From the mafia to transnational crime


From the mafia to transnational crime
The Sicilian mafia: from vagueness to the paradigm of complexity
Although the world ‘mafia’ has been too often characterised by a strong degree of vagueness, so much so as to be used for any form of crime and excessive power, assuming on television the features of the universal Mafia, recently things have risked becoming more complicated with the use of the world in the plural and with the introduction of the expression “transnational crime”. Since the 19th century the Sicilian mafia has aroused great interest but the analyses which may be considered scientific, from Franchetti’s study to the most recent ones, can be counted on one hand. Basically there have been two approaches: the first one stresses the cultural aspects, by considering the mafia phenomenon essentially or exclusively as a mentality and behavioural code; the other one has as its basis an idea of the mafia as a sum of criminal sodalities, while on the aetiologocal plane the dominating paradigm has been that of a deficit of opportunities linked with condition of backwardness and under-development. Officially, it was only in 1982, after the Dalla Chiesa murder, through the so-called anti-mafia law, that criminal association of mafioso type was contemplated, based on the intimidatory power of the associative link and having as an end the carrying out of killings and the acquisition and running of economical activities, contracts and public services or, at any rate, the realisation of profits and unjust advantages, and only since then have institutions been active and obtained important results: a lot of bosses and affiliates of mafia associations have been arrested, after many years of latitancy, tried and sentenced.
Thanks to new legislative tools and to the cooperation of a lot of mafiosos, an idea of mafia as a rigid and highly structured organisation has been established. It is called Cosa nostra, and it is torn by deep internal clashes which have brought about the imposing of a dictatorship on the part of the so-called ‘Corleonese’, and committed to a bloody campaign which culminated in the bloodsheds of 1992 and 1993 which triggered the reaction of both institutions and society.
The basic limitation of this reaction is given by its very nature of answer to mafia violence, conceived and actuated in a perspective of emergency. The anti-mafia activity of society as well was born as an answer to the explosion of mafia violence, with big manifestations soon after the sensational killings, with the proliferation of associations and committees which were soon to disappear. At the bottom there is a vision of the mafia which may be schematised as follows: the mafia exists when it shoots, is major phenomenon when the number of killings grows excessively and some of the victims are famous, and becomes a national phenomenon when it kills important people, like Dalla Chiesa, Falcone, and Borsellino. In this way in the last twenty years we have seen the repetition of a cycle: big murders, legal and repressive answer, attenuation of the violence and a return to ‘normality’, which means a drop in the attention and a basic attenuation of the emergency legislation.
All this means that the crime-fighting action rather than giving life to a consistent plan has been limited to the preparation and actuation of special measures, often hurried and contradictory, and only recently has the need been felt to put order in the jungle of laws and decrees through the compilation of a Consolidated Text which is still to be published. Together with the publication of the anti-mafia law and the subsequent laws, a reflection was developed which stressed the entrepreneurial paradigm and drew on the elaboration of American criminology: already at the end of the sixties criminologists linked to the establishment, such as Shelling, Cressey, Buchanan, Becker, had started to study the crime with tools proper to economic analysis.
The idea of the mafia as a typical criminal association and as a firm undoubtedly catches some essential features of the phenomenology of the mafia type, but in my opinion it is not exhaustive. To obtain an adequate representation I have proposed the adoption of a ‘paradigm of complexity’ based on the functional relation among several aspects: crime, accumulation, power, cultural code, consensus (1). According to such a defining hypothesis the mafia is not only a firm but it is also a political-institutional subject which exercises power on its own, territorial seigniory, and interacts with sectors of the institutions and of the political spheres.
Criminal groups are not closed and isolated but act inside a relational system cemented by the pursuit of common interests and the sharing of cultural codes, on an inter-class basis but dominated by those illegal and legal subject who are richer and more powerful (mafia bourgeoisie). In contrast with sectorial visions (extortion mafia, contract mafia, drugs mafia, etc.) and with stereotypes which do not stress the drastic or generational changes (old mafia, new mafia) in reality the mafia emerges as an articulated and unitary system, polymorphic, which evolves by interweaving continuity and transformation, formal rigidities and de facto elasticity, to adequate itself to the changing context.
