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Coronavirus: The helping hand for Italy’s poor — not the govt, but Mafia gangs

Italy which is also under lockdown, is witnessing violence as reports of small shop owners being pressurissed to give food for free and videos of people engaging in fistfights and violence are coming out.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Published: April 10, 2020 8:52:01 pm
coronavirus, COVID-19, coronavirus India, coronavirus global update, coronavirus India updates, coronavirus latest updates, Express Opinion, Indian Express The country which has reported nearly 18,279 deaths is staring at a major economic crisis. (File)

Italy, one of the worst affected countries in the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, is gaining local support through the mafia gangs in the country who are distributing free food to poor families.

The country which has reported nearly 18,279 deaths is staring at a major economic crisis. However, in the past few weeks, videos have surfaced of known Mafia gangs delivering essential goods and free food to poor families in quarantine who have run out of cash, the Guardian reported. These gangs are helping out families in the poorest soutern regions of Campania, Calabria, Sicily and Pugulia.

“For over a month, shops, cafés, restaurants and pubs have been closed,” Nicola Gratteri, antimafia investigator and head of the prosecutor’s office in Catanzaro, told the Guardian. “Millions of people work in the grey economy, which means that they haven’t received any income in more than a month and have no idea when they might return to work. The government is issuing so-called shopping vouchers to support people. If the state doesn’t step in soon to help these families, the mafia will provide its services, imposing their control over people’s lives,” she added.

Italy, which is also under lockdown, is witnessing violence as reports of small shop owners being pressurised to give food for free and videos of people engaging in fistfights and violence are coming out.

Regarding the social unrest in the country, specifically the Southern region, Italy’s interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese said, “The mafia could take advantage of the rising poverty, swooping in to recruit people to its organisation.”

In Naples, men belonging to groups like the Camorra, the Neapolitan have organised home delivery of food parcels and police are investigating their presence. Meanwhile, in Palermo, the brother of a Cosa Nostra leader allegedly distributed food to the poor in a neighbourhood with established mafia presence, according to an Italian media report.

Elaborating on the charity works of these mafia groups, Federico Varese, professor of criminology at the University of Oxford, said, “Mafias are not just criminal organisations. They are organisations that aspire to govern territories and markets. Commentators often focus on the financial aspect of mafias but they tend to forget that their strength comes from having a local base from which to operate.”

It is a way of portraying themselves as benefactors and local power brokers of the poor without asking anything in return, initially, and this tactic is as old as the mafia itself.

Varese said: “These handouts by the mafias are not gifts. The mafia does not do anything out of its kind heart. They are favours that everyone will have to pay back in some form or another, by aiding and abetting a fugitive, holding a gun, dealing drugs and the like.”

Drawing a comparison with the infamous Mexican drug lord El Chapo, the investigator Graterri further explains: “He trafficked tons of cocaine and commissioned the murder of hundreds of people but in his hometown he was known for his benevolence, because people said that he provided medicines to families or built roads. The same thing happens here.”

Italy’s anti-mafia prosecutor office said the mafia lords would offer their criminal capital to businesses in need during the lockdown, and then swallow them up later by using those businesses for money laundering profits from criminal activities.

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