Confessions of a Mafioso: Gangster Capitalism and Covering Up the Waste.

Many years after the arrest and incarceration of Camorra boss Nunzio Perrella he finally turned. As so many nowadays, Perrella’s incarceration has finally been met with his becoming a pentito (repentant “Mafioso” or “supergrass”), and beans are being spilled.

I was told about one of his confessions recently while driving past the northern Italian town of Montichiari. “Remember when we used to get lost driving here?” my friend asked. “Yeah, no road signs and the odd roads”. Well, Perrella has now provided the explanation, and its not nice.

Montichiari isn’t far from Brescia, the gateway to the west of Lake Garda, flanked by some beautiful pre-Alps, and a black hole of toxic pollution. Brescia’s ruination of the biosphere is clear for all to see, where looming chimneys and expansive factories flaunt their impact on their bodies of the locals. Montichiari’s impact is subtler, as we’ll see.

Dumping Toxins.

Anyone who has read or seen Roberto Saviano’s work on the Camorra, Gomorrah, will be aware of the interlocking interests of the Naples mafia and industrial capitalism.

The north does the industrial production, the south receives its toxic waste…in quarries, fields, villages and farms. It’s even mixed with concrete and built into homes and offices.

The dumping of toxic is so bad that by 2008 mozzarella di bufala, one of the staple exports of the region around Naples, was banned in various states due to fears of the grass, water and feed ingested by the buffalo containing toxins that pass through to the meat. Sporadic bans have occurred ever since.

In 2013 dioxins and heavy metals in mozzarella di bufala were found to be at levels 5 times the legal limit

Perrella’s Confession

Perrella’s confession may have been a wake up call in the north. Whereas the rates of leukaemia and related illnesses rocketed in areas of the south, northern Italians thought they had got off lightly.

However, as Perrella put it recently “the area around Naples was full”. When the Camorra ran out of space, they looked elsewhere. With the south full, it was Lombardi’s turn. Perrella says, “Montichiari? I remember it well (we went to) Ospitaletto, Castegnato, Rovato…until we arrived at Mantova…it was everywhere, it is full” He went on “It is worse there than for us, here it’s more ruined here than (in the south).”

Burial and Blinkers

I asked my friend what this had to do with the roads, “Berlusconi had the big road building program at the time, in the early 2000s”. I remembered it well, roads criss-crossing the Po Valley, some seeming to lead nowhere, others to the smallest of towns. It was a genuine drive for infrastructural development as well as a state subsidy for industry, and it just so happened that construction was Berlusconi’s industry – David Lane has documented his ties very well in Berlusconi’s Shadow.

“They buried the toxic waste in the hills they used as foundations for the new roads. It’s everywhere”. With my indelible naivety I felt relieved “Well, at least now they know,” I counselled. “Ma va” (the Italian equivalent of “pfft”) came the reply, “they don’t know”.

“But they can test it, test the earth in the hills” I insisted. “And then what?” my friend shot back.

You see nobody wants to know really. If they find toxins in and around Montichiari, who pays to rehouse the thousands of people affected? Who’s going to shift the toxins and where will they put them? Who’s going to demolish and rebuild the roads, causing unending travel strife? It’s a hot potato nobody wants to catch. Besides, resolution would be expensive, and the whole point of dumping waste is that waste is an externality.

Gangster Capitalism and Inertia 

The historian Michael Woodiwiss explained gangster capitalism, a subject on which he has written an excellent book, to me many moons ago. It’s not that you’ve got organised crime over there, business over here and politicians regulating in between. Organised crime and business have always been interwoven, whether by clearing the way for industrialism through the use of militia, employing heavies to evict tenants or thugs to break strikes.

Of course the real difficulty lies in the lot of the politicians. Pollution is perhaps the greatest existential threat we face, and politicians do introduce regulations to deal with it, but Darwinian businesses adapt to survive. Regulations that save lives are seen as barriers to business.

If the costs of externalities like pollution affect the capacity of a business to function profitably, they will find a way around. Sometimes they’ll “legally” dump waste in a country with few regulations, or where regulations are not enforced, other times they’ll contract a company without feeling compelled to ask any further about what happens. Interestingly, as China has developed it no longer accepts imports of Western trash, which no doubt will increase illegal dumping elsewhere.

It’s hardly a hidden conspiracy. Angela Alberici, a director Lombardy’s Regional Agency for Environmental Protection (ARPA) puts it simply that such means of disposal “makes sense as a business decision.”

The pollutants get dumped cheaply, then covered up, and once out of sight they exist in the mind only as yet something else to be upset about… there’s a shrug and people turn back to consume and admire the cause of their malaise.