The mafia cannot be adequately studied without analysing the society in which it is born and develops, but without operating generalised criminations. Sicily, in particular its western part, can be defined as a society producing the mafia because of some characteristics such as acceptance of violence and illegality by a large part of population, the exiguity of legal economy and the fragility of the texture of the society, but we must not forget that this is not the result of an immutable ethos (Banfield’s ‘amoral familism’) or of an ancestral incivisme (as Putnam says): in Sicily there were important struggles – from the Fasci Siciliani to the period after world War II – against the mafia, and their defeat, which made millions of people emigrate, is explainable not only with the violent reaction both by landlord and mafiosos, but also with the complicity of local and central institutions (2).
Historic and new criminal groups, national and international

The word ‘mafias’ is also used to define historic national criminal groups such as the Calabrian ‘ndrangheta and the Campanian camorra, or new ones such as the Apulian Sacra corona unita or the Brenta mafia. It is also used to indicate some associations which have been operating in other countries for a long time, such as the Chinese Triads and the Japanese Yakuza, or which have been formed recently, such as the Colombian cartels, the Russian or Nigerian mafias, etc.
These groups have specific features but share some basic features with the Sicilian mafia, such as the existence, in variegated forms, of an organisation structure and the aim, by means the criminal activities, of getting richer and conquering positions of power through the control of the territory. Moreover, processes of homologation are taking place: organised criminal groups devote themselves to the same activities (for example the production and selling of drugs) and have to face and solve the same problems (for example, the recycling of illegal capitals) and around them there is the unfolding of a net of relationships with subjects that make the use of tools belonging to advanced technology possible. They also give the crime professionals indications on the most convenient choices in order to recycle the illegal capitals and make connections possible within the social and the institutional contexts.
Many of these criminal associations, born as local sodalities, for a long time have been carrying out activities at an international level, in the wake of migration processes which were already considerable in the course of 19th century, which have brought about the formation of criminal groups in the arrival countries linked to their homeland, not mere branches but often with a considerable degree of independence. It is sufficient to think of the American and the European Chinatowns, or of the American Cosa nostra, or of the branches the Calabrian ‘ndrangheta in Australia. The rise in illegal accumulation, which according to the most cautious estimates must be about 500-700 billion dollars a year, the proliferation of criminal groups of the mafioso type and the documentation of co-operational rapports among the various organisations, which in spite of internal conflicts have managed to reach a regime of external pax, have generated hurried and mythicized views, such as the formation of a world cupola of the crime that probably directs the most important operations in the world. It is supposed that the head of this summit was, for some time, the semiliterate Totò Riina, boss of the ‘Corleonese’. This is a further demonstration of the persistence of incongruous and misleading stereotypes, which are still today more common than scientific analysis.
From crimocracies to Mafia States

In the history of the Sicilian mafia the relationship with the institutions is a fundamental datum and it is inscribed both within the formation processes of the dominant classes and the concrete configuration of the State form. Faced with an essentially dual mafia (on the one hand it does not recognises the State monopoly of force, has a form of justice of its own and uses murder as a punishment and not as a crime, and so it is outside and against the State; on the other, it aims at securing public money, through contracts, and actively takes part in public life, and so it is within and with the State) the State too has demonstrated a basic duality, renouncing as a matter of fact the monopoly of physical force and legitimating the mafia because of a long tradition of impunity (3).
The mafia-institutions relationship in Sicily has been configured as interaction, and only in some cases (for example, by means of a direct taking up of a local power by those mafiosos appointed mayors after the Allies landing) as formal crimocracy. As regards other realities there has been talk of narcocracy meaning the direct running of the drugs traffic by the government (the most striking cases are: the general Garcia Meza’s dictatorship in Bolivia, Noriega’s regime in Panama, and the military regime in Burma) or the support assured by the drugs dealers to the government (4).
After the collapse of the communist regimes, in analysing the situation in the Balkan area there has been talk of Mafia-States as regards Serbia and Albania: the local mafias, devoted to drugs traffics and having a primary role in the wars which have stained the Balkan area with blood, have nested at the vertices of the States, giving life to criminocratic regimes (5). Some basically similar or assimilable situations are registered in other ex-socialist countries, starting from Russia, where criminal organisations have developed from within the KGB itself and the PCUS and where the rising middle-classes are an expression of criminal groups, while illegal practices and corruption also take root at the higher political levels, as in the case of the Eltsins, involved in recycling operations in the banks of several countries.
