/15/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL KCRM ECON SNAR MARR KCOR IT
SUBJECT: SICILY: REGIONAL GOVERNMENT IN TURMOIL WHILE THE MAFIA IS
DOWN, BUT NOT OUT
REF: A) 08 NAPLES 38, B) 08 NAPLES 9, C) ROME 600, D) NAPLES 64
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CLASSIFIED BY: J. Patick Truhn, Consul General, AmConGen Naples.
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) Summary: As host to an important U.S. Navy base,location of recently discovered gas reserves, and home to 17,000 U.S. citizens, Sicily's future is clearly of interest to the United States. For now, political feuding has replaced the war on organized crime in the headlines: Regional President Raffaele Lombardo dissolved the regional cabinet on May 25 after months of tensions with his coalition partner, Prime Minister Berlusconi's party. The rocky relations between Palermo and Rome have resulted in Berlusconi's blockage of four billion euros in EU structural funds for the region. Political grandstanding blocked an American gas drilling operation last year, and threatens to at least delay an important U.S. Navy satellite communications system. However, the major challenge to economic development remains the Mafia, which may well be the principal beneficiary if the bridge over the Strait of Messina, talked about for centuries, is eventually built. A variety of
interlocutors in several Sicilian cities told us during recent visits that the grip of organized crime has loosened through a combination of law enforcement success and civil society rebellion against the Cosa Nostra. Anti-Mafia prosecutors are optimistic they can continue to make progress against the mob, but note that ongoing budgetary and personnel constraints (particularly the difficulty in filling magistrate positions) hamper their effectiveness.
The one exception we have heard to the optimistic outlook is from a journalist under police protection from the mob, who believes that most anti-Mafia
The one exception we have heard to the optimistic outlook is from a journalist under police protection from the mob, who believes that most anti-Mafia
measures have been superficial and have not taken root in society. End summary.
Crossroads of the Mediterranean
--------------------------------------2. (SBU) Sicily -- the largest island in the Mediterranean andItaly's fourth-most populous region -- is in some ways a worldunto itself. At a strategic maritime crossroads, throughouthistory it has been conquered and occupied by virtually every Mediterranean power. Its geographical position may havecontributed to a historical sense of psychological separationfrom mainland Italy, manifested today in a thriving localdialect and the homegrown political party that now holds thepower in the regional government, the Movement for Autonomies (MPA). It is also the region in our consular district that hasseen the most success in battling organized crime (reftel A),with numerous arrests of high-level mobsters in the last 16years and a growing number of anti-extortion NGOs making
headlines. Sicily also has the highest official unemployment rate and highest poverty rate of any Italian region. Its importance to the United States is clear: Sicily hosts the U.S. Navy's Sigonella Naval Air Station (the second-busiest military air station in Europe); several American companies have substantial direct investments there, including IBM, Wyeth and Exxon-Mobil; and the region hosts large natural gas deposits.
Prosecutors Understaffed and Underfunded
3. (C) During two recent ConGen 2009 visits to Sicily, anti-Mafia prosecutors in Palermo, Caltanissetta and Trapani -- three of the four anti-Mafia judicial districts in the region -- told us they are optimistic that they are winning the battle against organized crime. Without exception, they praised cooperation with U.S. law enforcement, noting that there are still strong ties between the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and American organized crime groups. Antonio Ingroia, a prosecutor in
Palermo, noted happily that Sicilian schools are now conducting anti-Mafia awareness programs, and anti-extortion movements (such as the Industrialists Confederation and the NGO "Addio Pizzo" -- see ref A) are having a positive effect. Nonetheless, all is not rosy: like their colleagues in other parts of southern Italy, the prosecutors complained that they are understaffed and underfunded. Indeed, over a quarter of the anti-Mafia magistrate positions are vacant in Palermo, and only
three of seven positions are filled in Caltanissetta. Palermo's Prosecutor-in-Chief, Francesco Messineo, told the CG that 14 of 64 overall prosecutor positions (not just anti-Mafia) there are
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unfilled, and the understaffing is likely to continue for at least four years. Ingroia opined that his team had been a victim of its own success; the central government, believing the Sicilian Mafia to be reeling from so many arrests, has cut the budget for investigators there. Sergio Lari, the chief
anti-Mafia prosecutor in Caltanissetta, noted that investigators have to "beg for gasoline" for official vehicles. Prosecutors are also deeply concerned over GOI proposals to limit wiretapping, which they feel is one of their most important weapons in the fight against organized crime.
