Today is the commemoration of Giovanni Falcone’s assassination by the Corleonese Mafia. Falcone was an Italian prosecuting magistrate. From his office in the Palace of Justice in Palermo, he spent most of his professional life trying to overthrow the power of the Mafia in Sicily [Wikipedia].
He was killed with his wife Francesca Morvillo and police officers Rocco Dicillo, Antonio Montinaro and Vito Schifani in a blast that blew part of the highway near the town of Capaci (PA) on May 23, 1992. More than 20 years have passed and still Italians do not know all the truth about this massacre. This was the turning point for many Sicilians and my generation: the Mafia will never be stronger than us!
I was reading the news on my smartphone and I learnt that Libera Terra‘s 2,000 orange trees were burnt together with 6 hectares of wheat and 100 olive trees in Belpasso nearby Mount Etna on the night of June 9.
The Mafia’s confiscated lands in Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Lazio have been taken over by cooperatives of students and have produced oil, wine, pasta, taralli, legumes, preserves and other organic goods. One of these cooperatives is Cooperativa Beppe Montana Libera Terra in Sicily.
I have been following the activities of this organization and the good it does with great admiration. These young people are the best generation Sicily and Italy could hope for. They are actively fighting the Mafia and risking themselves in first person. They were assigned the Belpasso property 12 years after it was confiscated from the Mafia. They worked hard to clean up everything after so many years and produced the first oil, fruit, jams last year. The Mafia waited to inflict the hardest economic blowout.
Police told them that there is 50% chance that it might have been spontaneous combustion… Who buys this? I hope Libera Terra is not going to be left on its own. It deserves full solidarity and an opportunity to start again.
To help Cooperativa Beppe Montana Libera Terra, visit http://www.coopbeppemontana.org/COMEAIUTARCI/tabid/74/language/it-IT/Default.aspx
Giovanni Falcone (Palermo, 18 May 1939 – Palermo, 23 May 1992) was an Italian prosecuting magistrate born in Palermo, Sicily. From his office in the Palace of Justice in Palermo, he spent most of his professional life trying to overthrow the power of the Mafia in Sicily. After a long and distinguished career, culminating in the famous Maxi Trial, he was killed by the Corleonesi Mafia in May 1992, on the motorway near the town of Capaci.
His life parallels that of his close friend Paolo Borsellino. Both men spent their early years in the same poor neighbourhood in Palermo. And though many of their childhood friends grew up to be Mafia figures, both men fought on the other side of the war as prosecuting magistrates. They were both assassinated in 1992 with the use of car bombs within months of each other. In recognition of their tireless effort and sacrifice during the anti-mafia trials, they were both awarded the Italian “Medaglia d’oro al valore civile” (Gold medal for civil valor). They were also named as heroes of the last 60 years in the 13 November 2006 issue of Time Magazine.
Falcone was born in 1939 to a middle class family in the Via Castrofilippo near the seaport district La Kalsa, a neighborhood of central Palermo which suffered extensive destruction by aerial attacks during the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. The Mafia was present in the area but quiescent; Tommaso Spadaro, a boy with whom he played ping-pong in the neighborhood Catholic Action recreation center, would later become a notorious Mafia smuggler and killer, but mafiosi were not a major presence in his childhood. As boys Falcone and Borsellino, who was born in the same neighbourhood, played soccer together on the Piazza Mangione.
His father, Arturo Falcone, the director of a provincial chemical laboratory, was married to Luisa Bentivegna. Giovanni had two older sisters, Anna and Maria. After a classical education, Giovanni studied law at the University of Palermo following a brief period of study at Livorno’s naval academy. Graduating in 1961, he began to practice law before being appointed a judge in 1964. Falcone eventually gravitated toward penal law after serving as a district magistrate. He was assigned to the prosecutor’s office in Trapani and Marsala, and then in 1978 to the bankruptcy court in Palermo.