The United Nations and transnational crime A short chronicle

The interest of the United Nations in the international developments of organised crime phenomena started in September 1975 with the fifth conference on crime prevention which took place on Geneva, during which there was an equation between crime and business. In the subsequent conferences there was the effort to go ahead in the compilation of an action plan, like the one adopted in Milan 1985, defined as a collective attempt on the part of the international community to face a problem whose destructive impact would increase if the necessary concrete measures were not taken on the basis of precise priorities. In 1988 in Vienna the Agreement against illegal drugs and psychotropic substance traffics was signed, and ratified in 1990. It reaffirmed a prohibitionist choice. In 1992 there was the birth, inside the Economic and Social Council, of the Commission for the prevention of crime which during its first meeting asked the Secretary-General to examine the possibility of co-ordinating the efforts against the recycling of criminal earnings and of finding the tools to provide the nations that were members of the UN with technical assistance in order to make them able to adopt adequate legislation, to train investigative and repressive personnel, and to develop international cooperation.
In 1993 the social and Economic Council decided to promote a world ministerial conference on transnational crime, and Italy offered to host it. Giovanni Falcone, before being killed, did his best to stimulate the adoption of an adequate policy on international anti-crime cooperation and now, after his death, his proposals are starting to be put into practice. Falcone’s fundamental aim was the introduction of the offence of mafioso association in international legislation.
The world ministerial conference was held in Naples from 21 to 23 november 1994. It saw the participation of 800 Heads of State, Ministers, and representatives of 142 nations. In a preparatory document there was the analysis of the situation and a definition of organised and transnational crime was proposed. Organised crime was considered as the result of the association of several people aiming at undertaking criminal activity on a more or less durable basis. In general, ‘associated’ people devote themselves to criminal business, that is to providing illegal goods and services, or legal goods obtained thanks to illegal means. A consideration by the American criminologist Gary Potter was taken up again, according to which organised crime is mainly an extension of the possibilities of the legal market into forbidden terrains. Criminal groups have the same motivations as businessmen who operate in illegal markets. The element which distinguishes an illegal business from a legal one is the use of violence and corruption.
The document by the United Nations then moved on to the definition of transnational crime. Generally, the world ‘transnational’ indicated the passing of information, money, goods, people through national boundaries. Criminal organisations are more and more involved in activities over the frontier. The globalisation of commerce and of consumer demand for luxuries has pushed criminal organisations to adjust themselves to the new context. Actually, national boundaries have never completely stopped the passing illegal goods and services, but what happens nowadays is not longer the traditional smuggling of legal goods in order not to pay taxes or to escape the Customs; the transnational traffic concerns above all illegal goods and services and aims at escaping the repression and at occupying wider and wider markets. Criminal organisation settle in regions where they run fewer risks and they provide the markets where the profits are bigger with their products. The capitals earned through illegal activities are put in the world financial system, making use of the so-called fiscal paradises and of the badly-regulated banks. This way, transnational criminal organisation have become very important subject in world economic activity and key-agencies in illegal industries, whose profits exceed the gross national product of many industrialised countries and above all of the developing countries.
The reasons of the success of transnational criminal organisations must be found in some distortions of the world system, in the phase opened up by the collapse of socialism and the triumph of capitalism and liberal democracy all over the world. In the ex-socialist countries the introduction of capitalism was not accompanied by the activation of more rudimental mechanism to regulate firms. The decline of authority and legality structures, the explosion of ethnic conflicts and the levitation of emigration have offered new possibilities to criminal activities.
In the introductive report at the Naples conference the United Nations Secretary again took up the themes of the preparatory documents and explained their basic idea: liberalism in capitalistic countries was based before on two pillars: market and law. Nowadays, with the globalisation of the capitalist economy, in many countries there is a market which has no state and no laws, and these realities are more assimilable with the jungle than with countries having a long democratic tradition, meaning by jungle a primitive capitalism, without rules, in which illegal accumulation has great importance.
