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Camorra - Neapolitan Mafia

Italian Organized CrimeThe word “Camorra” means gang, a word used for the Neapolitan Mafia (based in Naples). The Camorra first appeared in the mid-1800s in Naples, Italy, as a prison gang. Once released, members formed clans in the cities and continued to grow in power. The Camorra has more than 100 clans and approximately 7,000 members, making it the largest of the Italian organized crime groups. In the 1970s, the Sicilian Mafia convinced the Camorra to convert their cigarette smuggling routes into drug smuggling routes with the Sicilian Mafia's assistance. Not all Camorra leaders agreed, leading to the Camorra Wars that cost 400 lives. Opponents of drug trafficking lost the war.

Campania is home to one of Italy's most powerful Mafia mobs, the Camorra, which is enmeshed in the politics of the region. The public image is of a mob that makes most of its money from drugs and prostitution. But anti-Mafia prosecutors say that while narcotics and sex trafficking are both highly important revenue streams for the Camorra, the big money is made in public-sector fraud, construction contracts and waste management. The longer the public service, the more likely a politician has had to make deals with the mobsters.

By the end of the 19th Century the Camorra waa an association of persons, having for its object an illicit control of any lawful or unlawful trade, obtained by forcibly excluding other people from taking part in it. In the broad sense it meant the vast organization of thieves, high and low, by which daily life in Naples was controlled, by which the city was swayed in political matters, and with the existence of which the Italian government was obliged to reckon. The social effects of the Camorra do not extend much beyond the limits of the city; politically, the whole province is affected by it. In private life, it meant that all who acted in such a way as to be considered members of the Camorra were quite safe from depredation, so that if anything is stolen from them by mistake it is at once returned; it means also that whoever is willing to help the Camorra in its ends will be helped by it.

It had no regular organization, no place of meeting, no elected officers; it was everywhere and it is nowhere; its members recognize each other by their conduct rather than by signs or words, and the commands of its chiefs were given verbally and transmitted in like manner. It might be described as a society for preserving a monopoly in stealing and illicit trades, were it not that many apparently respectable officials, men of business, and trades people protect it, or were under its protection. So far as it can be said to be organized at all, it managed itself by a sort of natural hierarchy and affiliation; the officers of each grade are self-created, and depend on force of character for the power they exercise. It might be called a system of bullying, in which every ringleader who can impose himself upon his companions is in turn forcibly controlled by one of higher standing than himself, who again is subject to others, and so on, from the street boy who gets a living by selling the stumps of cigars, to the high official and perhaps to the member of Parliament.

The real end and object of the Camorra was always profit, gained by any means, good or bad. It constrained all pickpockets, thieves, and burglars in the city to render an account of their robberies to their superiors, on pain of being at once handed over to justice; and there was no city in the world in which it was so easy to recover stolen goods, provided the application be made in the right quarter. A part of its regular practice consisted of robbing all foreigners, both directly, when possible, and indirectly by extortion.

The Sicilian Mafia of this the 19th century differed from the Neapolitan Camorra in almost every respect, and whereas the latter was based on criminal practices, the former had its foundation in lawless principles.

The groups that operate in Campania are traditionally known as the Camorra, but, as one expert, former MP Isaia Sales, reports, the label mistakenly gives the impression that there is some unified structure. In fact, many different rival clans operate in Campania, mainly in the provinces of Naples, Caserta and Salerno. There is no central organization or even a confederation; attempts by some bosses to unify some of all of these clans have failed miserably. Because the Camorra in Campania is not one organization, but a multitude of armed gangs, there is no one boss whose capture could cause a significant blow to organized crime in the region. Thus, there is no single "Camorra"; in fact, mobsters do not even use the word, preferring "O Sistema," Neapolitan for "The System."

The clans' enterprises are conducted within territorial boundaries, which are constantly being tested, leading to almost continuous gang violence. Unlike the Cosa Nostra, membership in Camorra clans is open to virtually anyone, as each family seeks to build an ever-larger army. The "soldiers" come from the lowest socio-economic echelons (the "urban sub-proletariat," according to Sales), who often find crime to be their only avenue to regular employment. Many wind up in prison or die violently, factors that contribute to Camorristas' risky behavior.

The clans' principal sources of income are the protection racket, illegal transport and dumping of toxic waste, drug trafficking, production and distribution of pirated and counterfeit products, illegal construction and trafficking in persons. Money laundering is rampant, consisting largely of investments in hotels, restaurants and small stores that also serve as a sort of life insurance policy for family members. Franco Roberti, the top anti-Mafia prosecutor in Naples, reports that the powerful Casalesi clan, based in Caserta, has huge interests in the construction industry in northern Italy. Roberti adds that Camorra clans are making more money than ever from drug trafficking, partly because of purer and less expensive cocaine, and partly because they have eliminated middlemen and now deal directly with Colombian suppliers. The Camorra pays cash for drugs, or trades cocaine for hashish and heroin.

