Wednesday, February 9, 2022

The Rise and fall of Sicilian Mafia

     The rise and fall of Sicilian Mafia

The rise and fall of Sicilian Mafia

An oath is being administered in this room. This is a behind-the-door ceremony. New members are being inducted into a mysterious organization. Every new member is dropping some drops of blood on a paper carrying a sacred image in the first instance. 

Then this paper will be burnt.

Holding this burning paper, every member will read out a secret oath. That he will never disclose secrets of the organization to anyone. Always obey the commands of his boss. An attack on one member of the organization will be an attack on all and that will be revenged. Every member will formally become a member of the organization after taking this oath.

He will get the status of 'man of honor' with it also.

'Code of Omerta' which 'means keeping the secret' is the most important part of the oath. This secret organization is the 'Cosa Nostra' or the Sicilian Mafia. How did this organization take roots in a small Island of Italy and spread to the whole world and ended up?

Whether it came to an end as a matter of fact?

 It is the Mediterranean sea, the most beautiful and the busiest trade route in the world. Through this Sea down Italy, an island called Sicily is the situation. Today Sicily is inhabited by around five million people. But its population is not the matter but its geographical location. It is one of the few geographically most important islands in the world. This island is so important that major powers have been fighting over the centuries to capture it. That is why no one has been able to keep permanent hold on it. And this factor also ruled out any permanent government on this Island. For that reason, Sicily had lawlessness over the centuries. There had been a gap in the implementation of the law on this island... 

But millions of people had to live anyway.

Anything was to fill the void created by the absence of rules and regulations and a powerful government. So this vacuum was filled by a handful of rich people and feudal families of this island. A group of these feudal began to stand guarantee to the business deals in Sicily and got the limelight.

This group began to be called 'mafia' or 'mafioso.'

These landlords took their share for giving that guarantee and in return ensured that any party...

backing out of its commitment would find itself in a coffin underground the next night. All major feudal families of Sicily had formed this Mafia. The members of this Mafia called themselves 'men of honor' meaning, respectable persons. Its head was called boss who could not be accessed easily. After the boss, it was the 'under boss' who would be either close relation or member of the feudal family. Subordinate to the under-boss was the 'adviser,' who may be called third in command. Following them were captains or the 'capias' who were responsible for carrying out all operations.

The captains were assisted by 4 or 5 five-foot soldiers in that operation. Murder and committal of crime were carried out through the campus at the hand of the soldiers. They all were full members of the organization after they had taken the oath of 'Omerta' The soldiers also trained associates who would become full members or 'maid-men' of the body after taking the oath. The bosses of the organization called the Mafia, 'Cosa Nostra' which stood for 'my ownership.' Over the centuries the organization had become very organized and strong. It dominated the whole life of Sicily.

The politicians were raised by this Mafia.

The politicians who refused to bow down before the Mafia had their place in the graveyard. Police were also obedient to the Mafia although they belonged to Italy. Similarly, Italy appointed the judges but they followed the commands of the Mafia.

A judge was blown out with bomb it he would pass decision contrary to the Mafia's wish. The public departments also had the same situation. It was the period between the first and the second World War. Don Vito was then the boss of bosses of the Mafia. Which meant he was also the boss of all bosses of the feudal families. Don Vito was going to have a challenge to his criminal world from a matching fascist of the Mafia. But that man was the fascist in the real sense of the word.

His name of Bonito Mussolini.

Mussolini came to Sicily in 1924.

Then he was very popular and powerful. Italian emperor was also helpless before him. Therefore, his arrival to Sicily was also a test of his prowess and intents. The City Mussolini was to arrive had the Mayor who was also a Mafia boss. The mayor asked Mussolini not to come along with guards as they would provide him security.

But Mussolini did not agree.

And the Mafia punished him for this refusal. That when the next day Mussolini appeared after making a bombastic address to a big public gathering... he got perplexed to see some disabled and sick persons standing before him. Confounded Mussolini continued to look at them and his helplessness. Mussolini felt ashamed at their sight when it was also a message for the Mafia bosses of hard days.

Because power beats power.

Mussolini was a more organized fascist than the organized criminal Mafia. He formed a team headed by a police officer. It was tasked to eliminate Mafia at any cost. Particularly Don Vito should be apprehended, and he was caught. The police applied the same methods to the Mafia which the Mafia had been doing to others. Through torture and power, the police arrested hundreds of Mafia bosses and activists and got them sentenced.

The Mafia was about to end but the World War II started.

