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Entries in Portella della Ginestra (4)

Monday
Jul112011

Night Terrors

by Bluto Ray

Sixty-four years have passed since the May Day massacre at Portella della Ginestra, yet the events of that dark moment in Sicily’s history remain mired in confusion. Were the cold-blooded murders of eleven men, women and children at a rural labor festival committed by the bandit Salvatore Giuliano, by the Mafia, or by some other dark entity? And were high-placed political figures pulling the strings? The story is meat for a thousand conspiracy theorists.*

Salvatore GiuilianoGiuliano claimed that he had sent a squadron of hired men to Portella to kidnap his political nemesis, Girolamo Li Causi, the communist leader who opposed separatism. (The bandit king had been recently recruited by a monarchist-backed group that sought the island’s annexation by the US.) But as Li Causi had been a no-show, his men called off the abduction and left Portella before the killing began, according to Giuliano.

In the aftermath of that fateful holiday of 1947, the police rounded up dozens of Mafia suspects, only to release them for their uncannily airtight alibis. Suspicions, at any rate, were starting to fall on Guiliano after two of his henchmen were arrested; each admitted some knowledge of the slaughter. Several eyewitnesses reported seeing the outlaws--including Giuliano--in the vicinity. The police found it politically convenient to pin the blame on the bandits. Some of the inspectors, however, smelled the influence of untouchable Mafia bosses.

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Saturday
May072011

Pompous Circumstance

by Bluto Ray

Some years ago, an old man opened a musty little shop of Mussolini souvenirs in the abandoned ruins of lower Ragusa. All your Fascist needs were priced and on display, from a painted antique trunk commemorating the dictator to postcards depicting his visit to the baroque city to black cigarette lighters bearing his face. In the collective memory of Sicilians, the Fascist reign over the island was an epoch of extreme repression and violence that followed Mussolini’s 1922 inauguration as the Prime Minister of Italy. But many old-timers still hold a flame for the Blackshirts who struck a decisive blow against the Mafia.

Cesare MoriThe crime bosses enjoyed a boost of prestige as the politicians they controlled were courted by early Fascists eager to align themselves with Palermo’s conservative leaders. But Mussolini’s suspension of electoral democracy in 1925 suddenly choked off their access to local politics.

Sicily was an unruly child in the mind of the Duce, and the only cure would be the firm hand of Fascist discipline. His methods had subdued the left-wing parties of the north--a success that increased support for him on the mainland. But reforming Sicily was essential if the strongman were to realize his dream of a totalitarian state. He had caught a glimpse of the island’s unique power structure a year earlier on the official state tour that passed through Ragusa.

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Friday
Apr292011

Keeper of Secrets

by Carl Russo

On the morning of May 5, 1971, at headquarters in Palermo, the police received an anonymous call: “A shooting has happened in Via dei Cipressi. Maybe two are dead.”

Pietro Scaglione

Within minutes, the Flying Squad pulled into the cypress-lined road leading to the Cemetery of the Cappuccini. A state car blocked the entrance to the necropolis, pockmarked with bullet holes. Two bodies were pulled out and rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. When the frightful news spread that Pietro Scaglione, Palermo's chief public prosecutor, was killed along with his driver, many observers confirmed their suspicion that he was connected to the mob. At the time, the Mafia was only murdering its own.

Pietro Scaglione’s forty-three-year career spanned the evolution of the Cosa Nostra from rural phenomenon to international menace. Rising through the judicial ranks to take the top post at the Palace of Justice in 1962, he waded through the murky waters of Sicilian conspiracies: super-bandit Salvatore Giuliano’s involvement in the Portella della Ginestra massacre of 1947, the police slaughter of Ciaculli in 1963. But Judge Scaglione tended to sit on his findings—deliberately, some said—and often had to be goaded into prosecuting a case.

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Sunday
Dec122010

Dead or Alive

by Bluto Ray

Salvatore Giuliano

Mafia Exposed’s inaugural blog post concerns one of the Mafia’s most enduring mysteries, the life and death of Salvatore Giuliano. He is commonly referred to as Sicily’s most famous bandit, but in his home town of Montelepre, many still regard him as a hero sixty years after his death.

Giuliano’s early career as a wartime black marketer led to deadly confrontations with carabinieri forces, so he took to the foggy mountains around Montelepre with a gang recruited from the dirt-poor field workers and army deserters of the impoverished region. This is the point at which opinions about dashing young “Turiddu,” as he was called, divide.

Turiddu epitomizes the idea that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Reporters from around the world descended on tiny Montelepre in hopes of scooping an interview with the Sicilian Robin Hood famed for his daring robberies and romantic peccadilloes. But his involvement with a radical separatist group eager to see Sicily made into United States territory led to a murderous bombing campaign against the police.

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