It has long been debated whether the mafia has medieval origins. Deceased pentito Tommaso Buscetta thought so, whilst modern scholars now believe otherwise. It is possible that the “original” mafia formed as a secret society sworn to protect the Sicilian population from the threat of Catalan marauders in the fifteenth century. However, there is very little historical evidence to suggest this. It is also feasible that the “Robin Hood” origins, which are closely intertwined with the Sicilian outlaw Salvatore Giuliano, were perpetuated by the earliest known mafiosi as a means of gaining goodwill and trust from the Sicilian people. This origin states that the Mafia is a means for righteous rebels to defend the people against oppression, Roman and Northern Italian control, and outside invasion.
After the Revolution of 1848 and the revolution of 1860, Sicily had fallen to complete disorder. The earliest mafiosi, at that time separate, small bands of outlaws, offered their guns in the revolt. Author John Dickie claims that the main reasons for this were the chance to burn police records and evidence, and to kill off police and pentiti in the chaos. However, once a new government was established in Rome and it became clear that the mafia would be unable to execute these actions, they began refining their methods and techniques over the latter half of the nineteenth century. Protecting the large lemon groves and estates of local nobility became a lucrative but dangerous business. Palermo was initially the main area of these activities, but the Sicilian mafia’s dominance soon spread over all of western Sicily. In order to strengthen the bond between the disparate gangs and so ensure greater profits and a safer working environment, it is possible that the mafia as such was formed at this time in about the mid-19th century.
MAFIA AFTER THE UNIFICATION OF ITALY
From 1860, the year when the new unified Italian state first took over both Sicily and the Papal States, the Popes were hostile to the state. From 1870, the Pope declared himself besieged by the Italian state and strongly encouraged Catholics to refuse to cooperate with the state. Broadly speaking, in mainland Italy, this did not lead to violence. Sicily was strongly Catholic, but in a strongly tribal sense rather than in an intellectual and theological sense, and had a tradition of suspicion of outsiders. The friction between the Church and the state gave a great advantage to violent criminal bands in Sicily who could claim to peasants and townspeople that cooperating with the police (representing the new Italian state) was an anti-Catholic activity. It was in the two decades following the 1860 unification that the term Mafia came to the attention of the general public, although it was considered to be more of an attitude and value system than an organization.
The first mention in official law documentation of the ‘mafia’ came in the late 1800s, when a Dr. Galati was subject to threats of violence from a local mafioso, who was attempting to oust Galati from his own lemon grove in order to move himself in. Protection rackets, cattle rustling and bribery of state officials were the main sources of income and protection for the early mafia. Cosa Nostra also borrowed heavily from masonic oaths and rituals, such as the now famous initiation ceremony.
During the Fascist period in Italy, Cesare Mori, prefect of Palermo, used special powers granted to him to prosecute the Mafia, forcing many Mafiosi to flee abroad or risk being jailed. Many of the Mafiosi who escaped fled to the United States, among them Joseph Bonanno, nicknamed Joe Bananas, who came to dominate the U.S. branch of the Mafia. However, when Mori started to persecute the Mafiosi involved in the Fascist hierarchy, he was removed, and the Fascist authorities proclaimed that the Mafia had been defeated. Though the mafia was weakened, it had not been defeated as claimed. Despite his assault on their brethren, Mussolini had his admirers in the New York Mafia, notably Vito Genovese (although he was from Naples and not from Sicily).
THE POST-WAR REVIVAL
After Fascism, the Mafia did not become powerful in Italy again until after the country’s surrender in World War II and the U.S. occupation. The United States used Italian connections of American Mafiosi during the invasion of Italy and Sicily in 1943. Lucky Luciano and other Mafiosi, who had been imprisoned during this time in the U.S., provided information for U.S. military intelligence and used Luciano’s influence to ease the way for advancing troops. Furthermore, Luciano’s control of the ports prevented sabotage by agents of the Axis powers.
Some say that the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA, deliberately allowed the mafia to recover its social and economic position as the “anti-State” in Sicily, and with the U.S.-mafia alliance forged in 1943, this became the true turning point of mafia history and the new foundation for its subsequent 60-year career. Others, such as the Palermitan historian Francesco Renda, have argued that there was no such alliance. Rather, the mafia exploited the chaos of post-fascist Sicily to reconquer its social base. The OSS indeed, in its 1944 “Report on the Problem of Mafia” by the agent W. E. Scotten, pointed to the signs of mafia resurgence and warned of its perils for social order and economic progress.
An alleged additional benefit (from the American perspective) was that many of the Sicilian-Italian Mafiosi were hard-line anti-communists. They were therefore seen as valuable allies by the anti-communist Americans, who allegedly used them to root out socialist and communist elements in the American shipping industry as well as wartime resistance movements and postwar local and regional governments in areas where the Mafia held sway.
