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Articles by: Marcello Saija

  • Op-Eds

    Lampedusa As An Opportunity for Europe

    I agree with much of what Jerry Krase has written in response to my article in the previous issue of i-ItalyNY. However I believe that in describing the differences between Ellis Island and the experience at Lampedusa it is simplistic for Krase to sum up my position as implying, merely, that “there (Ellis Island) was better than here (Lampedusa).” In fact, the difference was and is enormous. I don’t need to describe again what’s happening on Lampedusa. 

    I wrote that story for all to see. Moreover, I don’t think it’s necessary now to discuss the attitudes of America (both in its institutions and across society) toward Latinos and Muslims. 

    If Krase sees a resurgence of racism and xenophobia in the U.S. today, he is probably right—but that’s not the issue. My point of comparison was between what happened on Ellis Island during the Great Migration and what happens today on Lampedusa. And here I think lies the greatest difference in our positions. On this point I believe that Krase’s judgment is short-sighted and a bit reductive. 

    Not just immigrants, but manpower

    It is perfectly true that during the period of the Great Migration, roughly between 1870 and 1920, the United States sought not just immigrants but manpower. And in that sense it succeeded by welcoming millions of workers. This pragmatic mindset is exactly the same one that created Ellis Island and its mechanisms of reception. The history of immigration through Ellis Island was defined by a project of social engineering. When Ellis Island began to operate at full capacity in 1892, distinctive ethnic enclaves—Little Italies as well other ethnic neighborhoods—were already established in Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City, in Chicago, Boston, Hartford, Providence, San Francisco, Paterson, and in many other places.

    During that period, the federal government was vigorously trying to combat the padrone system and diminish the power of its bosses by heavily promoting the creation and growth of immigrant mutual aid societies. Of course, that plan never got as far as to directly offer immigrant workers 3,000 jobs in the silk mills of New Jersey or 150 in the watch-making factories of Connecticut, for example. But the government knew very well that these silk mills and watchmakers and many other companies throughout the United States had already begun to avoid the padrone bosses by recruiting workers through mutual aid societies. 

    Defeating the padrone system

    The padrone system typically created workers who were unhappy and unproductive by exploiting them heavily. Bosses would keep enough of every paycheck that the immigrant worker was unable to buy the prepaid ticket that would help someone else back home come to the United States. So it was that a very specific piece of federal legislation caused a dramatic growth between 1892 and 1924 of the number of mutual aid societies across the country. These societies soon became the main vehicle of Americanization, welcoming migrants freed from bosses, teaching them English, and finding them jobs.

    The Mutual Aid Society of Salina Island on Mulberry Street in lower Manhattan was responsible for the naturalization of some 2,000 of its members between its founding in 1898 and 1923. Of course, the federal government did not engineer this process entirely on its own or by itself, but rather by encouraging other institutions. And this governmental role was an integral feature of the Ellis Island model.

    The Ellis Island model

    Search the massive Ellis Island immigrant arrival database (www.ellisisland.org) and look (as I did for all Sicilian immigrants from 1892 to 1924) at the addresses of American contacts given by arriving immigrants: these addresses are almost always those of the banks that issued them their prepaid tickets. You will also find the name of the guarantor marked in the same box. In the early years of Ellis Island, guarantors were likely to be labor bosses, but were gradually replaced by a relative or an officer of a mutual aid society. After 1900, the contact address is often listed as that of the societies themselves, many of which, like that of the Contessa Entellina society in Brooklyn, contained a loan desk. This is the immigrant experience in the United States of the first two decades of the twentieth century. 

    Ten, hundred, thousand Ellis Islands!

    Compare this experience to what is happening today in Europe and then ask if there is or is not any difference. One might argue that “the US needed to search for an immigrant workforce, while Europe today does not.” And it’s true. But are we completely sure there are enough farm workers in Europe to meet the demand? Are we confident that the labor market for all European economic sectors is in fact saturated? I really don’t think so. And we can only change our thinking about the value of immigration when we see it as an opportunity and not as a burden or, worse, as a dangerous nuisance. For this vision of migration as a benefit to work, we would need to begin social planning along the lines of the American model during the Great Migration—to create many carefully organized and operated Ellis Islands along the contested southern shores of Europe. 
     

