CRF Blog

How Sicily Became Ungovernable

by Bill Hayes

In How Sicily Became Ungovernable for Spiegel Online, Walter Mayr reports on the corruption, poverty, and other problems the island faces.

Sicily is Mafia country, and no one is more aware of this than Nino Di Matteo. The 56-year-old public prosecutor is Italy’s most endangered man. Because the Cosa Nostra wants to see him dead, Di Matteo has had around-the-clock protection for the last 23 years, with 42 officers working in shifts to provide his security in Palermo. With submachine guns over their shoulders, they follow Di Matteo wherever he goes. He also has bodyguards in Rome, where he was transferred in the summer, but he still spends his weekends in Sicily. And more importantly, he remains the prosecutor in a trial here intended to clarify the extent to which the government accommodated members of the Mafia in the 1990s, a case to which he is especially devoted.

This afternoon he is traveling in a convoy on his way to Palermo. An advance guard checks the scheduled route, to be followed a few minutes later by three Jeeps and Di Matteo’s armored limousine. The car has a feature usually seen only in war-torn regions: a jamming transmitter to prevent remote-controlled detonations. Top Mafia leaders have supposedly taken out several contracts to kill the prosecutor. According to wiretapped conversations, they want to see him slaughtered “like tuna” and “taken around the corner.” Some 150 kilograms of explosives have reportedly been delivered to Palermo already.

“I have been deprived of all freedom in my life,” says the prosecutor, after reaching his office in the palace of justice. “I have to notify my escort before I open the door of my house in the morning. I feel as if I can’t breathe. I would so much like to take a walk alone.” He lives like a hardened criminal with a bounty on his head.

Although the days when blood-soaked bodies lay in the streets of Palermo are gone, the fight against the Mafia is far from won. The Sicilian Cosa Nostra is merely pursuing a different strategy. Instead of fighting the government with weapons, it is infiltrating it. As it invests money in the legitimate economy, it makes greater inroads into society. [more]