According to drug trade expert Dr. Alfred W. McCoy, Luciano was permitted to run his crime network from his jail cell in exchange for his assistance. After the war, Luciano was rewarded by being released from prison and deported to Italy, where he was able to continue his criminal career unhindered. He went to Sicily in 1946 to continue his activities and according to McCoy’s landmark 1972 book The Politics of Heroin in South-East Asia, Luciano went on to forge a crucial alliance with the Corsican Mafia, leading to the development of a vast international heroin trafficking network, initially supplied from Turkey and based in Marseille — the so-called “French Connection”.
Later, when Turkey began to eliminate its opium production, he used his connections with the Corsicans to open a dialogue with expatriate Corsican mafiosi in South Vietnam. In collaboration with leading American mob bosses including Santo Trafficante Jr., Luciano and his successors took advantage of the chaotic conditions in Southeast Asia arising from the Vietnam War to establish an unassailable supply and distribution base in the “Golden Triangle”, which was soon funneling huge amounts of Asian heroin into the United States, Australia and other countries.
MAXI TRIAL AND WAR AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT
The Second Mafia War in the early 1980s was a large scale conflict within the Mafia that also led to the assassinations of several politicians, police chiefs and magistrates. Salvatore Riina and his Corleonesi faction ultimately prevailed in the war. The new generation of mafiosi placed more emphasis on “white-collar” criminal activity as opposed to more traditional racketeering enterprises. In reaction to these developments, the Italian press has come up with the phrase Cosa Nuova (“the new thing”, a play on Cosa Nostra) to refer to the revamped organization.
The first major pentito (a captured mafioso who collaborated with the judicial system) was Tommaso Buscetta who had lost several allies in the war and began to talk to prosecutor Giovanni Falcone around 1983. This led to the Maxi Trial (1986-1987) which resulted in several hundred convictions of leading mafiosi. When the Italian Supreme Court confirmed the convictions in January 1992, Riina took revenge. The politician Salvatore Lima was killed in March 1992; he had long been suspected of being the main government connection of the Mafia (later confirmed by testimony of Buscetta), and the Mafia was clearly displeased with his services. Falcone and fellow anti-Mafia prosecutor Paolo Borsellino were killed a few months later. This led to a public outcry and a massive government crackdown, resulting in Riina’s arrest in January 1993. More and more pentitos started to emerge. Many would pay a high price for their co-operation usually through the murder of relatives. For example, Cosa Nostra defector Francesco Marino Mannoia’s, mother, aunt and sister were murdered. 
The Corleonesi retaliated with a campaign of terrorism, a series of bombings against several tourist spots on the Italian mainland: the Via dei Georgofili in Florence, Via Palestro in Milan, and the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano and Via San Teodoro in Rome, which left 10 people dead and 93 injured and caused severe damage to cultural heritage such as the Uffizi Gallery. Bernardo Provenzano took over as boss of the Corleonesi and halted this campaign and replaced it with a campaign of quietness known as pax mafiosi. This campaign has allowed the Mafia to slowly regain the power it once had. He was arrested in 2006, after 43 years on the run.
THE MODERN MAFIA ITALY
The main split in the Sicilian Mafia at present is between those bosses who have been convicted and are now imprisoned, chiefly Riina and capo di tutti capi Bernardo Provenzano, and those who are on the run, or who have not been indicted. The incarcerated bosses are currently subjected to harsh controls on their contact with the outside world, limiting their ability to run their operations from behind bars under the article 41 bis prison regime. Antonino Giuffrè – a close confidant of Provenzano, turned pentito shortly after his capture in 2002 – alleges that in 1993, Cosa Nostra had direct contact with representatives of Silvio Berlusconi who was then planning the birth of Forza Italia.
The deal that he says was alleged to have been made was a repeal of 41 bis, among other anti-Mafia laws in return for electoral deliverances in Sicily. Giuffrè’s declarations have not been confirmed. The Italian Parliament, with the support of Forza Italia, extended the enforcement of 41 bis, which was to expire in 2002 but has been prolonged for another four years and extended to other crimes such as terrorism. However, according to one of Italy’s leading magazines, L’Espresso, 119 mafiosi – one-fifth of those incarcerated under the 41 bis regime – have been released on an individual basis. The human rights group Amnesty International has expressed concern that the 41-bis regime could in some circumstances amount to “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment” for prisoners.
In addition to Salvatore Lima, mentioned above, the politician Giulio Andreotti and the High Court judge Corrado Carnevale have long been suspected of having ties to the Mafia.
