ITALY’S Mafia is enjoying a growth in popularity across the poor southern parts of the country as a result of the charitable acts of its members who have acted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and begun distributing food to the poor.
One of the most affected countries by the global pandemic, Italy has 152,271 affected citizens, making it the third most plagued nation after the US and Spain. Across Italy, there have been 19,468 deaths from Covid-19, second only to the US and over six times the number in China where the pandemic first broke out.
Struggling under the weight of the crisis, Italy’s health service is at breaking point and to contain the further spread, the government has introduced stringent social distancing laws. Southern Italy, which is more rural and agrarian than the industrialised north of the country, has suffered a lot from this lockdown and the Mafia has thus moved in to fill the vacuum.
Across southern Italy, the Mafia is gaining local support by distributing free food to poor families in quarantine who have run out of cash. Over recent weeks, videos have surfaced of known Mafia gangs delivering essential goods to Italians hit hard by the coronavirus emergency across the poorest southern regions of Campania, Calabria, Sicily and Puglia, as tensions rise across the country.
Nicola Gratteri, the anti-Mafia investigator and head of the prosecutor’s office in Catanzaro, said: “For over a month, shops, cafés, restaurants and pubs have been closed. Millions of people work in the grey economy, which means that they haven’t received any income in more than a month and have no idea when they might return to work.
“The government is issuing so-called shopping vouchers to support people. If the state doesn’t step in soon to help these families, the mafia will provide its services, imposing their control over people’s lives.”
Across Italy an estimated 3.3m people work off the books and of those, more than 1m live in the south, according to the most recent figures from CGIA Mestre, a Venice-based small business association. There have been reports of small shop owners being pressured to give food out for free, while police are patrolling supermarkets in some areas to stop thefts.
Of late, videos have emerged of people in Sicily protesting against the government’s stalled response, or people beating their fists outside banks in Bari for a €50 (£44) loan. Luciana Lamorgese, Italy’s minister of the interior, has warned that the mafia could take advantage of the rising poverty, swooping in to recruit people to its organisation.
In recent days, the police in Naples have intensified their presence in the poorest quarters of the city, where men tied to the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia, have organised home delivery of food parcels. Magistrates have already begun an investigation against a group of people who were questioned while distributing food to local residents.
In Palermo, the brother of a Cosa Nostra boss allegedly distributed food to the poor in the Zen neighbourhood, an area with an established mafia presence. When the news broke, he defended himself on Facebook, claiming that he was only doing charitable work and attacked the journalist who first reported the news.