    My personal opinion is that people have the right to settle anywhere they want to, even though I realize this might be an impractical goal. In the end, I’d honestly be happy if what happens today to migrants in the Mediterranean was even a little bit like that which happened to migrants in America 100 or more years ago.

     

    * Marcello Saija is Professor of History of International Institutional Relations

    at the University of Palermo.

  • Op-Eds

    Can Lampedusa Become Europe’s Ellis Island?

    Among the many studies concerning the current immigration crisis in Italy and Europe, there are some unlikely comparisons being made between what Ellis Island represented to emigrants and what the island of Lampedusa represents to people desperately crossing the Mediterranean. From an historic perspective, the only thing the two islands have in common is that they are, indeed, both islands.

    Ellis Island vs. Lampedusa
    Ellis Island was set up by the American government to carry out immigration procedures.

    Everything there was codified: the migrants, divided by gender, received an official entry pass; there were medical tests, mandatory hospitalization for those carrying transmittable diseases, and an examination of one’s ethnic identity and political background.

    Immigrants on Ellis Island would meet those who vouched to care for them while they established themselves in their new land. Young women would meet their betrothed.

    Ellis Island was an organizational apparatus that implemented a specific project of social engineering aimed at building a new America and supporting its economic development.

    Lampedusa is nothing like that. It is merely a place where the Italian government admits migrants without any ultimate aim. Nor did the Italian government choose the site; it was selected by criminal organizations as the nearest point of access for those entering Europe. In Lampedusa, immigrants’ hopes often end in tragedy. For thousands, the Mediterranean has been transformed into a great watery grave.

    And the majority of men, women and children who do reach the island alive are spiritually devastated. Emigrants of all eras share a hope for a new life, but there is a big difference between what is going on in the Sicilian Canal today and the situation of Transatlantic migrants a century ago.

    Although the latter did not know what the future held, they were assured that once they got to their destination they would land on their feet. Those who leave the coasts of North Africa for Europe not only wager on their ability to establish themselves in a foreign land but, consciously or not, they wager their very lives.

    Once they have escaped death and reached Lampedusa, they discover how little they have won. ‘Welcomed’ by unlikely guardians, they are shunted into large rooms covered with mattresses as damp as the boats they just sailed in on. Those with any energy fight for their space. Everyone else shares what’s left.

    With its daily spectacle of corpses lining its beaches and survivors shut-away in large enclosures, Lampedusa has become a symbol of pain and death, a far cry from Ellis Island, the symbol of tears and hope.
     

    Can We Change Things?
    The question is, is it possible to transform Lampedusa into a new Ellis Island?
    Ten years ago, during a Peace Study Conference at Messina University, where
    I then taught, my department outlined a plan according to which part of Lampedusa would become an extra-territorial space under European sovereignty managed by a committee of European state delegate members. The goal was to welcome the immigrants and send them on according to a well-organized plan of European social engineering.

    The committee would provide immigrants with a temporary visa and a destination state after close individual examination had decided to make the visa permanent. Obviously, such a possibility must be based on rational criteria, compatible with existing laws and the political mood of each state. Italy, for example, has no desire to yield its sovereignty over any piece of its national territory.

    When 30 Italian members of the European Parliament with different political affiliations were asked what they thought about the proposal to turn Lampedusa into an extra-territorial zone, only one agreed, on condition that there be similar stations located in “border-crossing European countries.” Most responded that Lampedusa should remain Italian and that the Italian government (with the assistance of an EU advisory body) should be tasked with selecting and placing immigrants in other European countries. In other words, they believed Italy ought to become a sort of Minos, deciding each soul’s final destination. Clearly other European countries wouldn’t accept such terms.
     

