Monthly Archives: June 2011

Garbage crisis: Mayor fights uphill battle against Northern League and Organized Crime

Citizens protest placing Italian flag on garbage in Naples (Ansa photo, "Il Mattino", 21 June 2011)

Anthony M. Quattrone

The Mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, is continuing his uphill battle to rid the city of thousands of tons of garbage sitting on the streets and producing an unbearable smell.  There are two major obstacles on his path.  The first is the opposition by the Northern League members of the Italian central government headed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to allow Naples and the Campania Region to transfer garbage to waste processing plants in other Regions willing to receive the trash.  The second obstacle, which is less visible but equally disruptive, is the apparent hold that organized crime appears to have on waste removal and processing operations in Campania.

Berlusconi’s government was expected to issue an executive order on 1 June 2011 providing relief to Naples and the Campania Region on the garbage front.  Opposition by four Northern League ministers, Umberto Bossi, Roberto Maroni, Roberto Calderoli, and Luca Zaia, has blocked the government from taking any action to face the emergency in Naples. This has caused significant backlash within Berlusconi’s party, where southern deputies and senators are distancing themselves from the government in Rome.  On 20 June 2011, the governor of the Campania Region, Stefano Caldoro, who was elected with the decisive support of Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition last year, told “La Repubblica” that he was tired of the constant blackmail put up by the Northern League.  Other center-right coalition members were forced to take a stand condemning the anti-southern rhetoric coming from the North.

During the weekend, when the Northern League held its annual meet in Pontida (Bergamo), party leaders and ministers currently serving in Berlusconi’s government shouted slogans, such as “Free Padania” and “Independent Padania”, and in several cases chanted “secession” with the crowd.  The Northern League is also pressing to move several ministries from Rome to cities in the north, in an attempt to break the “Rome-centric” state, possibly triggering a quicker move towards the type of federalism that the Northern League has been hoping for.  The existence and viability of Silvio Berlusconi government is hinged on the vital support provided by the Northern League in Parliament.

While Berlusconi attempts to resolve conflict within his own government, the mayor of Naples is facing the internal battle with what seems to be a strong grip that organized crime appears to have on the waste collection and processing system.  Over the past couple of days, every time that the mayor appeared to be in control of the waste collection system, a new roadblock would come into play, ranging from someone instigating crowds to burn garbage or to dup trash in the middle of the street, to contracted companies keeping their trucks idle in garages.  When the president of the Province of Naples, Luigi Cesaro, also a member of Silvio Berlusconi’s political party, finally identified waste collection sites for temporary layover, the mayors of the towns hosting them issued ordinances blocking garbage trucks from hauling waste, while demonstrators, in the time being, put several garbage trucks on fire.

On 20 June 2011, the mayor of Naples, the president of the Region, the president of the Province met with the Prefect of Naples, who represents the central government, to work out a solution, albeit another temporary one. Today, a local agreement, brokered by the president of the Campania Region, Stefano Caldoro, has allowed that five Campania provinces (Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Naples, and Salerno) make their temporary layover sites available for garbage sitting on the streets of Naples and its suburbs.  This should provide immediate relief to Naples, while the new mayor gets on with his plan to increase garbage separation and modernizing the waste collection system.  As this new attempt to resolve the crisis moves along, Mayor de Magistris has warned that it is imperative to keep watch on organized crime and on all of those who wish to stop the winds of change from sweeping Naples clean.

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New Mayor and Campania Region President to Brussels to unfreeze funds

Mayor calls for ridding city of garbage in five days with help of all

Anthony M. Quattrone

Via Speranzella in downtown Naples loaded with garbage (photo Siano, "La Repubblica")

The new mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, and the President of the Campania Region, Stefano Caldoro, will be going to Brussels on 22 June 2011 to discuss the Campania waste management issue with the European Union, hoping to unfreeze 150 million euro that Europe had earmarked for investments in Naples and Campania.  The funds, which, according to news reports, were blocked by European officials mainly due to lack of trust and confidence in local administrators from Naples and Campania, are desperately needed to fund stalled projects aiming at re-launching the economy in the city and the Region.  Caldoro, who was elected last year, and de Magistris, who was elected only three weeks ago, are hoping that European officials will provide them with a chance to prove that they deserve the trust and confidence of the European Union.

Luigi de Magistris appointed the new Naples city government on 13 June 2011. He nominated twelve officials to form the executive branch of the Naples city government.  Each official is responsible for several departments apiece.  One of the twelve officials, Tommaso Sodano, will also serve as deputy mayor, in addition to occupying the critical seat in charge of waste management.   The mayor can count on a solid majority of 34 of the 48 members of the City Council, the legislative body.  Twenty nine councilpersons come from the parties and groups forming his initial coalition in the two-round election system, while an additional five belong to formations that have supported him in the run-off election on 30 and 31 May 2011.