As can be seen, the attempts at theorisation by the organism and representatives of the United Nations make us, in order to analyse organised crime and transnational crime, of the business paradigm and re-propose the aetiology of deficit. As the mafia, according to a theory which dominated for several years, was born because of underdevelopment and backwardness, as it was a feudal residue, an obstacle to modernisation, in the same way transnational crime has as its originating context the conditions of marginality and periphery, or in any case of incomplete and imperfect modernisation in many areas of the planet.
Actually the mafia has exploited the opportunities for underdevelopment and of distorted development, and has been able to take part in the processes of modernisation turning them to its own interest. And today transnational crime cannot be explained through the metaphor of the ‘jungle’: those countries which are the last to have arrived in the capitalistic market, by turning to illegal accumulation and filling themselves with mafia, do nothing but follow a track already laid out precisely by those ‘democratic’ countries indicated as examples of healthy liberalism, starting from the United States where crime has been characterised as the ‘American way of life’ (this is Daniel Bell’s thesis), that is to say as a way towards capitalism for the various ethnic subjects present on the American scenario: Irish, Jews, Italians, etc.
In Naples there were the reactions of the fiscal paradise-countries, which opposed the approval of restrictive measures, and the conference ended with the approval of both a political declaration and the plan of global action while the proposal of an international agreement was opposed by several industrialised countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, which stressed the excessive cost and showed some doubts on its effectiveness. The proposal for an international convention was successively taken up again and in 1996, during the 51st general assembly, Poland proposed a draft. From 1997 to 1999 there were some international conferences in Palermo, Warsaw, Buenos Aires, and Wien, which contributed to the text of the draft and worked out some additional protocols. In the Palermo meeting delegates established some criteria to adequately define organised crime. The definition was supposed to be made up of two parts: the first should point out the peculiarities that make organised crime particularly dangerous and distinguish it from other forms of criminal activity; the second part should point out the various type of criminal activities, warning that similar activities if carried out by organised criminal groups are much more dangerous. Eight types of offences were listed: fraud, recycling of money, extortion and usury, kidnappings, crimes through the computers, traffic of children, murder, illegal emigration.
In Palermo and in many other seats two ways of facing the problem in the framework of an international conference were proposed: to make a list of crimes (a restrictive way which could lead to the exclusion of some types of emerging crimes) or to consider the seriousness of crimes, on the basis of the existing punishments. We agree that it is necessary for the convention to include those measures regarding juridical and investigative cooperation, the protection of witnesses and technical assistance.
In the draft of the convention for the Palermo conference which is taking place in December 2000, the repeatedly formulated definition of organised crime is taken up again (groups made up of three or more people acting together in order to perpetrate one or more crimes to gain material benefits) and the fields on which the participating countries should legislate are indicated: participation in an organised criminal group, recycling of money, corruption, obstructing the carrying out of justice. In a few words, there is the proposal to introduce in the various legislations the concept of criminal association following the Italian and American examples (which contemplate the offence of conspiracy) and the substantial waiving of bank secrecy. The problem is whether, once the Convention is signed and approved, there will be the will to apply it.
The crimes of globalisation

The Palermo Convention aims at facing the problem of transnational organised crime through international juridical and judiciary measures, extending worldwide the single countries’ experiences. Repression and penal law have an ineliminable function in fighting organised crime but they are not enough to prevent or hamper its reproduction. To operate in this direction, it is not sufficient to consider only associations and criminal activities, but also to consider the causes which produce them. The most worrying datum of the situation today is that the peculiar characteristics of the mafia, which before were present in limited areas, are now present worldwide and are inscribed in the processes of globalisation which are taking place. We must be careful not to exaggerate with ideological theorisations of the kind capitalism-mafia, bearing in mind a factual datum: there has not been the formation of phenomena of the mafioso type wherever the mode of capitalist production has been imposed. Schematically, we might say that in the transition process from feudalism to capitalism there was the birth of organisations of the mafioso type in circumscribed areas (the mafia in Western Sicily, the Triads in China, the Yakuza in Japan) and it is necessary to look at the specific conditions which made the ripening of this fruit possible (6). Mature capitalism has developed such phenomena when specific conditions are present (immigration, black markets originating from prohibition), while global capitalism sharpens systemic contradictions and presents advantages that explain the proliferation of criminal groups and the development of transnational crime.