First trial against the Mafia
In early 1980, Falcone joined the ‘Office of Instruction’ (Ufficio istruzione), the investigative branch of the Prosecution Office of Palermo. He started to work at a particularly tense moment. Judge Cesare Terranova, a former parliamentary deputy and Antimafia reformer who had been the main prosecutor of the Mafia in the 1960s, was to have headed this office, but he was killed on September 25, 1979. Only two months earlier, on July 21, 1979, Boris Giuliano, head of the police investigation squad investigating heroin trafficking by the Mafia headed by Rosario Spatola and Salvatore Inzerillo, had been assassinated. Taking Terranova’s place was Rocco Chinnici.
On May 5, 1980, Giuliano successor in investigating the heroin network, Carabinieri captain Emanuele Basile, was killed. The next day, the prosecuting judgeGaetano Costa signed 55 arrest warrants against the heroin-trafficking network of the Spatola-Inzerillo-Gambino clan. From Sicily heroin was moved to theGambino crime family in New York, who were related to the Inzerillos. Chinnici appointed Falcone to investigate the case, one of the biggest Antimafia operations in more than a decade. Costa signed the indict¬ments after virtually all of the other prosecutors in his office had declined to do so – a fact that leaked out of the office and eventually cost him his life. He was murdered on 6 August 1980, on the orders of Inzerillo.
In this tense ambiance, Falcone introduced an innovative investigative technique in the Spatola investigation, following “the money trail” created by heroin deals to build his case, applying the skills he had learned unraveling bankruptcies. He was probably among the first Sicilian magistrates to establish working relationships with colleagues from other countries, thus developing an early understanding of the global dimensions of heroin trafficking, while enhancing the ridiculously meager investigative resources of his office.
He learned that the chemists of the French Connection had moved clandestine labs for refining heroin from Marseilles to Sicily. At the end of 1980 he visited the United States and started to work with the U.S. Justice Department which would result in “some of the biggest international law enforcement operations in history” such as the Pizza Connection. The inquiries extended to Turkey, an important stopover on the route of morphine base; to Switzerland, where bank secrecy laws facilitated money laundering; and to Naples where cigarette smuggling rings were being reconfigured as heroin operations. At the end of 1981, he finalized the Spatola case for trial, which enabled the prosecution to win 74 convictions, based on Falcone’s “web of solid evidence, bank and travel records, seized heroin shipments, fingerprint and handwriting analyses, wiretapped conversations and firsthand testimony” that proved that “Sicily had replaced France as the principal gateway for refining and exporting heroin to the United States”.
Falcone was plagued by a chronic lack of resources in his capacity as magistrate. In May 1982, the Italian government sent Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, a general of the Italian Carabinieri, to Sicily with orders to crush the Mafia. However, not long after arriving, on 3 September 1982, the General was gunned down in the city centre, his young wife by his side. Sicilians rose up in outrage. Outside the church, the politicians who attended were jeered and spat on, and blamed by Sicilians for tolerating the Mafia for so long. In response, the Italian government finally offered Falcone the backing he needed.
Falcone’s responsibilities as a magistrate put tremendous strain on his personal life. When he married his fiancée, Francesca Morvillo, Falcone had MayorLeoluca Orlando himself conduct the ceremony. It was held in total secrecy late on a Saturday evening to the astonishment of Orlando’s secretary. Neither family members nor friends were present, no photos were taken.
He became part of Palermo’s informal Antimafia Pool, created by Judge Rocco Chinnici. This was a group of investigating magistrates who closely worked together sharing information and developing new investigative and prosecutorial strategies. Most important, they assumed collective responsibility for carrying Mafia prosecutions forward: all the members of the pool signed prosecutorial orders to avoid exposing any one of them to particular risk, such as the one that had cost judge Gaetano Costa his life. Next to Falcone, the group included Paolo Borsellino, Giuseppe Di Lello and Leonardo Guarnotta.
The Antimafia pool laid the groundwork for the Maxi Trial against the Sicilian Mafia at the preliminary investigative phase. After Chinnici’s murder in July 1983, his successor Antonino Caponnetto headed the pool. Falcone led the prosecution for the trial, which began 10 February 1986, and ended on 16 December 1987. Of the 474 Mafiosi members originally charged, 360 were convicted of serious crimes, including 119 in absentia.