Reasons to be Optimistic....
4. (SBU) The Sicilian Mafia's principal activities are drug trafficking, extortion, rigging of public contracts and trafficking in persons, though the mob has also invested heavily in legal enterprises in the construction and food industries, and more recently, wind energy. In recent years, law enforcement authorities have shifted their focus from merely arresting mobsters to also seizing their assets -- a strategy described by all our contacts as a powerful tool. However, local politicians complain that the average time to convert seized assets into legitimate uses is fifteen years; last
November at the opening of a rural hotel and restaurant in a former Mafia villa, Interior Minister Maroni pledged to introduce legislation to streamline the process. The Palermo anti-Mafia prosecutors group now has a special unit dedicated to investigating economic and financial crimes; if successful, this experimental unit may be replicated in other parts of the country. In addition to asset seizures, investigators spend more time than ever following money-laundering trails, which
used to be local but are now international. Palermo Chief Prosecutor Messineo asserted that with the Cosa Nostra's leadership behind bars, the organization's economic troubles are such that it is having difficulty making support payments to family members.
5. (C) A young anti-Mafia activist, Andrea Cottone, told us in Palermo that a bolder generation is coming of age in Sicily. The spectacular public assassinations of two anti-Mafia prosecutors in 1992 left their imprint on those who were then children and are now young adults. Cottone firmly believes that this generation will lead the societal rebellion against extortion. Democratic Party (center-left) national Senator Beppe Lumia, who sits on the parliamentary Anti-Mafia Committee,
asserted that the state is win ning the "military" war against the Cosa Nostra, but had to do a better job on the political and economic fronts. He, too, was heartened by civil society movements against organized crime. Chief Prosecutor Messineo reported that there have been no verified mob-related killings in Palermo in two years, in contrast to the long-time average of 60 or 70 per year.
....But Not Over-Optimistic
6. (C) Other interlocutors cautioned against over-optimistic assessments. Pietro Vento, the director of Demopolis, Sicily's best-known polling organization, reported to us that 80 percent of Sicilian businesses still pay extortion, and only a handful of businesses owners are actually standing up to the Mafia. (He said that most businesses that do not pay do so because they are not asked for the "pizzo" not out of a brave act of refusal.) Trapani Chief Prosecutor Giacomo Bodero Maccabeo told the CG that the environment of "unemployment, fear and ignorance" provided ample breeding ground for organized crime. According to Maccabeo, Trapani's cement and concrete industries are
dominated by the Mafia, and he had personally ordered the seizure of sixteen production plants. He told the CG that organized crime tries to rig all public works contracts, and that the mob has a virtual monopoly on what little employment there is in the area. Lirio Abbate, a Palermo journalist who
has exposed mob activities and lives under police escort after authorities uncovered a plot to kill him, was even more downbeat. Abbate is convinced that the Cosa Nostra is not in
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decline, and asserted that the civil society rebellion is actually very small and has little effect. As an example, he cited the regional Industrialists Confederation, which in September 2007 adopted a highly publicized policy to expel members who pay extortion. Abbate stated that, despite announcements to the contrary, the Confederation has not expelled a single member, even though it has evidence that many of its members are cooperating with the Mafia. He added that acts of arson against non-payers are almost daily events, but receive little publicity. Abbate also railed against corruption in Sicilian politics, accusing all political parties of having ties to organized crime, an observation echoed by the prosecutors in Caltanissetta. They told us that although the Cosa Nostra controls a relatively small percentage of votes, it is enough to tip elections in favor of their preferred candidates in most cases. In January 2008, then-regional president Salvatore Cuffaro was convicted of aiding the Mafia and sentenced to five years in prison; he was also barred for life from holding public office (ref B). Cuffaro promptly appealed, after a much-publicized "celebration" with a tray of cannoli, and while waiting for the decision (still pending, a year-and-a-half later), won election to the national Senate.