There is a basic schizophrenia between the measures which are supposed to be adopted to repress and contain organised crime, and the policies carried out by the international agencies. In a world where wealth is more and more concentrated in the hands of a few people (as is shown by the UNDP – United Nations Development Programme – reports, in recent years the income has rapidly increased in fifteen countries and at the same time it has gone down in a hundred countries and 358 billionaires on their own have as much as two billion three hundred million people, that is to say 45% of the world population), and where territorial disequilibria and social gaps increase instead of decreasing, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation for Commerce through the plans for structural adjustment, the dismantling of public intervention and the research for profits for private capital, in the name of neoliberalism which has become the only theory and practice, provoke a further weakening of legal economy, an increase in unemployment and the impoverishment of the majority of the world population (7). On top of that, there are the processes of economy financialisation which have brought about a drastic reduction of real economy (that is the production and exchange of goods and services) and the emphasizing of financial economy (stock market operations, shares, monetary speculations, pools, futures, derivatives and the thousand inventions of financial innovation).
In this context illegal accumulation becomes the only source of wealth for many areas of the planet and it is not surprising that mafias and transnational criminal groups proliferate and the opportunities and ways of investing illegal capitals increase (8). As regards the most odious activities of criminal associations – traffic of human beings, illegal emigration, prostitution, the new slaveries, exploitation of children and black work – they are not the result of an inhuman criminal imagination but the product of policies which make marginalisation worse and offer increasing opportunities to criminal groups, they are ultimately forms of competitiveness required and solicited by market laws, which put together the cancellation of workers’ historic rights and the reduction of human beings the goods or mere sources of cheap labour (9).
There is much talk about fiscal paradises, but a recent study on 37 states published in the Financial Times, has shown that their activity has further increased in recent years. In 1997 in the British Virgin Island fifty thousand new companies were formed (altogether, the companies acting on the islands are two hundred and sixty thousand), while on the Cayman Islands over forty-two thousand new ones have been formed and in Cyprus over thirty-four thousand. The money deposits have reached 241 billion dollars in the Bahamas and over 500 billion dollars in the Caymans, with an increase of 27.4% in the British Virgin Islands (10).
Last June the members of the OCSE decided that ‘dangerous preferential fiscal regimes’ must be abolished by 31 December 2005 and the Financial Action Group for the recycling of illegal capitals compiled a list of the countries that do not cooperate in the fight against the recycling of money. In spite of these stands, the activity of fiscal paradises is increasing and this is further evidence that they obey the needs of increasing fractions of capital to escape checks and to find more advantageous outlets for the racketeering of productive investments and it is not by chance that they are grouped near Europe and the United States, that is near the great financial centres.
In a planet torn by disequilibria and peopled by new and old mafias, the UN looks more like a club of bureaucrats on a trip around the world in order to have useless and expansive meetings than a world government responsibly interested in assuring dignified life conditions for a constantly increasing population that has to face more and more dramatic problems.
From the anti-mafia movement to the people of Seattle

In Sicily at the same time as the birth and development of the mafia there was the development of an anti-mafia movement that at first (from the period of the Fasci Siciliani at the end of the 19th century to the peasant movement in the period after World War II) was a specific aspect of class-struggle, while in the last few decades it has been social commitment through the various forms and activities of basic associationism, which has by now been extended to the whole national territory, even though in a discontinuous and unequal way (11). By analysing the contemporary anti-mafia movement in the light of the reflections on social movements, we can say that it is a peculiar movement which has a dualist attitude towards the system: it is not, and it does not want to be, a global, anti-systemic contestation, but aims at expelling complicities with criminal groups from institutions. That is, in it integration and conflict coexist. While the peasant movement was inscribed in a global perspective, at that time represented by socialism, contemporary anti-mafia mobilisation takes place in a context dominated by the crisis of global perspectives and it cannot not pay for the limits of partiality and precariousness. The problem today as regards the globalisation of crime is whether a globalisation of mobilisation is possible on the ground proper to society – analysis, education, ethic-social commitment – and whether the fight against the mafia can be inscribed in a general effort and whether it should have the characteristics of an anti-systemic movement (12).