The Camorra made a fortune in reconstruction after an earthquake ravaged the Campania region in 1980. Now it specializes in cigarette smuggling and receives payoffs from other criminal groups for any cigarette traffic through Italy. The Camorra is also involved in money laundering, extortion, alien smuggling, robbery, blackmail, kidnapping, political corruption, and counterfeiting. It is believed that nearly 200 Camorra affiliates reside in the US, many of whom arrived during the Camorra Wars.

A 2005 FBI intelligence assessment reported that "Criminal interaction between Italian organized crime and Islamic extremist groups provides potential terrorists with access to funding and logistical support from criminal organizations with established smuggling routes and an entrenched presence in the United States." In a public statement given on April 19, 2004, Italy's national anti-Mafia prosecutor, Pierluigi Vigna, indicated a link between Islamic militant groups and the Camorra, stating that evidence existed implicating the Camorra in an exchange of weapons for drugs with Islamic terrorist groups.

A report issued on 30 September 2009 by the Rome-based research institute Censis, and funded by the Italian Parliament's Anti-Mafia Committee, concludes that organized crime was on the rise throughout Italy but constituted "a true national emergency" in the greater Naples area. The report was based on statistics (mostly from 2007, the most recent available) compiled by the Italian Interior Ministry, prosecutors' offices and other law enforcement entities. In the province of Naples (which includes Naples city and some surrounding suburbs), 95 percent of the population co-exists with active organized crime gangs, the highest percentage of any province in the country.

In the past three years, 25 municipal governments had been dissolved due to Mafia infiltration, eight of them in Naples province. In 2007, 119 homicides nation-wide were attributed to organized crime; of these, 85 occurred in the region of Campania, with 80 of them in Naples province. Naples's overall murder rate was more thirteen times the national average: 2.6 per 100 residents in Naples, as compared to 0.2 for the country as a whole. (For comparison, the homicide rate for Detroit, which had the highest rate for big cities in the United States for the same period, was 0.46 per 100 residents.) Naples also has the highest rates of extortion, arson and loan sharking, according to the number of arrests and complaints to the police.

The Censis report describes the situation in Naples and its suburbs as "a true emergency... [in which there has been] an increase in all organized crime-related felonies, especially the most violent and heinous." In fact, over the last four years, the region of Campania has registered a whopping upsurge of 61.3 percent in Mafia-related crimes. The region also leads the nation in drug-related offenses, both in absolute and per capita terms. Although a small number of victims denounce extortion (1230, or 21.2 per 100,000 inhabitants), the extorters are more than capable of exacting revenge; arson in Campania is up a whopping 322.8 percent and in some provinces over 700 percent.

The economic crisis strengthened Camorra clans, as the liquid revenues they take in from the drug trade allow them to offer jobs and credit to those who can find neither legitimately. The prospect of another trash crisis loomed, as garbage and construction waste have begun to reappear on sidewalks and streets around the city as well as in suburban areas; only one of four planned incinerators had actually been built. No one doubts that the Camorra could shut down the disposal process and plunge Naples into another crisis. In the meantime, the central government's decision in August 2008 to deploy army troops to help police tackle crime in Campania appears to have had little impact on the Camorra's grip on the region or on the growing crime rates.

According to Roberto Saviano, author of a best-selling book about the Camorra, industries can save up to 80 percent of the cost to legally dispose of their toxic waste by hiring the Camorra to dispose of it clandestinely. This actually makes many factories (virtually all of which are located in northern Italy) more competitive, but at a terrible environmental cost (the brunt of which is paid by residents in the South, where the waste winds up). In 2006, the World Health Organization found rates for stomach, liver, kidney, lung and pancreatic cancer to be up to 12 percent higher than the national average in areas just north of Naples where the Camorra as dumped thousands of truckloads of toxic waste.

According to former MP Isaia Sales, an expert who has written two books on the Camorra, organized crime sometimes lowers agricultural and food prices, too, by favoring certain business owners who are able to produce more efficiently due to increased business. The Camorra also lowers real estate values, by forcing property owners to sell at ridiculously low prices through intimidation.

The Camorra runs an estimated 2,000 illegal bakeries (two thirds of the region's total), using expired flour and ovens which emit toxic fumes (the "wood" is often old doors covered in paint). Caserta has illegal cheese factories which mix buffalo milk with powdered milk from Bolivia, cutting retail mozzarella costs by a third; they also use lime to help ricotta "keep" longer. The most flourishing business is recycling expired products. The Camorra also passes off low-quality imports with made-in-Campania labels, from pesticide-laden Moldovan apples to E. coli-infested Moroccan industrial salt.

Camorra clans have been known to "get out the vote" for local political figures, but often prefer bribes and kickbacks to trying to influence elections. If they want someone elected, though, they will buy votes; up until this year, when Parliament banned the use of cellphones and cameras in voting booths, the cost of a vote was reportedly a $75 cell phone. According to sociologist Amato Lamberti, the Camorra can move up to ten percent of the vote in Naples province.

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Page last modified: 07-03-2018 18:41:11 ZULU