7. (C) Cuffaro's successor is the Catania-born founder of the Movement for Autonomy (MPA), Raffaele Lombardo, whom several contacts described as a conventional politician who effectively
doles out patronage for support. The MPA, founded in 2005, seeks to give Italy's regions greater autonomy, and in particular to "restore" to Sicily and the South their "guiding role" for the Mediterranean countries. Lombardo -- who sees himself as the South's counterpart to the Northern League's Umberto Bossi -- allegedly wants to expand his sphere of influence by founding a new party called the Party of the South (PDS), but is unlikely to find support from other southern
regions. Lombardo came to power in coalition with the PDL, but the lack of any common ideology or interests quickly led to an open breach between them. The MPA has openly opposed Rome's
anti-immigration policies (refs C-D), and is currently holding up the installation of a GOI-approved U.S. Navy satellite communications system near the town of Niscemi. The latter was opposed by a group of local mayors, who have successfully used local media to spread conjectures -- unsupported even by scientists brought in by the mayors as experts -- that the installation poses grave environmental health risks to the local population. (Note: U.S. Navy studies, which have been validated by the Italian Ministry of Defense, make clear that the electromagnetic emissions of the proposed antennae fall well below Italian and EU limits. End note.) Sicily's regional minister for environment has delayed granting approval to operate pending further environmental impact analysis, but the Consulate continues to press for resolution. The disinformation campaign by the local mayors parallels a successful campaign a year ago to block natural gas drilling by Texas-based Panther Eureka Gas in the province of Ragusa, after the regional government had initially approved the environmental impact assessment and granted an exploration license. Local mayors blocked drilling through a series of unsubstantiated but successful court suits, alleging the drilling would damage the area's cultural heritage; as a result Panther has all but stopped operations after the delays cost the company hundreds of thousands of euros.
8. (C) Lombardo's Sicily-first approach means he has little time for foreign officials; in his previous position as President of the Province of Catania he granted the CG a five-minute courtesy call, and as President of the Region has declined to receive either Ambassador Spogli or the current
Charge on trips to Palermo, to the chagrin of his staff. The feud between Lombardo and the PDL is also fueled by personality clashes between Lombardo and Italian Senate President Renato Schifani, Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, and Regional Assembly President Francesco Cascio (all PDL). On May 25, two weeks before elections for the European Parliament, Lombardo
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dissolved his cabinet; according to press reports, the move came in reaction to an interview by Berlusconi with local Sicilian television indicating that four billion euros in structural funds for the region, which have been blocked in Rome for five months, would only be delivered when it is certain they will be spent for structural improvements and not current expenses. A concurrent strike by Palermo garbage collectors added to the political turmoil; several people were arrested in early June for setting fire to the mounds of trash piled up on the city streets, and Berlusconi dispatched his top emergency official to the area to try to prevent a health emergency. The Demopolis pollster Vento told us that despite the bad blood between MPA and PDL, both parties will continue to garner strong support at the expense of the center-left. Lombardo is expected to patch up his differences with Berlusconi in the near future now that the elections for the European Parliament, in which Lombardo's MPA ran in coalition with several minor parties.