    Today’s Immigration Crisis in Europe
    The complicated mechanism for granting immigrants political refugee status—and
    thus an indisputable right to enter the EU is to blame for the current concentration
    of migrants at Europe’s southern edges, particularly Italy, Greece and Spain.

    Without delving into too much detail, suffice it to say that the status of refugees is managed under the so-called Dublin III Regulation, which also sets up a database for fingerprinting illegal immigrants in the European Union and, in order to avoid “asylum shopping,” maintains that the member state responsible for examining the application is the state where the applicant entered the European Union.

    Should the immigrant elude processing and cross illegally into other countries, they must be returned to the original port of entry. Since 2013, the scale of migration has made that tenet challenging, especially in Italy and Greece, which were not able to review all requests for asylum, leaving migrants free to cross illegally into other European countries— and then having them sent back.

    Then, on June 23, 2015, Hungary, deluged with asylum claims from Middle Eastern refugees who had entered through Serbia, said it was unable to accept immigrants being returned and closed its borders. As a result, Germany decided to suspend the Dublin Regulation for Syrian refugees and directly process their asylum applications.

    Meanwhile states such as the Czech Republic and Poland refused to reform the Dublin Regulation, introducing mandatory immigrant quotas for all member states; and Austria decided to build a 600-kilometer wall on the border with Slovenia. Other EU states have also adopted restrictive anti-immigrant measures. In short, the great confusion that ensued threatens to bring about a resurgence of nationalism and xenophobia and undermine the very existence of the European Union.

    Given the situation, last August the European Commission announced the creation of “hotspots” around the European coast, Piraeus in Greece, Taranto in Apulia, and five in Sicily. Aside from Lampedusa, they include Catania, Augusta, Pozzallo, Porto Empedocle and Trapani.
     

    The Lack of European Social Engineering
    Last August the European Commission announced the creation of “hotspots” around the European coast, Piraeus in Greece, Taranto in Apulia, and five in Sicily: Lampedusa, Catania, Augusta, Pozzallo, Porto Empedocle and Trapani. How do the hotspots work? In each center,
    a committee plays Minos.The committees consist of experts chosen by state border police, EU external frontier police (FRONTEX), the European police (EUROPOL) and the European Monitor for the implementation of the Geneva Convention (EASO).
     

    In other words, these committees are much like those proposed by the Messina Peace Study Conference 10 years ago, with only one difference: our proposal called for a well thought-out social engineering platform, one that would build on the lesson of Ellis Island and realistically determine immigrant quotas for each country, without making distinctions between political refugees and people seeking economic empowerment. The European Commission, on the other hand, was mainly preoccupied with collective security. That alone determines the narrow quotas.
     

    Essentially, this rusty complicated bureaucratic machine has only one purpose: to create a European archive of digitized fingerprints and identify individuals to whom refugee status should be granted.
     

    Naturally, things aren’t going to plan. According to the little information currently available, to avoid repatriation most incoming immigrants without papers do not reveal their true identity, refuse to be photographed and try to prevent their fingerprints from being taken.
     

    I know neither if nor how the situation can be changed. However, I believe we first need a substantive European-wide program to equally distribute immigrants among individual states. Such a program would have to be politically acceptable as well as economically compatible. But to achieve this we have a big problem: Europe lacks a government capable of legislating over national states. In order to build such a mechanism, all member states must first attempt to merge their national laws. There in lies the rub. Ironically, compared with America at the turn of the century, Europe – the so-called bureaucratic giant – appears to suffer from too little government. 
     

    * Marcello Saija is Professor of History of International Institutional Relations
    at the University of Palermo. The text above is an abridged version of prof. Saija’s address to the international conference “The Idea of the Mediterranean,” Stony Brook University, NY, November 2015.

  • Facts & Stories

    Petrosino. Between Past and Present

    It is difficult to affirm how much Joseph Petrosino was aware of the real meaning of the Mafia as a  criminal organization, at the eve of his fateful trip to Sicily.

    He knew only the elements he has developed during his experience in the United States, by analyzing  dozens of cases concerning this particular form of crime.

