Sicilian Mafia has been one of the world’s most powerful, organized, and greatest crime organizations in the history of mafias.
What is Sicilian Mafia? It is one of the most quoted mafias across the world. This group has constituted mostly of people originating from Italian or Sicilian locations, either by birth or extraction. The word “mafia” is a generic term, referring to an organized group of criminals forming into an organization. However, the Sicilian Mafia also referred to as Cosa Nostra, originated in Sicily that continues to exist to date while originally starting from the early 19th century.
Cosa Nostra is an English word meaning “our thing” but the mafia is not limited to Europe now, extending its reach to the United States and beyond. It is believed that the mafia began in the towns of Sicily from the first major ruling personalities and power-hungry groups of people that were occupying the island at that time.
Let’s take a look at where this mafia originally began and extended its reach to become a major international criminal organization.
The History behind Cosa Nostra
At the start of the 19th century, the group originated for a simple power grab. This was the time of the Gabelloti – the historical entrepreneurs who leased their farmlands from aristocrats of the time. They used to hire guards to protect the land and other properties to maintain their power and control over the farmers working on those lands. These nobles or aristocrats were in constant debt to the Gabelloto for either taxes or rent. This resulted in gradually losing their land ultimately. Gabelloto ended up owning all these lands.
Gabelloto and his “protectors” took the major part of the pie by offering protection to the lands of the island that did not come under state protection. It became a normal course for the Gabelloti to grab power over the landlords and farmers alike.
This is noted as the first prominent existence of a Mafia on the island of Sicily. The Gabellotti used violence and fear to exploit money from the farmers for the protection that its men provided. The mafia was able to create its strong footing due to being backed by the Italian state. During a brief economic crisis in 1861 amidst the Italian Unification, they were looking for an opportunity to control the state governing the island that they were not much aware of. They decided to put their trust in the Mafiosi that was well aware of how the things operated on the island.
With all the foreign support and local stronghold, the Mafia rose to power much enough to start providing favors and exchanges even in voting and quite soon in politics as well. Politicians and Mafia became bedfellows in not much time.
Protection Money & Sicilian Mafia
The protection money, at that time, proved to be the major income source that the traders and entrepreneurs were desperate to pay to them. The Mafia saw its breakthrough in the 20th century when many Italians started to look for a new life in the United States. The Mafia played a major role in assisting illegal immigration to the US. Recruits in the organization further strengthened the Mafia, such a recruit was Joe Masseria. He is commonly known as the man who can dodge bullets after he escaped a ruthless Mafia attack without even a scratch.
During the period of Mussolini, the Italian dictator, a prefect was commissioned. During this period of fascism, Cesare Mori was begun to be known as the “Iron Prefect”. His primary job was to get rid of the Mafia by using any means that were deemed necessary. While it was severe in many respects, Mori’s process was thorough and proved to be effective. It was his efforts that soon many Mafiosi were convicted. This led to a well-known event the Siege of Gangi in 1926. This small village on the mountain became a strong area of the Mafia. At the end of this siege, Vito Cascio Ferro was arrested who was a suspected convict of the murder of a New York City detective, Joe Petrosino at the Central Piazza Marina in Palermo.
After many bosses ended up in the handcuffs, the remaining bosses set to find refuge in the United States which resulted in further strengthening the presence of the mafia in the United States. During the peak time of World War II, the US intelligence started seeking out imprisoned bosses of the Sicilian mob. Some prominent names during this time were Vito Genovese and Lucky Luciano. For their services of assisting the US army while freeing Italy, the US government offered them their freedom.
US Fight against the Sicilian Mafia
Once the Nazi control was lifted from Italy, these bosses continued to remain their political hold on the island. During this time the US took aid from the bosses in America and Sicily alike. Sicilian Mafia men like Giuseppe Vizzini, Vincenzo Di Carlo, and Giuseppe Genco Russo were also contacted who later proved to be instrumental in changing the history of Italy.
Once again, the island was under Italian control, the Mafia took the advantage of the situation and made up for the lost time by taking over the island as quickly as possible. In Palermo, Cosa Nostra became a great force, reverting to old means of making profit again as well as adding new ventures on the way from the construction and contracts.
By getting aid from the politicians’ offices, the mafia was able to make money by building neighborhoods and major Italian buildings in the cities. This was the time when the Mafia was growing its influence in both the United States and Italy. The two factions of the mafia began a series of meetings in the year 1957to chalk out details for major drug trafficking to provide significant monetary benefits to both sides.
The American bosses included many names like Lucky Luciano, Carmine Galante, Joseph Bonanno, Santo Sorge and John Bonventre. While the Sicilian bosses comprises of Cesare Manzella, Tommaso Buscetta, Salvatore Greco, Giuseppe Genco Russo, Gaetano Badalamenti and Angelo La Barbera.
Factions in the Mafia
During the 1970s, Boss Toto Riina led the Corleonesi family aiming to reach the peak of Cosa Nostra. Two factions formed as a result of their rise. One of these was the Corleonesi family, which was led by Michele Greco. The other faction consisted of Don Tano Badalamenti with their boss Tommaso Buscetta, who later turned as an informant. While the Catania families with their leader, boss Pippo Calderone.
A brutal bloodbath commenced with Calderone was ordered to be killed by Riina. Riina formed an alliance with Benedetto Santapaola to replace Calderone. This resulted in Calderone killing Badalementi, putting Toto Riina as the top of the Mafia/ Cosa Nostra in Italy.
Corleonesi moved to remove all the hurdles that stood in way of him reaching for more power once this bloodshed ended. They would kill anyone in their way including the judges, politicians, or even the law enforcement bodies. Even the President of the Regional Government of Sicily, Piersanti Mattarella, who was an anti-mafia, Pio La Torre, the leader of the Italian Communist Party, and General Carlo Alberta Dalla Chiesa, lost their lives in opposing the Corleonesi family.
Turning Point in 1992
In 1992, two judges were assassinated. This served as a turning point in the endless war against the Mafia. More than 450 Mafiosi were identified in the killings of these two magistrates, including the Godfather Riino, for several crimes in the “Maxiprocesso” or the Maxi trial. This had a crippling effect on the Mafia. Both these judges received Gold Medal for Civil Valor in 2006 and were deemed as significant heroes of the past 60 years.
Toto Riina was now imprisoned, Bernardo Provenzano now assumed the leadership of Cosa Nostra. He drastically changed the practices and operations of the Sicilian Mafia, ensuring that the richest districts would support the less rich ones. This was done to prevent wars and benefit all equally. On 11th April 2006, Provenzano was apprehended after 43 years of running from the law enforcement agencies. He was found in a small cottage near Corleone. In 2007, Salvatore Lo Piccolo, who succeeded Provenzano was apprehended in a house in Giardinello after being on run for the past 25 years.
Does the Mafia Still Exist?
The mafia continues to exist even today, while it is not as prominent as it once was. However, the Sicilian Mafia is still quite robust in both the United States and Italy. The main income source of the Mafia from drug laundering operations. The Mafia is looking to find a strong foothold somewhere again. But with the increasing capabilities of the law and enforcement agencies, there are slim chances for this to happen.