Mussolini was killed at the hands of the citizens in the War and Italy was defeated. Sicily was going into the hands of America and its allies. But the allies committed a blunder. That they treated the Mafia bosses and their soldiers as political prisoners. And set them all free. After that, the Mafia assumed another form and strengthened its roots in political parties. Mafia either helped a political party win the election or fielded its own members to contest the polls. So that whoever won the elections, should keep his eyes closed to the criminal activity of the Mafia.

After WWII, the Mafia people who went to America became stronger than the Sicily Mafia of Italy. Including New York, they established powerful mafias in many American states. Their highly organized activity enabled them to form a shadow government in America in the 1950s.

It was a state within the state.

The Mafia was even deciding the issues about judges, senators, and house of representatives in many states. Just read it to what the son of a Mafia boss of bosses in the 50s says.

"And the decisions that had to be made were you are going to be next Federal Judge. You are going to be...

the next governor, you are going to be the next senator, you are going to be the next house of representative...

candidate. The man got up after those decisions and no-one behold it happened."

This all will be appearing you wonderful.

But, as matter of fact, people and the government in the US and Italy were not ready to accept that... a shadow government or state within the state existed. It was for this reason, the Mafia had been structured in a way that access to the boss was impossible. Secondly, the bosses were promptly deciding the cases which the US courts took months to sort out. Or the courts lingered them on forever. You can question what made the superpower America subdue to the power of the Mafia at that time.

The answer is Cold War.

Yes, the US administration and its security operatives were so engrossed in fighting communist Russia...

that they had hardly paid attention to any other side. It was evident from the fact that 400 FBI men in NY were busy detecting the Communists or Russian agents. While only five officers were deputed to deal with the white-collar crime. This oversensitive and lopsided policy of the US allowed the Mafia to expand its business and thrive.

The Mafia minted millions of dollars in a day only by slightly increasing the price of the cement. It was also earning a lot of money from casinos and extortion in major US cities. At the close of the 50s, the Mafia got another more lucrative business. This new business multiplied its wealth and power out of proportion.

And this business originated from Afghanistan. It was the heroin (drug) business.

The opium crops reached the coasts of Sicily from Afghanistan. Here the Mafia bosses would get the opium harvest processed and send it to the US to their cousins. Sicilian mafias were running pizza huts in America. These pizza delivery boys in their bags were supplying heroin all over America. It was not only America but other rich states where the Mafia was supplying this drug. The income from the sale of heroin provided wealth beyond count to the Mafia. As the dollars piled up, competition and jealousy also became intense among the Mafia bosses.

It begot intra disputes and feuds. So the Mafia in the US set up a Governing Council to deal with such issues. This Council comprised heads of the Mafia families. It framed laws to sort out differences and feuds in the Mafia. The Council also decided on acquitting or killing an accused. Everyone was bound to obey the order of the Council under all circumstances. But Mafia in Sicily was not that organized. Intra-fighting of the Mafia families and soldiers of the organizations were being killed in Sicily.

So in consultation with the American Mafia, a Council was also constituted in Sicily. But the problems remained intact. The most vital question before the Mafia was the continuation or discontinuation of the heroin business. Because for some mafia families heroin was a harmful or dirty business. So they wanted to distance themselves from this business. So an important meeting was held at a farmhouse in Alpacha town of New York to resolve these issues.

The history writes this meeting as 'Meeting Alpachan.'

Almost all senior bosses of the Mafia attended this meeting. The don of the dons and the boss of the bosses, all. But here a mistake was committed that was not expected even at the lowest level in the criminal world. Generally, people did not have the slightest clue about this meeting. But police could not ignore the bulk presence of costly cars and well-dressed people in this ordinary locality. The policemen watched this Bar-B-Q party of the Mafia gentry from behind the trees around the farmhouse. The policemen saw the gathering but failed to understand fully what was going on. A Mafia boss spotted those peeping policemen.

He cried out, 'police.'

This made everyone escape from the scene like pilferers and the thieves did on a police raid. It was a stark mistake of the Mafia bosses. This petty mistake blew out to the proportion of badly exposing secrecy of the Mafia. Around 60 Mafia members were apprehended by the police. But the police could not charge them for any offense. Because holding a Bar-B-Q party did not make offense nor any weapon was recovered from them. Generally, the US law did not charge a well-dressed person for running away from the police out of fear. But the problem was the journalists who knew a Mafia don among the arrested ones So they wrote in the press that some monkey business was going on at the Alpachan meeting.