Last November during the WTO (World Trade Organisation) meeting in Seattle a composite movement turned up on the world scenario. In this movement social centres, non-governmental associations and unions, unemployed and ethnic minorities, ecologists and pacifists, organic farmers and intellectuals, operators in social economy and in international cooperation, missionaries and Marxists that see Chapas as the rebirth of a revolutionary perspectives, were all together. Seattle and other occasions, such as Geneva, Davos, Bologna, Genoa, Prague might be considered the first manifestations of an anti-systemic movement that involves considerable and variegated elites (“We are a million people saying a million different things” said one of the American leaders of the movement) capable of communicating and connecting through the Internet and sharing the will to fight against “savage globalisation run by imperialist centres”, according to one of the more prestigious intellectuals involved in the movement, the economist Samir Amin. This movement has already succeeded in somehow conditioning the United Nations that have been forced to change at least the form: the forum in Davos was dedicated to ‘responsible and human-looking globalisation’, while the Monetary Fund and World Bank conferences in Prague had as title ‘For just globalisation’ and ‘Voices of the poor’. Apart from these superficial changes, a movement that wishes to have a real impact should involve different layers of the population of those countries condemned to further underdevelopment but an extreme fragmentation makes this perspective extremely difficult. In any case the possibilities of building an anti-systemic movement all over the world are above an linked to the working out and putting into practice of a concrete alternative of development which indicates to the majority of the people in the world a way different from those laid out by crimination and marginalizing.



(1) Cf. U. Santino, La mafia interpretata. Dilemmi, stereotipi, paradigmi, Rubbettino, Soveria Mannelli, 1995.
(2) Cf. U: Santino, Storia del movimento antimafia. Dalla lotta di classe all’impegno civile, Editori Riuniti, Rome, 2000.
(3) Cf. U. Santino, La mafia come soggetto politico. Ovvero: la produzione mafiosa della politica e la produzione politica della mafia, in G. Fiandaca – S. Costantino (eds ), La mafia le mafie. Tra nuovi e vecchi paradigmi, Laterza, Rome – Bari, 1994, pp. 118-141. There is a fuller version in idem, La mafia come soggetto politico, Centro Impastato, Palermo, 1994.
(4) Cf. U. Santino – La Fiura, Behind drugs. Survival economies, criminal enterprises, military operations, development projects, Edizioni Gruppo Abele, Turin, 1993.
(5) Cf. The following issues of “Limes”, Il triangolo dei Balcani, October 1998; Kosovo. L’Italia in guerra, April 1999; Gli Stati mafia, May 2000.
(6) On the harbingers of the mafia phenomenon in Sicily see U. Santino, La cosa e il nome. Materiali per lo studio dei fenomeni premafiosi, Rubbettino, Soneria Mannelli,, 2000. We can consider as premafioso those phenomena which are included in the following two categories: criminal activities regularly not punished because carried out by ‘protected criminals’, that is criminals linked to power; criminal forms aiming at accumulation and definable as exertion of territorial seigniory, such as extortions and cattle-stealing which have been recorded since the 16th century.
(7) There are always new titles which continually enrich the literature on globalisation. Among the most interesting: M. Chossudovsky, La globalizzazione della povertà, Edizioni Gruppo Abele, Turin, 1998; L. Gallino, Globalizzazione e disuguaglianza, Laterza, Rome-Bari, 2000.
(8) Cf. Santino, Crimine transnazionale e capitalismo globale, in S. Vaccaro (ed.), Il pianeta unico. Processi di globalizzazione, Eläuthera, Milan, 1999, pp. 163-183.
(9) Cf. K. Bales, I nuovi schiavi. La merce umana nell’economia globale, Feltrinelli, Milan, 2000. The ‘new slaves’ are said to be about 27 million.
(10) Cf. P. Valente, Sempre più paradisi per i capitali in fuga, in “Il sole-24 ore”, 8 September 2000.
(11) Cf. U. Santino, Storia del movimento antimafia.
(12) On anti-systemic movements in the contemporary world see G. Arrighi, I cicli sistemici di accumulazione. Le trasformazioni egemoniche dell’economia-mondo capitalistica, Rubbettino, Soveria Mannelli, 1999.

“Nuove Effemeridi”, Industry of violence, n. 50, 2000/II. p. 92-101.