By the late 1990s, the weakened Cosa Nostra had to yield most of the illegal drug trade to the ‘Ndrangheta crime organization from Calabria. In 2006, the latter was estimated to control 80% of the cocaine import to Europe. The mafia also have a strong business in extortion big companies as well as smaller ones. It estimates that 7% of Italy’s output is filtered off by organised crime. The Mafia has turned into one of Italy’s biggest business enterprises with a turnover of more than US$120bn a year.
——-SICILIA MAFIA COMITION——-
Vito Cascio Ferro Prominent early Don, imprisoned by Cesare Mori.
Calogero Vizzini (1877 – 1954), boss of Villalba, was considered to be one of the most influential Mafia bosses of Sicily after World War II until his death in 1954.
Stefano Magaddino (1891 – 1974), “The grand old man of the Cosa Nostra”. Original member of The Commission and was very prominent in the cities of Buffalo and Detroit
Giuseppe Genco Russo (1893 – 1976), boss of Mussomeli, considered to be the heir of Calogero Vizzini.
Michele Navarra (1905 – 1958), boss of the Mafia Family in Corleone from 1930 to 1958
Salvatore “Ciaschiteddu” Greco (1923 – 1978), boss of the Mafia Family in Ciaculli, he was the first “secretary” of the first Sicilian Mafia Commission that was formed somewhere in 1958.
Gaetano Badalamenti (1923 – 2004), boss of the Mafia Family in Cinisi
Angelo La Barbera (1924 – 1975) boss of the Mafia Family in Palermo Centro
Michele Greco (born 1924), boss of the Mafia Family in Croceverde
Luciano Liggio (1925 – 1993), boss of the Mafia Family in Corleone
Tommaso Buscetta (1928 – 2000), Sicilian Mafioso who became a pentito (informant) in 1984. Buscetta’s evidence was used to great effect during the Maxi-Trials.
Salvatore Riina (born 1930), also known as Totò Riina is one of the most infamous members of the Sicilian Mafia. He was nicknamed The Beast, or sometimes The Short One (‘U Curtu in Sicilian) and ruled the Mafia with an iron hand from the 1980s until his arrest in 1993.
Bernardo Provenzano (born 1933), successor of Riina at the head of the Corleonesi and as such considered one of the most powerful bosses of the Sicilian Mafia. Provenzano was a fugitive from justice since 1963. He was captured on 11 April 2006 in Sicily. Before capture, authorities had reportedly been ‘close’ to capturing him for 10 years.
Stefano Bontade (1939 – 1981), boss of the Mafia Family in Santa Maria di Gesù
Leoluca Bagarella (born 1941), member of the Mafia Family in Corleone arrested in 1995
Salvatore Lo Piccolo (born 1942), considered to be one of the successors of Provenzano.
Salvatore Inzerillo (1944 – 1981), boss of the Mafia Family in Passo di Rigano
Giovanni ‘Lo Scannacristiani’ Brusca (born 1957), who was involved in the murder of Giovanni Falcone.
Matteo Messina Denaro (born 1962), considered to be one of the successors of Provenzano.
Michele Cavataio died in Mafia hit in 1969
Benedetto Santapaola (born 1938), the most important boss of Catania.
——-PROMINENT ITALIAN AMERICAN MAFIOSI——-
List of Italian American mobsters;
Joe Bonanno ‘Joe Bananas’: (1905-2002) First Boss of the Bonanno Family.
Al Capone ‘Scarface’: (1899-1947) Prohibition Chicago Boss.
Paul Castellano: (1915-1985) Gambino Boss. Assassinated on the orders of John Gotti.
Charles Luciano ‘Lucky Luciano’: (1897-1962) New York Boss. Founder of the modern American Mafia. First Boss of the Genovese Family.
Carlo Gambino ‘Don Carlo’: (1902-1976) Boss and expander of the Gambino crime family. Seen by some as the Chairman of the Commission since 1957.
Gaetano Gagliano ‘Tommy’: (1884-1951) First Boss of the Lucchese Family.
Sam Giancana: Boss of the Chicago Outfit from 1956-66.
John Gotti ‘The Dapper Don’: (1940-2002) Gambino Boss. Famous for his flamboyance and media-friendly attitude.
Henry Hill: (1943-present) Mob turncoat immortalized in the film Goodfellas.
Vincent Mangano: (1888-1951) First Boss of the Gambino Family.
Carlos Marcello: Boss of the New Orleans crime family in the 1960s.
Joe Profaci: (1897-1962) First Boss of the Colombo Family.
Santo Trafficante, Jr. The most powerful mobster in Florida and Batista-era Cuba.
Joe Valachi ‘Joe Cargo’: (1903-1971) First Mafioso to turn government informer.
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