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Friday, November 10, 2006

Naples Sinks into Mafia Violence

Spiegal Online: The violence just won't go away. Over a dozen people have been murdered in Naples since the end of October and many fear that a new mafia war is about to erupt. Memories of 2005 are still fresh.

Writing too close to reality can be a dangerous game for a novelist. Only recently, 28-year-old Italian author Roberto Saviano was sitting on Piazza Dante in Naples talking about the symbiotic relationship between the city's administration and the Camorra, or the Naples Mafia, and about how a culture of complicity and complacency in fighting crime was destroying his city. Saviano's first novel, "Gomorra," in which he tackles the subject of the city's underground economy, is a bestseller in Italy. But Saviano himself has disappeared.

The whole thing started when he was told that he was "not wanted" in "Rosso Pomodoro," a Neapolitan pizza chain. Then the threats got more serious. For the past few weeks, the author has been living under police protection at a secret location far away. The underworld in Napoli doesn't much like being described in detail -- even in a work of fiction. And especially these days.

Twelve people have been killed in Naples since Oct. 22. A 16-year-old boy stabbed his rival in love. A rising soccer star died for being related to a Camorra boss. A singer was shot in a Naples suburb, as was a 45-year-old mother in a sporting goods store -- she had lost her two sons to the Camorra just last year. Half an hour after Italian President Giorgio Napolitano vowed to stand by his native city during what he called its "darkest days in a long time," the bodies of two people who had been executed were deposited in front of the offices of the tax police in Torre del Greco.

Not all the deaths can be attributed to the "system," as the Camorra is sometimes called. Local politicians have sought to calm the public by pointing out that the situation was even worse last year. But that's not the issue. The fear that has gripped the country is the fear of déjà vu, the fear that the current wave of killings could signal a repeat of the last war between crime families in this city of a million people at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius.

"The Camorra has won"

Once again, the bodies of young people are turning up in pools of blood. And, once again, no one will admit to having seen anything happen. Meanwhile, piles of garbage accumulate in the background, as if the government had already abandoned the city. Giorgio Bocca, a former resistance fighter and journalist, sums it up in a few, succinct words: "The Camorra has won."

According to a recent police report, not a single Naples neighborhood can be considered safe nowadays. Even Nicola Oddati, the city's commissioner for culture, was robbed in downtown Naples, as was Luciana Izzo, the presiding judge in Naples' juvenile court.

When an American tourist's video camera was snatched on a Naples street in August, a courageous passer-by made sure that the thief was able to escape.

Workers at the city's airport went on strike in October after a crew bus was attacked and its passengers robbed en route to the terminal.

According to Saviano, the Camorra has five times as many members as the Sicilian Mafia. Structured like a network, it has no "boss of bosses," which makes it all the more flexible and unpredictable. If the Mafia is a state within the state, the Camorra is a state against the state.

Author Roberto Saviano immersed himself in this parallel world for months. He uncovered the symbiotic relationship between top fashion houses and the clans' sweatshops, how the government collaborates with the Camorra's garbage disposal companies, and how the Neapolitan Mafia, with its drug trade and many other illegal activities (it is said to rake in €16 billion in annual revenues), has long been infiltrating small and mid-sized businesses, including construction companies, shoe factories, recycling companies and hotels.

Shot dead by two killers on a motorcycle

Vincenzo "Enzo" Prestigiacomo was a harmless junkie who lived with his mother, his wife and their three children in a ground floor apartment on Via Luigi Settembrini in the city's Sanità neighborhood, where everyone knew him. His body was found last Monday between the Marino Bar's ice-cream freezer and the shrine to the Virgin Mary at the Porta San Gennaro, shot dead by two killers on a motorcycle. They were wearing helmets -- unusual in Naples -- and escaped without being recognized. Prestigiacomo had done nothing wrong, except that he had married a woman with the wrong maiden name: Misso.

Peppe "Long Nose" Misso is the Camorra boss in downtown Naples. He is an old man with close ties to the militant right, and he has been in jail for years. The biggest disappointment of his life was his only son's homosexuality, which forced him to groom his nephews as his successors. The three brothers are nicknamed Emiliano Zapata, Ben Hur and Jesus of Nazareth.

Zapata was arrested in February. Investigators believe that another Camorra family, the Sequino-Torinos, wanted to take advantage of the Missos' weakness to expand their drug business. Another source claims that the young Missos wanted to reorganize the drug trade in Sanità, a downtown Naples neighborhood, against the old man's wishes. The dead man was also related to the Torino family. Whatever the reason, the death of Vincenzo Prestigiacomo at Porta San Gennaro was not revenge. It was only meant to send a message.

In a pizzeria decorated with photos of the pope and nostalgic "Bella Napoli" prints, four waiters are studying the morning edition of Il Roma. They knew the dead man. "A mistake? A dead man is never a mistake," says Salvatore. "There will be a response," says another waiter. He is worried that the innocent will be among the victims once again, as they were during the last clan war in Scampia and Secondigliano, two outlying districts of Naples.

It was triggered in early 2005, when rebel members of the Di Lauro clan refused to pay their boss a portion of their drug revenues. They were pursued by the junior boss with previously unheard-of levels of brutality. The ensuing civil war in the suburbs claimed more than 100 lives. But the disloyal members held on to the territory they had carved out. This, according to Saviano, emboldened other members of the Camorra to try their own hand at striking out on their own.

The lesson, says Saviano, was that rebels need only strike back with the same brutality to prevail. Only a handful of Saviano's friends are currently in touch with the author in his hiding place. They say that there will be many more deaths this year.

Meant to calm the city

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi visited Naples on a cold, windy Thursday morning -- a memorial day for the dead. The government in Rome was criticized for having adopted an amnesty law that has put petty criminals back on the streets and for putting a financial stranglehold on Italian cities with its cost-cutting budgets.

Rome would never abandon Naples, said Prodi, announcing yet another comprehensive "Plan for Naples, a reorganization of the entire state, and not just the police." Under the plan, 1,350 new street patrol positions will be created, either by reassigning officers from desk jobs or hiring new police officers. A video surveillance system in downtown Naples will be expanded. "The military is not necessary at this time," Prodi told the citizens of Naples, in a message meant to bring calm to the city.

Instead of troops, public prosecutor Raffaele Cantone called on the government to establish working conditions equivalent to those within the Camorra. "Government cannot work if offices lack paper and there is no gasoline for police cars." Vicenzo Di Lauro, the son of the Camorra boss in Scampia, was inadvertently released because the photocopy of his indictment was illegible.

During a visit to the city on Friday, Interior Minister Giuliano Amato promised improvements and sent an additional 1,000 police officers. He had previously declared "furious and merciless" war on illegal moped drivers in Naples, a move intended to put a stop to the many drive-by crimes committed from the seats of unregistered motorcycles.

An old man with his hair combed straight back and brown, protruding incisors lives at the Church of St. Maria Donnaregina. The steel entrance door is lit up day and night. He is Umberto Misso, the one-time chief of Neapolitan tobacco smuggling operations and brother of the imprisoned godfather Peppe "Long Nose" Misso. Umberto also spent 20 years in jail. He buried his son-in-law Vincenzo a few days ago, "without a church ceremony." "I am devastated and tired," he says. He adds that this is the kind of thing that never happened in the past.

Misso did something last Tuesday that he would have been ashamed to do in the past. He went to the police and filed a complaint against those he believes are his son-in-law's killers. He would never have done such a thing before. But these are much more difficult times.
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