    The repeated arrests, which he had operated since the famous case of the man in the barrel in
    1903, even though they were often undermined  by an extremely assured judiciary body , had given him the impression that the war could be won; and this, of course, can explain the courage and boldness he daily used to show towards crude and violent men.  

    America, however, was very different from Sicily. Two continents, two different worlds. In the United States, even though confined at beginning to the Italian areas named Little Italy and Brooklyn, the Mafia actions and extortions did not gain social consensus, and they were often hindered by the large number of Mutual Aid Societies, which were arisen also to push local authorities to prosecute small and big criminals.

    In Sicily, the local situation was very different. The Mafia was an implemented power which was considered as an alternative to the political institutions. The silent acceptance of the rules established by the Mafia shown by the people living in the  western and internal parts of the island contributed to strengthen the organization, while the State appeared colluded with criminals through  its central and local agencies.  
    In America,  Petrosino tried to explain that the so-called Black Hand was not a unique and structured organization, but a simple acronym invented by someone who had made experiences of  anarchy in the Balkans. And later this symbol has been used by small gangs – which were often in conflict among them for reaching the control over the territory.

    He explained also that these criminals were refused by their own community. Thus, they were too weak and not able to be successful  in America, the most modern country in the wordl.

    Petrosino knew that , some time, the American police was affected by collusion with criminal gangs as well, and this was confirmed by the events which occurred in New Orleans during the tragic murder of the local police chief  and the subsequent execution of eleven innocent Sicilians.

    However,  he was convinced that the system was healthy enough and that the efficient American democracy – which he immensely admired – was sufficient to give him the necessary tools and equipments to solve the problem.  
    We cannot know exactly about the opinion which Petrosino had developed about Italy and Sicily, before leaving the US to reach his home country.  The mission he was entrusted with the collection of direct information and, above all, the recruitment of a local secret and trusted team of infòrmants, explane his very suspicious behavior towards the Italian authorities in general and to law enforcement bodies in Sicily in particular.

    However, he didn’t know how much the situation was dangerous for him. Of course, he was offended when he discovered, once arrived in Rome, that The New York Herald, as well as other European newspapers had revealed the starting of his own mission, but, at the same time, he could understand that this was due to the electoral aims of his beloved boss, who had revealed everything to the press.

    Even though he travelled under a secret name, he was very popular at that time and was immediately recognized in Italy, at first in Rome, then in his hometown, Padula, where a small crowd was waiting for celebrating the famous “paesano”. Even in Palermo, at the Oreto restaurant in Piazza Marina, where he used to have meals, he realized that two men – who had to come back from US because of his prosecution - noticed and recognized him. Neitherless, he didn’t change his behavior.

    He decided to reject the polìce escort offered by the Chief Prosecutor of Palermo and continued to contact his infòrmants in a fearless way.  Under these conditions, his fate was marked and the five gunshots he received near the restaurant Oreto at Piazza Marina on the evening of March 12, 1909, were an inevitable end of his destiny.

    There is, however, an element which, in our view, explains better than the others, the causes of his murder. It is the deepness of the investigations on the Sicilian criminal organization, made by Petrosino, even though in so short time.

    Through his notes , it is possible to understand that his attention was focused on Vito Cascio Ferro who he had known and investigated in America. He was suspected of having been the executor of the murder of the barrel, and thus ,  forced to return to Sicily. According the Petrosino’s note book, probably, Cascio Ferro was expected to meet him in Piazza Marina that night on March 12th.

    In the island, Don Vito Cascio Ferro, after his return from the US, had rapidly increased his personal power within the organization and by using a gentleman approach, in 1909, had become the recognized leader of the Sicilian Mafia.

    He used to attend parties given by rich families in Palermo and he was the leader of an extensive political organization which was able to elect a designed  member of parliament in the area of Bivona: Hon.  Domenico Michele Ferrantelli.

    It is important to clarify that Don Vito Cascio Ferro as a Mafia leader had no necessity to raise local politicians for obtaining profits and favors.