9. (C) Not all of Sicily's politicians are embroiled in controversy, and some have publicly stood up to the Mafia. The mayor of the mob-controlled town of Gela (and successful PD candidate for the European Parliament) is under police protection after Prosecutor Lari's team discovered a Cosa Nostra assassination plot. Antonino Iannazzo, the PDL mayor of Corleone, a town whose name is synonymous with the Mafia, is also working to eradicate the scourge of organized crime. He told us that law enforcement authorities have had tremendous success in recent years against the infamous Corleonese mob, to the astonishment of older residents who had insisted that change was impossible. Iannazzo tirelessly promotes law and order in his territory, and has formed a consortium with nearby municipalities to make the best use of property confiscated from the Mafia. Homes formerly belonging to captured mob bosses Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano are being used as recreation centers for youth and disabled people, and another property is now a cooperative producing "Mafia-free" wine. Iannazzo is overseeing the implementation of one of his own ideas -- the conversion of a former mob boss's home into a "Museum of Legality," due to open in Fall 2009. He also claims to be very meticulous in excluding mafiosi or those paying extortion from
bidding on public contracts.
Catania: The Wild East
10. (C) In Sicily's second-biggest city and busiest commercial center (as well as the city closest to the USN's Sigonella Naval Air Station), Catania, the provincial Treasury Police commander,
General Ignazio Gibilaro, told us that organized crime continues to thrive on the eastern side of the island. Catania is a final destination for narcotics (which, he noted, are trafficked into Italy by the 'Ndrangheta across the strait in Calabria and distributed in Catania by the Cosa Nostra), weapons and contraband. General Gibilaro noted that the Mafia is less hierarchical in Catania than in the rest of the region, and thus gang wars between different mob factions are commonplace his district, and weapons have become more potent and prevalent in recent years. Fraud, rigging of public contracts and money laundering are also lucrative activities in Catania. In fact, crime has increased so much that the Treasury Police decided to upgrade the rank of the provincial commander position to general from colonel (Gibilaro, recently arrived, is the first general to oversee the province). The Treasury Police also have a full-time dedicated task force to protect intellectual property rights; in the past year, this group has been among the most active and most successful in southern Italy in confiscating pirated and counterfeit products, a large proportion of which are American brands of clothing and shoes.
The Bridge to More Organized Crime
11. (C) Berlusconi has announced his intention to revive the long-talked-about bridge over the Strait of Messina as a major public works project to create jobs and improve Sicily's infrastructure. Although polls indicate that the project enjoys
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widespread support both in Calabria and Sicily, there is enormous concern that the contracts and sub-contracts will end up enriching the Mafias on both sides of the Strait. The prefect of Reggio Calabria recently told the CG that the bidding process would have to be "armored," but that it could be kept perfectly clean. However, the prefect of Messina acknowledged that the bridge, which is supposed to link "insular" Sicily to the "developed" mainland, could end up having the counter-productive effect of bringing Sicily, which has comparatively done a better job of tackling organized crime than Calabria, physically and psychologically closer to the `Ndrangheta, Europe's most dangerous organized crime syndicate. Given the endless delays which have plagued construction of the Salerno-Reggio Calabria highway, still unfinished after several decades, the bridge over the Strait is not going to be constructed anytime soon, and will serve little purpose without massive investments in road and rail infrastructure in both Sicily and Calabria, both of which are substandard.
12. (C) Comment: The law enforcement success in recent years against the Cosa Nostra has been crucial to Sicily's undeniable progress. Twenty years ago, politicians would never have dared stand up to the Mafia -- their chances of being assassinated would have been far greater than their chances of being elected. The ability of anti-Mafia activists to open "extortion-free" businesses in Sicily and the existence of a public debate over how to defeat organized crime are clear signs that Sicilian society is changing. The situation has improved, but it is evident that the Cosa Nostra is far from defeated, and in places such as Trapani still has a stranglehold on the local society. In addition to organized crime, Sicily suffers from the same problems as the rest of Italy's South: bad government, crooked politicians, relatively little industry, and a brain drain as university graduates leave to seek employment in greener pastures. Sicily has made progress in many ways in recent
years, but the change is plainly more of an evolution than a revolution. All in all, we tend to side with the optimists, and believe that it is in USG interest to actively support civil society initiatives against organized crime and to press the GOI to expand funding for anti-Mafia investigations and prosecutions.