The Sicilian Mafia formed in the mid-1800s to unify the Sicilian peasants against their enemies. In Sicily, the word Mafia tends to mean “manly.” The Sicilian Mafia changed from a group of honorable Sicilian men to an organized criminal group in the 1920s. In the 1950s, Sicily enjoyed a massive building boom. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the Sicilian Mafia gained control of the building contracts and made millions of dollars. Today, the Sicilian Mafia has evolved into an international organized crime group. Some experts estimate it is the second largest organization in Italy.
These enterprises evolved over the course of 3,000 years during numerous periods of invasion and exploitation by numerous conquering armies in Italy. Over the millennia, Sicilians became more clannish and began to rely on familial ties for safety, protection, justice, and survival. An underground secret society formed initially as resistance fighters against the invaders and to exact frontier vigilante justice against oppression. A member was known as a “Man Of Honor,” respected and admired because he protected his family and friends and kept silent even unto death.
Its 19th Century development was due to the great corruption which existed under the Bourbons, and especially in the police of that time, the consequence of which was a general tendency on the part of Sicilians to do justice for themselves. One of the principal functions of the Mafia was to decide differences and dispense justice without appealing or submitting to the decision of a tribunal; and this is clearly the result of a condition of things in which such an appeal was either useless or too expensive for persons of ordinary mean.
Another principal element was the Sicilian character itself, which is bold, but extremely reticent, and is deeply imbued with a peculiar sense of honor for which the Sicilian language has a term of its own in the word 'Omerta.' According to this code, a man who appealled to the law against his fellow-man is not only a fool but a coward, and/ he who cannot take care of himself w1thout the protection of the police is both. Evidently a profound contempt for the law was at the root of this principle, and the law was of course represented in the eyes of the people by the police and the tribunals. It was, therefore, logical that every Sicilian should do his utmost to hamper and impede the actions of both, and it is reckoned as cowardly to betray an offender to justice, even though the offence be against oneself, as it would be not to avenge an^injury by violence. It is regarded as dastardly and contemptible in a wounded man to betray the name of his assailant, because if he recovers he must naturally expect to take vengeance himself. A rhymed Sicilian proverb sums up this principle, the supposed speaker being one who has been stabbed. 'If I live, I will kill thee,' it says; 'if I die, I forgive thee.'
A man's position in the proper Mafia is the result of his personal influence, which derives in the first place from his reputation as a man of so-called honor, and which is afterwards increased to any extent by force of circumstances, until he becomes a 'Capo-mafia,' and one of the acknowledged chiefs. His prestige is then such that his fellow-citizens appeal to him to settle their differences, both in matters of business and interest and in questions of 'honor'; his house becomes the resort of all those who have difficulties to decide or who need the help of the 'friends,' as the Mafiusi commonly call each other.
The Mafia acknowledged no allegiance to any political party, but when it nominates a candidate his election was generally a foregone conclusion, and the successful contestant was greeted by a popular ovation. It was hard to see how a constitutional government could successfully oppose such a system. It was a complete and highly efficient form of self-government, which existed, and continued to exist, in defiance of the constitutional monarchy under which it was supposed to live. An ancient tyrant would have destroyed it by the brutal process of massacring half the population and transplanting the rest to the mainland, but no civilized method of producing the same result seemed to have occurred to statesmen. The Bourbons employed the Mafia to keep order; when the Mafia joined Garibaldi, the Bourbons fell, and the later government tolerated it because it cannot be crushed.
Sicilians weren’t concerned if the group profited from its actions because it came at the expense of the oppressive authorities. These secret societies eventually grew into the Mafia. Sicily's Cosa Nostra operates throughout the island with a unified, hierarchical structure. Inter-clan violence is rare; the last major war between "families" was over twenty years ago (the conflict resulted in the emigration of members of the Inzerillo family to New York, where they joined the Gambino clan). Membership in the Cosa Nostra is selective, and the organization has recruited personnel from all socioeconomic classes, including professionals. The unified structure works well as long as members maintain their vow of secrecy. The Cosa Nostra's principal sources of income are the protection racket, drug distribution, rigging of government contracts, trafficking in persons, loan sharking and illegal construction.
Since the 1900s, thousands of Italian organized crime figures—mostly Sicilian Mafiosi—have come illegally to this country. Many who fled here in the early 1920s helped establish what is known today as La Cosa Nostra or the American Mafia. Charles “Lucky” Luciano, a Mafioso from Sicily, came to the U.S. during this era and is credited for making the American La Cosa Nostra what it is today. Luciano structured the La Cosa Nostra after the Sicilian Mafia. When Luciano was deported back to Italy in 1946 for operating a prostitution ring, he became a liaison between the Sicilian Mafia and La Cosa Nostra.
The Sicilian Mafia specializes in heroin trafficking, political corruption, and military arms trafficking—and is also known to engage in arson, frauds, counterfeiting, and other racketeering crimes. With an estimated 2,500 Sicilian Mafia affiliates it is the most powerful and most active Italian organized crime group in the US
The Sicilian Mafia is infamous for its aggressive assaults on Italian law enforcement officials. In Sicily the term “Excellent Cadaver” is used to distinguish the assassination of prominent government officials from the common criminals and ordinary citizens killed by the Mafia. High-ranking victims include police commissioners, mayors, judges, police colonels and generals, and Parliament members.
On May 23, 1992, the Sicilian Mafia struck Italian law enforcement with a vengeance. At approximately 6 p.m., Italian Magistrate Giovanni Falcone, his wife, and three police body guards were killed by a massive bomb. Falcone was the director of Criminal Affairs in Rome. The bomb made a crater 30 feet in diameter in the road. The murders became known as the Capaci Massacre. Less than two months later, on July 19, the Mafia struck Falcone’s newly named replacement, Judge Paolo Borsellino in Palermo, Sicily. Borsellino and five bodyguards were killed outside the apartment of Borsellino’s mother when a car packed with explosives was detonated by remote control. Under Judge Falcone’s tenure the FBI and Italian law enforcement established a close working relationship aimed at dismantling Italian organized crime groups operating in both countries. That relationship has intensified since then.
A string of law enforcement successes in 2007, combined with a rebellion by businesses against the payment of protection money, had the Cosa Nostra on the defensive. The latest round of government victories started with the November 5 arrest near Palermo of powerful Mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo and three of his associates. Police believed that Lo Piccolo had taken over the top post in the Cosa Nostra after the April 2006 arrest of Bernardo Provenzano, "the boss of all bosses." The police and Carabinieri followed up with a joint raid on December 3 on the home in Gela (a heavily mafia-influenced town on the island's southern coast) of another local boss, Daniele Emmanuello. Emmanuello, wanted for murder and racketeering, was shot to death by police as he tried to flee. The next day, the Carabinieri detained 70 people, including alleged mob boss Vincenzo Santapaola, in Catania. Santapaola's father, Benedetto, is serving a life sentence and is considered one of the Sicilian mafia's most feared leaders.
The Cosa Nostra has a reputation for being able to deliver votes in Sicily; a number of analysts attributed the success of Silvio Berlusconi and his Sicilian allies in 2001 to the influence of organized crime (the accusation, whether true or not, is not that there was vote fraud, but that the mob was able to influence voter turnout in Berlusconi's favor). The vice chairman of the Italian parliament's Anti-Mafia Committee, Beppe Lumia, claims that the Cosa Nostra controls around 150,000 votes, enough to determine whether a party achieves the minimum eight percent required for a Senate seat.
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