Thus the public perception about the invisible Mafia rule in America began to be discussed openly. This matter became the talk of the town. When this mistake had unveiled the Mafia, it stroke back by playing a big political gamble. In the 60s the Mafia gambled on the presidential election in America. The Mafia boss in Chicago was directed to help John F Kennedy win the Presidential election. According to a documentary on National Geographical Channel, no precise reason for this help existed...

yet presumably Kennedy's father had struck any underhand deal with Mafia to get his son elected. Presumably, an understanding had been reached that Kennedy on being elected would spare the Mafia. But it did not happen. Kennedy's brother Robert Kennedy became the Attorney General and he took very stern steps against the Mafia. Even the FBI installed bugging devices at the houses of the Mafia bosses. Hence information was gathered about the bosses. This information provided clues to inside discussions of the Mafia.

The FBI agents were infiltrated into the Mafia to collect the secret information. This all resulted in the arrest of a principal Mafia gangster, Joe Valachi during Kennedy's term. Mafia bosses were arrested in the past yet here was a new element.

That was media.

In 1963, John Kennedy decided to show the Mafia gangster Joe Valachi live on TV. Before the senators on TV Valachi disclosed all secrets of the Mafia and also those about the US Sicilian Mafia. He also revealed the secrets of Mafia don in the US, Joe Bonanno for which the Mafia had prescribed death. He had flouted the code of Omerta before the whole world. As a person of Jo Bonanno, Joe Valachi's confessions and TV interviews caused Mafia huge damage.

"Valachi's testimony was certainly a blow to the people of our world."

Kennedy continued very harsh measures against the Mafia. The reason being the broken deal of Kennedy's father with the Mafia or any other we have no idea. But John F Kennedy was assassinated during his term in power. His brother Robert Kennedy was also killed five years later when he was a leading presidential candidate. Anyway, the Mafia had been exposed in America and it needed new rules of the game for survival. A new don had created a room for himself in the US Mafia.

This don had again become part of the Mafia after serving jail in the near past. It was Galante Bonanno, the most charismatic figure of the Bonanno family. He put the heroin business in America on a fast track. It was proved from the figure of 20,000 heroic addicts in America after World Word II.

But in the 70s, this number had gone over 500,000.

Hence Galante revived the sinking business of the Mafia to the illegal income of billions of dollars in 5 years only. But here a problem came in the way. That the business was now not confined to the US and Italy only but had been internationalized. The Mafia had been turned into the largest industry of organized crime in the world. So the Sicilian bosses of the Mafia also aspired to get power and wealth like the bosses of America. This factor generated a tug-of-war among the bosses of Italy. An uneducated shepherd came out victorious in this contest. This man defied many accepted norms of the Mafia.

The Mafia had laid down the rule that only governing body would permit the killing of a person. That nobody would be slain before his family members and children and the women would not be killed, etc. These so-called gentlemen's rules were broken by this shepherd. He was so cruel that even the Mafia dons and soldiers called him 'beast' means 'wild animal.'

His name was Salvatore Toto Riina.

The Italians have very poetic names. So this totally illiterate evil genius became the big boss of the Mafioso. He began to eliminate teams of other mafia bosses one by one. He had set up a secret cell where the opponents were tortured to death. Their bodies were dissolved in acid. But the big boss, Toto Riina was invisible in this process. That he was not public. He knew how to perform from behind the curtain. Sicily and the entire heroin business was in his hand and apparently, there was no threat to his top position. But in this situation, he came across two of his friends who were lawyers. One was Giavanni Falcone and the other was Borsellino, his very old friend. The people of Sicily till the 80s knew the Mafia but they did not talk about it.

They were afraid of it. But these two friends became the voice of the people and openly came against the Mafia. In collaboration with some others and the judges, they formed anti-Mafia Pool. It aimed at taking united action against the Mafia. And rendering the Mafia unable to target anyone if action was underway against it. This anti-Mafia Pool began to probe the money trail of the heroin smuggling business. As the Pool chased the money trail, it divulged that the Mafia was much richer, powerful, and cruel than...

 what was thought of?

It was also revealed that the Mafia was not as united as it was thought to be. The Mafia took to killing the people of the Pool. A judge hearing the case of Mafia was blown out. But no let up came in the action against the Mafia. Falcone and his team learned about rifts among different families of the Mafia. They also met the Mafia soldiers who found the safety of their life only in cooperating with the Pool. As they were sure to lose their lives either by the police or the Mafia. So they clandestinely told many secrets to Falcone.