One of the most important factors in the trial was the testimony of Tommaso Buscetta, one of the first ever Sicilian Mafiosi to become an informant (pentito). He was on the witness stand for an entire week. It was Falcone to whom Buscetta preferred to speak when revealing the secrets of the Mafia, and Buscetta later claimed that whilst other magistrates and detectives patronized him, Falcone treated him with respect.
During 1988 Falcone collaborated with Rudolph Giuliani, at the time U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in operations against the Gambinoand Inzerillo families.
After Falcone’s successes in the Maxi Trial, the seriousness of Tommaso Buscetta’s warnings that the Mafia would stop at nothing to end the magistrate’s life, became clear. Despite the care he took with his safety, in June 1989 as Falcone relaxed outside his beach house, a security guard noticed an abandoned sports bag at the water’s edge. It contained 58 sticks of plastic explosives, primed to explode if picked up. The bomb did not go off. After the incident, he was heard to remark the following to Liliana Ferraro, a long-term colleague and friend: “My life is mapped out: it is my destiny to take a bullet by the Mafia some day. The only thing I don’t know is when.”
On 23 May 1992 on the orders of Salvatore “Toto” Riina, a half-ton bomb was placed under the motorway between Palermo International Airport and the city of Palermo. Riina’s men hid in a building above the road and remotely detonated the device. Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and body guards Rocco Dicillo, Antonio Montinaro and Vito Schifani were killed in the blast. The explosion was so powerful that it registered on local earthquake monitors. Thousands gathered at the Basilica of San Domenico for their funeral. The funeral was broadcast live on national TV and all regular television programs were suspended. Parliament declared a day of mourning.
The murder was organized by Salvatore Riina as revenge for Falcone’s conviction of dozens of mobsters in the Maxi Trials. Riina reportedly threw a party, toasting Falcone’s death with champagne, according to the pentito Salvatore Cancemi. In the major crackdown against the Mafia following Falcone and Borsellino’s deaths, Riina was arrested and is now serving a life sentence for sanctioning the murders of both magistrates as well as many other crimes. Another Mafioso convicted of the murder of Falcone is Giovanni Brusca, also known as lo scannacristiani (the people slaughterer). He was one of Riina’s associates who admitted to being the one who ‘detonated the explosives.
Palermo International Airport has been named Falcone-Borsellino Airport in honor of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. A memorial of the pair by the local sculptor Tommaso Geraci can be found there. Falcone was posthumously awarded the Train Foundation’s Civil Courage Prize, which recognizes “extraordinary heroes of conscience”.
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Sicily is not really industrial, but some areas have been devastated by industrial developments that have gone badly. Recently, I received a message by one of SicilyGuide followers signaling the article A haven in an industrial wasteland by Sarah Raven. Our follower was upset at the article because it was diminishing Sicily in her own view.
Mrs. Raven talks about how she was convinced by her husband to visit the island and how shocked she was when she first saw the area between Syracuse and Augusta:
a completely trashed, industrialised catastrophe.
She goes on:
Then I started to walk out towards the point. On either side of the track emerged one of the most abundant and glorious gatherings of spring flowers that I’ve ever seen. That’s Sicily for you – an appallingly managed and largely wrecked landscape, sheltering in its nooks and crannies all the riches of Mediterranean flora you might ever dream of. The building boom in the past 20 years – inextricably linked with the ever-present Mafia – has all but ruined the place. But in the leftover spaces one glimpses the naturally rich Arcadia that Sicily once was.
Even if these are harsh words, I beg to differ with our reader. Somehow I can relate more to Mrs. Raven. Coming from nearby Milazzo – an area that can be compared to the one the journalist refers to in the article. I share these same strong feelings. Although I love being there, I also get extremely angry when I see the garbage all around and how the beauty of the area has been severely damaged by the refinery and fossil fuel-fired electric power plant in San Filippo del Mela.
This video by the Qbeta - a Sicilian folk group – is a parody of the area (unfortunately the song is in Italian only).
