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Tuesday, 11 April 2006 will
become infamous for two things. It was the day that Italy's right-centre
government, with Silvio Berlusconi at the helm (serving longer than any
other prime minister in post-war history), was marginally defeated by a
shaky leftist coalition, and it was the day that Bernardo Provenzano, supreme
head of Sicily's Mafia,
was finally captured following forty-three years evading police "underground"
in Italy, France and elsewhere. He was captured in Sicily, just a few miles
from Corleone, centre of his clan's power. The "boss of bosses"
has moved frequently --almost constantly-- over the years, maintaining contact
with his underlings through the use of scribbled notes. He reached his place
at the pinnacle of Sicilian organised crime only in 1993, following the
capture of Salvatore "Totò" Riina.
The eccentric and elusive Provenzano was found in a rural shack (shown
here) furnished simply, with access to satellite television, though Provenzano
shunned the use of cellular telephones and other communication methods which
might have permitted the police to trace him. Still, widespread speculation
suggests that the authorities knew his whereabouts for many years, and that
people in Corleone saw him around town on occasion.
Provenzano's invisibility earned him the nickname "The Ghost of
Corleone," and he was known as "The Tractor" for his ruthless
methods, but just how powerful was this 73 year-old man?
Apart from murder, long the Mafia's trademark, Bernardo Provenzano seems
to have been involved with up to fifteen percent of the publicly-bid building
and civil construction projects in western Sicily. Most of the island's
clans (based more on geography than on family ties) answered to him only
indirectly, and some of the notes confiscated in his lair mention the names
of people not yet investigated by police, as well as politicians. None of
this is particularly surprising, however.
During Provenzano's reign the Mafia has more efficiently infiltrated
politics and public building (and restoration) while decreasing its involvement
in narcotics trafficking and extortion,
though these activities remain an important source of its revenue. (As we
recently reported in "White Mafia" the
organisation has even entered the health care field.) Nevertheless, Provenzano
and his ilk rarely live in the luxury one might expect of such wealthy criminals.
Their wives and children are rarely very exceptional people; Provenzano's
family has been under surveillance for years, with members operating a small
(legitimate) business and studying for university degrees. These facts are
known to many Sicilians. Despite the many cases of children (daughters as
well as sons) following in their fathers' footsteps, some children of Mafiosi
pursue legitimate professions that are not criminal.
The organisation never sleeps. Entrepreneur Libero
Grassi and judge Giovanni Falcone were killed
by Provenzano's comrades-in-crime, and Bernardo himself has been tried and convicted (in absentia) for two murders. Organised crime (the Mafia) and political corruption (its close cousin) are the most serious
social problems confronting Sicily today, largely responsible for the island's
poor economy (and the virtual lack of industry) and the resulting unemployment.
If the Mafia's influence on the Sicilian economy is difficult to overlook,
its effects are impossible to escape.
The Mafia is nothing if not versatile. It inevitably survives, and it
is very probable that a new leader has already been appointed by the Cupola
(Sicily's Mafia commission). A new generation of technically sophisticated
heirs will take the place of Provenzano and Riina, who themselves were never
more than mediocrities even by Mafia standards; they simply happened to
step into a power vacuum. DNA will identify them as it did Provenzano.
There will, of course, be another Bernardo Provenzano, and we'll soon
learn his name, perhaps following a bloody Mafia war. The organisation lives.
About the Author: Roberto Paglia has written several articles for this publication relating to social topics.