The largest success on this behalf came from Brazil in October 1983. Here the Mafia boss was arrested who was popular as the 'Boss of Two Worlds.' Because he was the Mafia boss of two continents from North to South America. He was the Mafia don Tommaso Buscetta. His arrest was a huge success that was more important than the arrest of the US Mafia boss Joe Valachi. Tommaso had the secrets of all senior members of the Mafia.

However, given his seniority, he abided by the oath of Omerta more strictly to keep the secrets. So he took poison on his arrest. But he survived. But he disclosed nothing until he was given such true information that obliged him to come clean. That the arrest of Tommaso weakened his faction in the Mafia. And his rivals taking advantage of it killed his brother, son, and other members of the family. He decided to avenged the Mafia bosses when he learned about these killings. He was unable to kill his rivals from the prison yet he could get them arrested disclosing their secrets. So he did the same.

He told the secrets of the Mafia one by one Falcone and his team. He first disclosed to Falcone about the Governing Body of the Mafia in Sicily. Based on valuable information from Tommaso, Falcone filed cases against 450 members of the Mafia. Among them, cases against the boss of the boss, Toto Riina were also included. But no one knew the whereabouts of Toto Riina. On February 10, 1986, the historic Maxi Trial started. The trial was held in a specially-built bunker-shaped courtroom in the coastal city of Palermo of Italy.

This trial continued for two years. It was very difficult to produce evidence and witnesses against the Mafia in this courtroom. Rather it sounded impossible. But Falcone and Borsellino with the help of the police and the administration managed it well. Hundreds of Mafia members were arrested who were present in the courtroom behind the bars. They hurled threats at the witnesses before the judges and created a mess. Most of the witnesses were approvers. They had been associated with Mafia, so they stayed resolute. The decision in the cases was announced in December 1987. Of the 450 accused Mafia members, 338 were held guilty. Among them, 19 high-ranking bosses were also included. Most of the accused were convicted of life imprisonment. Among the convicts the leading Boss of the Mafia, Toto Riina was also included. But he had disappeared anywhere. Therefore he was sentenced 'in absentia (in absence). It was a big success for the Pool as, like America, the Mafia bosses had also been exposed in Sicily.

Falcone and Borsellino became heroes of Sicily. Because they had used the law and not the bullet to defeat the Mafia. They had established the power of law discarding the power of Mafia in the gentlemen world. But, but,...

This battle was over in the court but in the actual world, it had yet to end. The grip of the Mafia was still firm in American, Italian, and Sicilian politics. Falcone and his unit-Mafia team were soon dismantled. Falcone was called to Rome from Sicily. He was made the Attorney General and the witnesses against the Mafia bosses began to be killed in Sicily. Now Falcone was to do act for the people who adored him as a hero and he did not want to leave them alone. So he acted to ensure safety to the life of the witnesses. For this purpose, he came back to Sicily in 1992.

Advocate Falcone and his wife were passing through the same city where he had won the historic legal battle.

He was driving at 90kms per hour. He also had complete police security.

Despite speed and security, the road his car was taking turns on, tore apart with a blast. The blast left meters deep and wide crater. Falcone, his wife, and the driver all were dead. It was a precise and accurate time bomb. It proved the active presence of the Sicilian Mafia.

After that Falcone's friend, Borsellino carried forward his mission. He continued the battle for the security of the witnesses. But two months later his car was also blown out outside his mother's house. Borsellino and his five guards were killed. The two heroes of Sicily had died and the judges and the witnesses were also being killed.....

who had given verdict or stated against the Mafia bosses.

The people were boiling with anger and cursing the Mafia and above all the government... for its failure to bridle the activity of the Mafia. But the Mafia had changed its tactics. It had become more invisible than in the past. On a day in 1993, a car was slowly running on a roadside in the city where Falcone had lost his life.

When it was intercepted apparently a harmless old man was found sitting therein. He was Toto Riina. He was apprehended and brought before the judges. But this old man refused to admit himself to Toto Riina before the police and the judges. He described himself as an ordinary man having no links with the Mafia. But no heed was paid to this claim and he was committed to jail for life on the basis of witnesses. When he was asked whether he repented his crimes, he replied, 'no, I am satisfied.' Toto Riina died in jail in 2017.

It goes that he had been the big boss till death.

Joe Valanchi, Galante, and Toto Riina all died. But the question of whether the Sicilian Mafia also ended with them?

The answer is, 'No.'

Then question if not ended, then where it is? The answer is, 'Invisible.'

Because mafias go nowhere but go into hibernation for some time in view of the public reaction. They adopt another form. But they never vanish. Because they are the dark side of humanity. And the dark side of the bright side.

They will stay on.

What do you opine in this regard?

Do tell us through comments in the section below.

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