Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

The 'new' Sicilian Mafia fights to keep drug trade

In the narrow streets and violent politics of Sicily, the Mafia and its drug trade are changing. A new, younger Mafia - aged between 25 and 40 and led by the Marchese family - has shot its way to dominance over older families. The new men continue heavy trafficking of heroin to the United States.

In the US, their La Cosa Nostra colleagues have shifted into cocaine as well, in a loose alliance with suppliers from Colombia.

About these ads

But the ''new'' Mafia is under increasing pressure from two sources: Italian police and judges, including Sicilian judge Giovanni Falcone; and the rival Camorra Mafia in Naples, which has men in Peru organizing cocaine traffic to the US and to Western Europe.

These patterns have developed mainly in the last year, according to sources here in Palermo and in the US Drug Enforcement Administration in Washington.

One other recent change: Public alarm over shootouts between old and new Mafias has helped lead to police raids on clandestine laboratories in Sicily that have been refining heroin from morphine base smuggled in from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sources here say four big labs have been smashed in recent months. One contained heroin with a street value of $62.5 million.

Partly because of that, and partly because Afghan and Pakistani labs are working more efficiently, the Sicilian Mafia is now trafficking more refined heroin past Sicily into Europe for transshipment to the US.

It is estimated that the Sicilian Mafia is still earning about $1.2 billion a year from its drug trade. Palermo, historically one of the poorest cities in Italy, is nonetheless sixth in consumption of goods.

Sources report that judges such as Giovanni Falcone, who works from the fortress-like, eight-columned Palace of Justice in Palermo, have done a good job in chasing and indicting suspected drug smugglers. Judge Falcone pays a price: Bodyguards accompany him everywhere. Armed police guard his home. His office staff refuses to divulge his whereabouts.

The world of the Mafia also remains exceptionally violent. The new and old Mafias have been shooting it out here since 1981, despite efforts by the government in Rome, which has sent down a number of officials to try to restore order.

About these ads

One of the most recent, Police General Carlo Alberto Dall Chiesa was shot down with his young wife in a Palermo street in September 1982. New and tougher anti-Mafia legislation was passed in the public outcry that followed.

The ''new Mafia'' has been shooting it out with older families such as the Corleones, the Bontades, the Badalamentis, and the Buscettas. Some ''old'' family chiefs (Buscetta, Badalamenti) have left Sicily for Brazil.

''Important Mafia figures are now living in Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay,'' says one informant. ''Five hundred Mafia people vanished in 1982 alone from Sicily, either killed or fled.

''This new Mafia is worse than the old. At least the old one never pushed drugs inside Sicily. The new Mafia sells to anyone. As a result, we now have at least 4,000 heroin addicts here in Sicily. In 1975, we had none.''

One recent survey put the addict figure for Sicily at 8,500.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.