The president of the new City Council is professor Raimondo Pasquino, the Chancellor of the University of Salerno, who was elected with 38 votes coming from the parties supporting the new Mayor and from centrist formations that supported the chancellor’s bid to become mayor of Naples in the recently held elections.  Professor Pasquino lost in the first round of the mayoral elections, gaining almost ten percent of the vote.  Mayor de Magistris, who admires Pasquino very much, asked him to lead City Council, hoping to forge a strong alliance between the city government and the Council, in the interest of the Naples.  This is the first time since 1993 that the coalition winning the elections does not take over the leadership of the City Council.

The first decision by the new city government has been to tackle the failed waste management system that has brought Naples to the center of world attention on many occasions since the mid-1990s with pictures of high rising mounds of trash on the streets and news regarding collusion between oranized crime, politicians, and public officials.  While the city’s priority is to immediately remove the 2,000 metric tons of garbage piled up in many parts of the city, the first executive order targets a permanent solution, in line with campaign promises.  The city is immediately increasing the door-to-door waste collection system adding five areas to the eight currently served, raising the participating population from 146 to 325 thousand by the end of September. The areas served by the door-to-door waste collections system are not experiencing the problems seen in other parts of the city, where high mounds of garbage bags are piling up to record levels.

Removing 2,000 tons of garbage will take approximately five days according to the Mayor, if a place to dump the collected waste is found.  He and the president of the Campania Region, Stefano Caldoro, were counting on an urgent decree by Silvio Berlusconi’s government allowing Naples and the Campania Region to export trash to other Italian Regions willing to help.  Regrettably, internal strife between Berlusconi’s party, the People of Liberty (PdL) and the Northern League stalled the decision until sometime next week, with the former attempting to throw roadblocks of all types to avoid that waste from Campania be exported to other regions.  The inaction on the part of Berlusconi’s government has caused serious embarrassment to the party’s local leadership, to include President Caldoro.

The waste management system in Italy is shared between four levels of government.  City hall is responsible only for collecting and transporting waste.  The Provincial government is responsible for the processing, recycling, and disposal of waste.  The Regional government is responsible for medical waste disposal, for the movement of waste across its borders, and for ensuring that there is an integrated waste management system within its jurisdiction.  The national government is to ensure general oversight over Regional management plans, and to intervene to guarantee cooperation among local institutions, thus ensuring maximum integration of services in line with European Union standards and guidelines.

The mayor of Naples is tackling the waste management problem at source.  Without properly differentiating between the types of waste produced, thus separating recyclables from other types of waste, and enforcing a door-to-door system, Naples will continue to lag behind all other major cities in the world.  The Provincial government and the Campania Region have done almost nothing in the past year in terms of identifying new landfills or building processing plants, but they blame the former Mayor, Rosa Russo Iervolino, for having done too little to implement a modern trash separation system to raise the level of recycling.  The former mayor, on the other hand, blamed the central and regional governments for not having provided necessary funds and assistance for improving recycling in Naples.  The new mayor, Luigi de Magistris, is fighting hard to obtain 8.25 million euro from the Campania Region for funding the door-to-door collection system, and, according to news reports, it appears that the president of the Region, Stefano Caldoro, might release the funds next week.

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Naples: Change is taking place bottom-up

CLEANAP and Friarielli Ribelli volunteers in Piazza Bellini, Naples, on 11 June 2011 (Photo by Maurizio Pannico)

Citizens are on the move

Anthony M. Quattrone

The election of Luigi de Magistris as new mayor of Naples on 31 May 2011 might be having an interesting effect on the participation of Neapolitans in improving their city through a bottom-up approach. Citizens appear to be on the move on several fronts. The Mayor had promised during the election campaign that he would have paid special attention to the points of view expressed by committees and movements, with the purpose of ensuring a higher level of democratic participation in the management of the city. Several committees and movements have taken the Mayor at his word and they have already engaged him through discussions and initiatives on the ground, not even leaving him time to complete the formation of his new city government, which will be announced on 13 June 2011.

A group of fifty citizens led by Rino De Martino, who manages the Treves International bookstore, cleaned up the portico in Piazza del Plebiscito (known as Largo di Palazzo prior to the invasion of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860), cutting grass and picking up garbage under the colonnade of the San Francesco di Paola Basilica on 4 June 2011. A week later other citizens, led by a Facebook group called CLEANAP, (the group’s name comes from combining the English verb “to clean” with “Naples”, to form CLEANAP, which is pronounced like the English “clean up”) worked on Piazza Bellini, bringing it back to a spick-and-span condition, while a second group Friarielli Ribelli (“friarielli” refers to a local type of broccoli and “ribelli” means “rebels”) performed “guerilla gardening“, cutting weeds, taking care of the gardens, and planting flowers and plants in the same piazza.

Citizens are also on the move trying to get the city to put back into use equipment sitting in warehouses or simply made “inactive” through the lack of attention by city administrators and lazy citizens. Angelo Forgione of the V.A.N.T.O. movement (the acronym plays on the Italian word “pride”) is attempting to get the attention of the Mayor and city officials regarding a giant movie screen in Piazza del Plebiscito, whose existence is regularly forgotten every summer. The screen, which is placed underneath the pavement between two famous equestrian statues with the Bourbon kings of Naples, Charles III and Ferdinand IV, can be electronically raised and used for open air movies during the summer. Forgione claims that with a very small investment, the system can be brought back to life.

