Why the mafia are taking care of everyone’s business

How the mafia got to our food | Financial Times
image edited by F. Kaskais

Organised crime is already giving food parcels to the poor in Italy and Mexico. For the cartels and syndicates, this crisis is an opportunity

Why the mafia are taking care of everyone's business | World news ...
A busy street in central Naples this month. Photograph: Ciro Fusco/EPA

by Roberto Saviano

Pestilence presents a moment of great opportunity for many businesses.

Consider the speed at which contracts are put out to tender to meet extraordinary needs. Consider the ability to move goods and money without all the normal checks or legal and bureaucratic protocols. Plague is a boon for the commercial class.

The art of profit is based on exploiting need, and no one has perfected that dark art better than organised crime. The Covid-19 pandemic is already demonstrating this. With their usual business acumen, criminal organisations have, in recent decades, invested in a number of companies that have turned out to be very relevant to the present crisis: multi-service businesses (catering, cleaning or disinfection), industrial laundries, transport, funeral homes, waste collection, food distribution – and the health. All of these sectors have become fundamental to our survival over recent weeks, and will probably remain so for a good while.

In Italy, police have already raised the alarm about mafia cartels’ investment in the production and distribution of “epidemic kits”, comprising masks, hand sanitiser and latex gloves. These products are today almost impossible to find, and the sudden overwhelming demand (surely destined to continue over the coming months) has caused prices to skyrocket.

For the Calabrian mafia, the ’ndrangheta, this would be familiar territory: for years it made capital investments in the pharmaceutical and healthcare products sectors. In March 2016, it was revealed that the ’ndrangheta had been working aggressively to establish itself in medical and pharmaceutical industries across Lombardy – which became Italy’s Covid-19 “Ground Zero” – even dispatching cartel operatives and their relatives to qualify in medicine, nursing and pharmacology.

But such business opportunities are not the only benefit epidemics bring to criminal organisations. An even more profitable commodity is silence. With public attention monopolised entirely by the Covid-19 epidemic, mafia syndicates can manoeuvre undisturbed.

The already small space that their activities occupied in the news cycle has disappeared entirely, because public enemy no 1 is the virus. In February, 98 people were killed every day in Mexico, and in March the number rose to 99 – almost all of them victims of drug cartels. Yet this horror did not reach manynewspapers. Earlier this month, 19 people died in a single shootout between cartel gunmen in Chihuahua state. But none of this makes the international political agenda, because, in a time of pandemic, the only deaths that matters are those from the virus.

A queue to buy lockdown supplies of marijuana at an Amsterdam coffee shop last month is evidence of the power of drug cartels.
 A queue to buy lockdown supplies of marijuana at an Amsterdam coffee shop last month is evidence of the power of drug cartels. Photograph: Peter de Jong/AP

Additionally, with most law enforcement agencies occupied in the fight against Covid-19, controls at sea and ports have decreased, giving the drug cartels and syndicates an easy ride by leaving ample space for the global circulation of narcotics.

At retail level, there was a sharp worldwide spike in sales just before the lockdown. Frightened at the prospect of being stuck at home for weeks, customers stockpiled narcotics just as they did food. Proof of this came in the queues outside coffee shops in Amsterdam, and the huge increase in requests for marijuana from pushers in New York the moment the measures were announced.

In Italy, criminal clans which have lost their traditional drug-dealingspots outside schools and parks have resorted to home delivery on request, adopting a method known in Anglo-Saxon countries as Dial-a-Dealer.

But there is another door-to-door service that Italian mafia clans – and in particular the Camorra of Naples – have established: daily home deliveries of essentials. In the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods of Naples, where many people had jobs in the black economy and are now out of work, it is the clans that step in to provide welfare, giving families bread, milk and other basics.

According to Italian anti-mafia sources, the Camorra has also started providing loans – but not at its usual high interest rates – of between 50% and 70%. Demand for loans is so high in this period that it is still profitable to offer competitive rates, even lower than those offered by the banks.

This is kind of activity is classic mafia. It echoes the deep communitarian origins of the Camorra, especially when, in the early 18th century, it moved into the power vacuum between the French Revolution and Bourbon Restoration, and established itself for both “protection” and extortion. The organisations rely on want : if you are hungry, you are not particular about which oven your bread comes from….



F. Kaskais Web Guru

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