Anthony M. Quattrone
The connection between Neapolitan organized crime, known as “camorra” and politicians in Naples and other cities in the Campania Region has been at the center of the political debate over the past years. The debate has become more passionate following the request made by a public prosecutor to arrest politician Nicola Cosentino. Earlier this week, the Office of the Public Prosecutor sent to the Chamber of Deputies a request to arrest Cosentino, who is an undersecretary of the ministry of the economy of the Berlusconi government and a Member of Parliament. Cosentino cannot be arrested without the consent of the Chamber of Deputies. He is accused of providing outside support to the illegal activities of the camorra in relation to the collection, transportation, and disposal of garbage in the Campania Region. The camorra-politicians-garbage disposal paradigm has come to the attention of magistrates over the course of the past fifteen years, but no major politician has ever been arrested.
The garbage disposal crisis and its link to organized crime has been officially recognized by the Italian state for the past fifteen years. On 11 February 1994, the Italian government, headed by Arzeglio Ciampi, declared a state of emergency in Naples and nominated a commissioner with special powers to deal with the disposal of garbage. Since then, eleven commissioners have been nominated by different national and regional governments, which, in the meantime, have alternated between center left and center right majorities. The head of the civil protection, two prefects, and two presidents of the Campania region, one from the center right, Antonio Rastrelli, and one from the center left, Antonio Bassolino, took turns as commissioners. In the end, by the spring of 2008, the Naples garbage crisis hit the international media, placing Naples on the front pages of virtually every major newspaper in the world. The images of Naples covered with tons of garbage eventually led to millions of euro in missed income, especially in the tourism industry.
The camorra was able to become central in the garbage disposal system by controlling the dumping grounds, and by infiltrating the garbage collection and hauling system. The role of the commissioner was intended to oppose the power of the camorra in the collection, transportation, and disposal of garbage. The commissioner was given special powers by the central government in Rome, to include the authorization to award contracts, without competition, to face an emergency.
The camorra had infiltrated the garbage disposal system by digging and managing illegal dumps. As older dumps used by the city filled up, the camorra was able to direct the dumping towards its own grounds, allegedly controlling also the companies contracted to transport the collected garbage to the dumps. Organized crime had the will and the power to create dumps virtually in any location of the Region where power shovels and other mechanical gear could operate.
Several prosecutors in Naples have been investigating the link between construction companies allegedly belonging to organized crime and local politicians. The magistrates are focusing their attention on those contracts that allegedly have been awarded to companies controlled by organized crime. These camorra-run companies have been able to underbid competitors because they are able to contain costs by using illegal dumping grounds. Organized crime is also accused of managing the illegal transportation and disposal of toxic and dangerous waste produced in northern Italy and illegally dumped in Campania. According to a local regional environmental agency, there are dozens of illegal dumps in Campania, and many contain toxic waste, which is polluting water springs, agricultural lands, and pastures. Studies are underway to determine the effects of the toxic waste on the health of the population living in the proximity of the illegal dumps.