On the security front, citizens have been on the move giving examples that something is changing both in terms of breaking a code of silence that has too often allowed organized and petty crime to gain the upper hand, and in terms of demonstrating that the city is fundamentally inhabited by honest citizens. Since the election of the new Mayor, several criminals have been caught within a matter of hours after committing robberies against tourists or merchants. On 2 June 2011, a couple of thieves stole clothes in the fashionable Barbaro boutique in the central Galleria Umberto, injuring a shopkeeper. Six days later they were arrested. On 5 June 2011, several hours after that two British tourists were robbed near the Cathedral (il Duomo), the Carabinieri were able to identify and arrest the alleged criminal. On 8 June 2011, two criminals were arrested several hours after robbing an American woman, member of the military, in the Capodichino airport area.

On two different occasions during the last ten days, tourists have been pleasantly surprised that honest Neapolitans have returned valuables that they had misplaced or lost. In one case, a tourist from Florence lost, in the Port area, her wallet with over 500 Euros and credit cards and in another an Italian who lives abroad left his personal computer in a taxi cab. In both cases, all valuables were returned to the happy owners.

The death of American tourist Antonio Oscar Mendoza, who died on 27 May 2011, nine days after that two criminals injured him when snatching his Rolex in the Port area, has led many Neapolitans to become more sensitive to the damage done to the image of the city by organized and petty crime. The two alleged criminals accused of having caused the death of the American tourist have been arrested on 31 May 2011. The new Mayor, in a meeting with the American Consul General, Donald Moore, expressed his condolences for the death of the American tourist and discussed with the American official his ideas for making Naples a more secure place for citizens and visitors alike. Neapolitans have reacted to Mendoza’s death in different ways, to include the official request to the Mayor to name a street in the Port area in the honor of the slain tourist.

Now it is up to Luigi de Magistris, the new mayor, to keep up the momentum and to start implementing real change. Tomorrow he will announce his new city government.

Guerilla Gardening in Piazza Bellini – photographs from “La Repubblica”

CLEANAP photos on Facebook (must have a Facebook account)

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New Mayor invites Obama to Naples

Anthony M. Quattrone

Mayor of Naples, Luigi De Magistris (L), shakes hands with US Vice President Joe Biden during the visit to Capodichino U.S. Navy Base in Naples, Italy, on 04 June 2011. On Right President of Campania Region, Stefano Caldoro. (Photo SkyTg24)

The newly elected mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, has invited President Barack Obama to visit Naples.  The Mayor, who is a staunch supporter of the American president, is hopeful that a visit by Obama could be used as a milestone for the rebirth of the city, which has been plagued by waste disposal problems, violent and petty crime against citizens and tourists, and collusion between organized crime and politicians.
During the visit by American Vice President, Joe Biden, to the US Naval Support Activity in Naples, Mayor de Magistris formalized his invitation to President Obama.  The Mayor stated that “I will work very hard for this event to take place – it is not an improvised matter, but something in which I firmly believe.  I believe that there are all the conditions for the visit to take place, but the timing needs to be verified.  I am an Obama supporter and I know that the States are very careful regarding the movement that has been created around my person.  There are analogies with what happened with Obama”.

The Neapolitan daily “Il Mattino” reported on 5 June 2011, that there will be a meeting next week between the Mayor and the American Consul General, Donald Moore.  According to the paper, the Consul stated that “we need to re-launch tourism, discuss the relationship between Naples and the United States, the relationship with the Neapolitan citizens who live in the United States, and the necessary commitment regarding security in light of what has happened very recently”.  The Consul was obviously referring to the violent death of an American tourist who died as a consequence of injuries received when robbers stole his Rolex watch downtown.

The President of the Campania Region, Stefano Caldoro, also supports the idea of inviting President Obama. “Il Mattino” reports that discussions have already taken place with the Italian President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, and with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The objective would appear to be to create and international event or an Italy-USA bilateral meeting in Naples which would allow the city to benefit from major influx of public funds which could serve to bring it up to speed. Commentators are looking at the positive effect that the G7 had on the city in 1994, when President Bill Clinton and other international leaders were hosted by the city.  At that time, during Antonio Bassolino’s first term in office as mayor, the city underwent major refurbishing and restyling, leading many to label the period as a new Neapolitan renaissance.

While discussions proceed on getting Obama to visit the city, Luigi de Magistris is working on nominating his new city government.  His objective is to announce the names of the twelve department heads on 13 June 2011 .  Observers believe that the new government will include many technicians, a high number of women, relatively young persons, and it will be non-ideological. De Magistris will be relatively free from the influence of major political parties because he won defeating the candidates put forward by Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right and Pier Luigi Bersani’s center-left.   His most daunting task is to rid the city of tons of garbage before the high heat of the summer leads the disposal problem to become a major sanitary issue.

More photos from SkyTg24 of Vice President Joe Biden with US troops and with the Mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris

More photos from “La Repubblica” of Vice President Joe Biden with US troops and with the Mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris

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