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Entries in Michele Navarra (3)


Hero Without a Body

by Bluto Ray

Chalk up another disappointment for Sicilians in the unpunished murder of Placido Rizzotto. A pile of bones believed to be the remains of the trade unionist failed to produce a DNA match with the exhumed body of his father when tested last October. Regardless, the annual gathering to commemorate Rizzotto will take place, as it has every March since his death in 1948, in the central piazza of Corleone. Eulogies will be delivered on the very spot where he took on the Mafia singlehandedly.

Placido RizzottoThough he belongs to a tradition of peasant activists assassinated for challenging the Mafia’s feudal estate system--thirty-five were killed before him--Rizzotto was one of the most authentic and homegrown men of the bunch. The third-grade dropout did not arrive at an ideology through books but by observation and experience. His mafioso father Carmelo was an estate boss who was thrown into prison for nearly five years, leaving the young Placido in charge of a brother, five younger sisters and the family cows before reaching his twelfth birthday. His bed was a mat of straw.

Rizzotto’s political education grew after he was drafted as a Fascist soldier to fight in the Venetian region of northern Italy. After Mussolini’s fortune reversed in 1943, Rizzotto joined the partisans fighting Nazis in the region. He returned to Corleone two years later with a new view of the Mafia’s power monopoly. His perspective could find traction in today’s political debates:

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The Beast of Palermo

by Bluto Ray

Our first look at Salvatore “Totò” Riina begins on the last day of his accomplished criminal career: January 15, 1993.  The capomafia was being driven along Piazza Einstein, a freeway interchange in Palermo’s residential Uditore district, when police cars sided up to his modest Citröen and forced a stop.  Relieved that the ambush was not a Mafia attack, he told the arresting officers, “Yes, I’m Riina. Bravo. Congratulations.”  He professed his innocence and surrendered his false I.D.

Salvatore "Totò" RiinaLess than twenty-four hours had passed since his hideout was discovered among a complex of luxury villas in Uditore. The carabiniere had been surveilling a particular house on Via Bernini swarming with mafiosi. A reformed boss threatened by Riina had identified three figures on the video screen as the boss’ wife, son and gardener. The agents could scarcely believe their luck: Sicily’s most-wanted man of the late twentieth century was theirs for the taking.

Though Riina evaded capture for twenty-three years, he never cut a low profile.  His actions rocked Italy to its foundations and made world headlines. In January of 1992, he “went crazy,” according to a court document, when four hundred of his fellow “men of honor” were sentenced in Palermo’s Mafia maxi-trial. By the year’s end, the two chief investigators on the case, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, were blown to bits.  Likewise, crooked politicians Salvo Lima and Ignazio Salvo were gunned down for failing to intervene on behalf of the Mafia.

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To Die on Your Feet

by Bluto Ray

The baron versus the peasant. It was a plot that played out for centuries on the scorched plains of Sicily. The farms and grazing lands owned by the nobility fed its sumptuous lifestyle in Palermo and other rich cities, far from the dust of labor. Though European feudalism was officially abolished in the eighteenth century, the peasantry’s traditional right of common land use devolved into a dependent form of sharecropping that choked off much of its income and food supply.

Accursio MiragliaBut the plot changed. From the teeming pool of landless laborers arose what many have described as the prototypical mafioso known as the gabelloto, a lease-holding boss. He was selected for his ability to manage the lands and quell revolts with a heavy hand, usually one that held a shotgun. Those decadent absentee landlords often lost their lands to the monster they created. The gabelloto soon controlled both the property and its workers, as well as the politicians who curried his favor for ill-gotten votes.

Though land reform had been debated and decreed by Rome many times over this period, it was a law pushed through by the Communist deputy Fausto Gullo in 1944 that allowed peasants two chief rights: a greater share of the crops and the right to cultivate mismanaged land. A left-right struggle ensued across rural Sicily, where workers occupied farmlands as their own. This upset the power balance that benefitted the Mafia. In the southern city of Sciacca, a former banker named Accursio Miraglia led the radical charge.

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