|12 December, 2006
|No peace for Naples
The Italian PM decides against sending military troops to quell organized
crime in Naples, while the police wrestle for control of the southern city.
Commentary by Eric J. Lyman in Rome for ISN Security Watch (12/12/06)
In November, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi mulled what was likely the most
important military decision of his tenure up to this point - and it had almost nothing to do
Naples, the ancient and picturesque metropolis just 90 minutes by train south of the
Italian capital, had burst into violence. Some 75 people had been murdered in the city's
streets in the previous months, cars had been set on fire, and stores had been looted.
The city's 13,000-strong police force was wrestling for control of the city as the
Camorra - Naples' version of the Sicilian Mafia - seemed to do as it pleased.
Upon taking office in May, Prodi announced he would bring all but a handful of Italy's
troops in Iraq home in time for the holidays. By November, these battle-hardened troops
- the best and brightest of Italy's military - were returning to Italy in droves. Would Prodi
send them to Naples to help quell the violence?
Prodi visited the smoldering city to assess the situation, and in the end, he decided
against deploying troops domestically. It would not have been a precedent, however,
had he chosen to send troops to Naples. Italian troops had been stationed in Sicily after
anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were killed within two
months of each other in 1992.
Over the weeks since Prodi’s decision, the violence has calmed, the Camorra-related
stories have moved off the front pages of the nation's newspapers and government
priorities have shifted. But the citizens of Naples - Italy's third largest city - remain the
victims of organized crime, and the city continues to appear ungoverned, and perhaps
Most Italians view the problem of the Camorra and its sister organizations in Sicily (the
Mafia) and in Calabria (the 'Ndrangheta) as regional worries that do not affect the
northern two-thirds of the country. But the problem is without a doubt a national one: It
slows Italy's economic growth, drains national resources, hurts the country's image
and creates a growing feeling of hopelessness among the fifth of the country's
population that lives under the thumb of organized crime bosses.
By some estimates, organized crime does some €160 billion (US$211 billion) in
business each year - an astonishing 10 percent of the country's gross domestic
product. Add that to Italy's official economy and the Europe's fourth biggest economy
leaps over the UK and France into second place. Both the Italian government and the
EU pour billions into the underdeveloped Italian south, but much of it ends up in the
pockets of crime families that control everything from transportation firms and waste
disposal companies to construction operations and small businesses.
So far, most of the anti-Camorra efforts have focused on arresting wrongdoers and
patrolling the streets to stem violence. But that strategy has its limits: Even if Prodi had
sent the army to Naples it would have been a temporary solution. And even if police
had arrested hundreds of "Camorristi" (which they did not) it would have had a limited
effect: A cost-saving amnesty over the summer released some 7,800 inmates from
Naples' prisons, a controversial move many blame for the crime and violence spree
earlier this year.
In the end, history shows that the solution may require the kind of political capital Prodi
is unwilling to expend. Over the last century, the Sicilian Mafia has been brought to its
knees twice: once by fascism in the 1930s - though it was propped up again during
World War II by the US military, which needed help to gain a foothold on the island for
the invasion of mainland Italy - and again in the 1990s, after the back-to-back
assassinations of Falcone and Borsellino. Since then, the organization has been a
shadow of its former self. Organized crime in the Italian south is not part of the region's
DNA as many Italian might argue, but experience shows that it takes a sustained,
expensive, serious and tenacious effort to improve the situation.
To be sure, that effort will focus in part on stopping street crime. But it must also
include increased accountability for local officials - many of whom are thought to be on
the payroll of organized crime - better efforts to limit crime families' cash flow, and the
promise of creating opportunities for southern Italian youths who often turn to
organized crime simply because there is no alternative.
"We can keep arresting these people," says Naples police chief Antonio de Jesu. "But
others will always take their place. As long as we fail to create jobs in this area, the
Camorra will thrive."
What remains to be seen is whether during a time when nearly-as-difficult issues such
tax, pension and labor law reforms remain on the government agenda, Prodi and his
fragile coalition will be willing to focus on the organized crime issue for longer than it
would take to visit a wounded city and decide that the country's military needs a rest
more than Naples needs peace.
Eric J. Lyman is ISN Security Watch's senior correspondent in Rome.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the
International Relations and Security Network (ISN).