Here is an approximate translation from Google Translate of the song:
Go … My heart from flower to flower gently and with love for me … Go … that my happiness lives only reality near you … I want to live like this with sunny faces and happy singing blissfully … I want to live and to rejoice the air of the mountain because this spell does not cost anything Ah, ah! Today I ardently love that stream impertinent minstrel of ah, ah! The blossoming of the trees shall feast this heart you know why? I want to live well with sunny faces and happy song I sing to myself. . . . . . . Ah, ah! Today I ardently love that stream impertinent minstrel of love Ah, ah! The blossoming of the trees shall feast this heart you know why? I want to live well with sunny faces and happy singing song for me!
Locals are exasperated by the situation, but they feel powerless. Sicilians have been fighting relentlessly throughout history with little payback. But they should know that nothing is permanent. They should not lose hope and should look at their land as the foreign journalist does in her article discovering flowers and colors that she never saw before with a critical approach.
This seemed to be the signature of Sicily, an occasional paradise in what is being turned into hell. The tide of lava, concrete breeze blocks and plastic polytunnels seems set to continue to swallow it up. For flower lovers, the sooner you visit, the better.
Sicily is unique and authentic. No matter what, it cannot leave the visitor indifferent. Someday perhaps I will learn how to accept Sicily in its totality.
Reason #1 People
Sicilians might look intimidating and distant at times, but they open up pretty quickly. They are resourceful and among the most generous people I know. They might not fully understand you while you order your meal in English or ask for directions, but whatever they answer or mimic to you will be perfect anyway.
Reason #2 Beaches
It is summer and it is going to be how. No question about it. So, get ready to head to the beach to cool off. Sicily has an impressive array of beaches: sandy, rocky remote… San Vito Lo Capo is always ranked among the best Italian beaches.
Reason #3 Minor Islands
If you have already been to Sicily several times and you ready to explore more. Think about going to one of the minor islands that can be easily reached by boat.
Reason #4 Food & Wine
No matter what you order, food is going to be good because it is fresh and in season. Granita in the morning or arancini as an afternoon snack are great temptations… Sicily has a great wine tradition, but Sicilian wines have been considered cut wines in the past. The last twenty years have seen a rediscovery of some local wines thanks to wineries such as Planeta and Tasca d’Almerita.
Reason #5 Archaeology
Do you know that Sicily and Southern Italy identified as Magna Graecia by the Romans were the new world for the ancient Greeks? This is the reason why they built so much in Sicily. They were fighting back home and most of the monuments built in Sicily are still well-preserved.
Reason #6 Cities
Palermo has an Arab tone. Siracusa is Greek. Enna, Trapani, Ragusa, Trapani, Agrigento, Messina, Taormina, Erice… All Sicilian cities and towns have a wonderful story behind and beautiful sightseeing to enjoy.
Reason #7 Events
Summer is the season with countless events in Sicily: feasts in virtually every town, fireworks, festivals, outdoor concerts… What’s not to like about it?
Reason #8 Mount Etna
Mount Etna is spectacular these days. Looking at one of its eruptions is a treat! Follow your guide’s advice if you try to be adventurous here.
Reason #9 Baroque Architecture
The Sicilian baroque is unique. The eight towns in southeast Sicily, Caltagirone, Militello Val di Catania, Catania, Modica, Noto, Palazzolo, Ragusa and Scicli are Unesco World Heritage.
Reason #10 Authenticity
Sicily might have its own problems. However, if you are looking for a great and authentic travel experience, it is the perfect choice. Sicily never pretends to be something else. It is what it is with its centuries of history and foreign invasions. Most past events have brought pain to the island, but also cultural enrichment and an unparalleled heritage.
I shared mine, what is your reason #1 to visit Sicily?
