Coronavirus: Mafia delivers food, essentials to Italy's worst-affected

Italy has the second most reported deaths at 19,468, behind the United States, with Spain in third with 16,353.

People are seen on their balconies as a priest leads an Easter Sunday Mass on the roof of the Santissima Trinita a Villa Chigi parish church during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Rome (photo credit: REUTERS)
People are seen on their balconies as a priest leads an Easter Sunday Mass on the roof of the Santissima Trinita a Villa Chigi parish church during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Rome
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Videos have surfaced online in recent weeks of Mafia gangs in Italy, stemming from Sicily, Puglia, Campania and Calabria, delivering food and essential items to Italian families as shelter-in-place orders and coronavirus fears continue to grip the nation.
While the efforts initially seem altruistic in nature, politicians and anti-mafia officials have laid claim that the Mafia could use these initiatives to sway public opinion and support in their favor, as poverty and uncertainty seep into the lives of the Italian people.
They also noted that with the economic situation in its current state, organized crime groups could also take this opportunity loan money to owners of small businesses struggling to survive during the nationwide lockdown or afterwards to rebuild their businesses, where these families would one day have to return the favor.
Italy has the second most reported deaths at 19,468 stemming directly from COVID-19, behind the United States, with Spain in third with 16,353.
With each passing day, revenue prospects get dimmer and with them the hope of credit relief from banks. It's a downward spiral that is particularly acute in southern Italy where mafia presence is most prevalent and risks widening the gap with the richer north, where even before the pandemic struck, income levels were twice as high and unemployment was nearly a third of the rate of the south.
Since early March, shops, restaurants, cafés and bars have all been closed as shelter-in-place orders were enacted within the country. After easing from peaks around the end of March, Italy's daily death and infection tallies have declined but are not falling steeply, as was hoped by Italians who have been in lockdown for a month.
The draconian curbs on movement and the shutdown imposed on most shops and businesses across Italy were imposed on March 9, and were scheduled to expire on Monday, however, the government announced on Friday that the nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus will continue until May 3. Among a few exceptions to the lockdown extension, Italy's Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte said bookshops, stationers and shops selling children's clothes could reopen from April 14.
“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," said Nicola Gratteri, anti-mafia investigator and head of the prosecutor’s office in Catanzaro said, according to The Guardian.
Gratteri compared the new mafia initiatives to those of Sinaloan Mexican drug cartel kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who murdered hundreds but was known for his "benevolence" in his home territory due to his humanitarian efforts, which included the delivery of medicine and the construction of roads for the poor constituency of Sinaloa.
In the southern city of Naples, investigators say organized crime groups - like the Comorra and Neopolitan mafia families - are handing out food to families worst-ht by the crisis, with the expectation that they will return the favor by helping the mob in the future. According to The Guardian, in Palermo, the brother of the Cosa Nostra boss was reported to have been personally carrying out deliveries of essential items to Italian homes himself.
The latter claimed that he was just carrying out charitable work in the community after he was blasted in the local newspapers for his efforts, attacking journalists in the process for alluding to the prospect the Cosa Nostra crime family was doing this for personal gain.
“Mafias are not just criminal organizations," said Federico Varese, a criminology professor at the University of Oxford, according to The Guardian. “They are organizations 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.”
Varese further explains that these "handouts" being delivered by the mafia are not "gifts."
"The mafia does not do anything out of its kind heart. They are favors 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," Varese said.
Italian anti-Mafia officials have warned that organized crime groups could take advantage of the crisis to loan money to owners of small businesses struggling to survive during the nationwide lockdown or afterwards to rebuild their businesses.
“The mafias might be able to benefit in other ways from the current lockdown and especially from the future, when Italians will all be able to return to work, spend more money, and get the economy on its feet again," Varese said. "But surely the story exemplified by the handouts of food parcels in Palermo and Naples shows their true nature, and it tells why they are so dangerous.”
Even the Pope chimed in on the Mafia efforts on Wednesday.
At the start of his morning mass, Pope Francis condemned people he said were exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to turn a quick profit and decried the “hypocrisy” of how some politicians are dealing with the crisis.
The pontiff asked for a change of heart of those trying to make money from the misery of others.
He spoke of “those people who, in this time of a pandemic, have made a business of dealing with those in need, who take advantage of the needs of others and sell them out - the mafiosi, the loan sharks and many others.”
“May the Lord touch their hearts and convert them,” he said.
Deaths from the COVID-19 epidemic in Italy rose by 619 on Saturday, up from 570 the day before, and the number of new cases climbed to 4,694 from a previous 3,951.
The total death toll since the outbreak came to light on Feb. 21 rose to 19,468, the Civil Protection Agency said, broadly level with that of the United States, the other country worst hit in terms of absolute numbers.
The number of officially confirmed cases climbed to 152,271, the third highest global tally behind those of the United States and Spain.
There were 3,381 people in intensive care on Saturday against 3,497 on Friday -- an eighth consecutive daily decline.
Of those originally infected, 32,534 were declared recovered against 30,455 a day earlier.

Reuters contributed to this report.



Tags italy Mafia