The Magaggiari Beach - Photo by Maria Lina Bommarito
The movimento dei forconi – which I translated with pitchforks into English – is weakening the already feeble Sicilian economy. According to the AGI (Agenzia Giornalistica Italia), companies in Sicily were allowed to continue their protests by 5 more days, until January 25. “We were granted an extension until January 25 “, said the head of Sicily haulage companies’ association AIAS, Giuseppe Richichi, who is leading a protest, staged alongside fishermen and the self-styled Pitchfork Movement of farmers, which has brought traffic on the island to a standstill for days. The protest was originally scheduled to end at midnight on Friday, but police authorities allowed organisers to continue their action by 5 more days. The move is aimed at keeping the ‘Forza d’urto’ movement united, given that farmers and fishermen already announced they would continue their protest indefinitely, although in a softer form.
Is it the right way to protests in these times when everybody is called o big sacrifices? Why are the Sicilians reacting as the Greeks? Is it the Greek blood? Who is behind this movement? It looks like that parties from the extreme right have leadership positions in the movement. The name they picked for themselves “pitchforks” says to me that they are not so peaceful. Tourism will temporarily suffer from this. Please call local authorities or check with friends and relatives in the island if you are traveling during those dates.
The squares around the world seem to be on fire. After the indignados of Madrid, Occupy Wall Street in New York, etc… the protests arrive in Sicily too.
September is a lovely month to visit Sicily. The weather is beautiful and the sea temperature is still wonderfully warm which makes it perfect for a late summer swim. There are less tourists compared to August which is Italy’s “holiday month” and beaches and other top attractions are not invaded by tourists.
Prices for accomodations and rentals drop from their high season levels by the middle of the month.
The first substancial rains arrive, usually after mid-month. For the temperature, the month of September can be considered an extension of the long Sicilian summer.
The weather is ideal for sightseeing, it’s an ideal time to visit Sicily’s beautiful towns, small medieval centers, archaeological ruins and natural reserves.
In September harvests begin throughout the island. Grapes are certainly the main fruit of the season but not only: almonds, pistachios, prickly pears and figs are at their best. This is the time of harvest celebrations and festivals organized to promote typical products of the different areas.
I’m here in the veranda of my home in Cinisi relaxing after lunch. Here in Sicily as in other Southern regions, it is usual to rest in the afternoon, especially during the summer when the days are very hot. In front of me I have the most beautiful sight of the mountains of Cinisi that seems to reach the “Venus Paradise” blue-colored sky. For me it’s amazing and I never stop admiring this scene that Nature offers.
When I say to my husband (born in Sicily): “Isn’t it beautiful?”, he answers carelessly: “Sure, but it’s always been there.”. This indifference, this neutrality drives me mad. I must realize, though, that for him and for those born in this magnificent land, it’s normal to live surrounded by such beauty. It’s normal to wake up in the morning and see these thousand-year old mountains that change colors depending on the season or the hour of the day.
What is there to do? I’ll just continue admiring the mountains, the deep blue sea and all there is to see…of this wonderful island.
Vacation has finally arrived. Vacation is a time to relax and stay with loved ones. I am writing this post at midnight, just after finishing packing. Soon I will head back home for a few weeks and I look forward to it, even though I am happy to live the life I have in NYC. The last few months have been a continuous turmoil: the world seems to face an emergency everyday. It will be nice to take a break and worry about everything later on. Hopefully, things will improve for everybody soon.
SicilyGuide will not be completely idle while I am on vacation. I worked on a biography series of famous Sicilians that it is already running. I have to admit that I am learning a great deal myself thanks to the editing of these articles licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License that use material from the Wikipedia article “Metasyntactic variable” and Creative Commons by Commons Deed.
I would like to publish more posts and tweet a lot since I am on location, but I cannot promise I could do it. Last year I had a painful Internet connection at my parents’. I am always connected in the US: it is a big shock when I arrive home and I have no Internet access, but I get used to it in two days. The first day is the worst, but I guess this is what you can call a real vacation nowadays!
A few days ago, I published a poll. Thanks for all your answers. Most of our readers would like for SicilyGuide to expand its activities. I will study the possibility and try to meet potential suppliers back home. If anything seems feasible, I will try my best.
It is late now. Forgive me if you see any mistake here. Enjoy the rest of the summer and keep reading SicilyGuide!
P.S.: If I have the chance, I will keep posting.