    He was able to create his own political representation within the legal institutions, and his bargaining capacity was equal to the one expressed by contemporary Mafia leaders who are no more subordinated to politicians due to the increasing drug trafficking and can build their own structure.

    Well, as it’s widely known,  the new polìce chief in Palermo, Baldassarre Ceola, born in Trento and recently transferred from Milan, started to investigate on Vito Cascio Ferro and his subordinates, by putting them under detailed  and reasoned indictment acts.

    Unluckly, they were judged by an extremely weak judiciary body which, two years after the assassination, released them from prison and discharge for lack of evidence.

    Many years after, in 1926, Vito Cascio Ferro was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for other crimes, within the prefect Cesare Mori operations. As far as he had nothing to lose,  proudly confessed that he had killed Petrosino.

    Anyway, these events are too known to be discussed. What is important to underline now is that the honest Police chief of Palermo, who had collected and examined the Petrosino files, during his first reports to higher authorities, made it clear that the investigations made by the American detective revealed collusion of the mafia with the leading State institutions and that this aspect urgently needed to be examined.

    The false alibi provided by Cascio Ferro, according to which, he have spent the evening of March 12 at the elections party given by Michele De Ferrantelli was confirmed by the Honorable himself and by some politicians who attended the same event.

    Ceola chose not to mention this in the record of complaint delivered to the indictments division.  The crucial event of the investigation was, however, determined by the zeal with which he had gathered information and evidence against the accused people and the commìtment shown during the investigation, despite the fact that the Prosecution section had already started its work.

    On 17 July 1909, three months after Petrosino’death, Baldassarre Ceola received a telegram sent by the Ministry of Internal Affairs: he was released from office and recalled back to Rome.

    A few days later, he retired with the honorary title of Prefect of the Kingdom. Nine months later , on April 1 , 1913, he died.

    After the Chief’s removal, the Petrosino file disappeared and was not taken into account by the Prosecution Section. Vito Cascio – who appeared as a martyr who had been unjustly persecuted - was released from prison and resumed his place at the top of the mafia organization.

    One hundred years later, we are here trying to develop an interpretation based on historical analysis and we need to emphasize the remarkable similarity between the events which occurred to Baldassarre Ceola and the ones happened to the Prefect Cesare Mori. The latter was arrived in Sicily, in the second half of 1920s, for fighting against the Mafia. He succeeded  in eliminating several mafiosi and – as we said – he have obtained a life sentence of Vito Cascio Ferro for new crimes. Moreover, he was  going to reveal the links of the mafia with the so-called "third level" ( at that time, he accused also the Fascist Federal Officer in Palermo and a Sicilian Member of the Parliament to be in collusion with mafia organization) .

    Suddenly, on June 16, 1929, he was asked to retire  and, few months after, sent to lead a land rehabilitation agency in Friuli, on the extremally north part of Italy.

    Well, locking and comparing with attention at all these events, it’s possible to affirm that the tragic fate of Joe Petrosino is not so different from contemporary heroes such as Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who also started to  unlock the secrets of the organization and pursue its leaders.

    Like Petrosino, they have been brutally murdered along with other innocents as a result of plots that reveal political and institutional collusion .

    What is the meaning of all these events? Maybe that, since Petrosino’s death until now, the fight against the Mafia in Sicily has not taken a step forward ? Maybe no.

    The level of social consensus assured to organized crime by the Sicilian community is greatly decreased and the fight against the Mafia made by determined and courageous men, like the Prosecutor Grasso is helped by the political and social climate existing in the island after the tragic events of the more recent years.

    Neitherless, the perverse logic of a political system which appears still uneven and far from genuine democracy, still is a great obstacle to the generous attempts for eradicating the Mafia and its complicity. Even today, like yesterday, the situation needs to be constantly  controlled by all those people - and they now are numerous  - who are fully aware that the war can be won only through the strict respect of the principle of the rule of law , even in the most insignificant aspects of the often exhausting social and political life in Sicily.

  • Lotta alla mafia. Tra Petrosino e presente

    E’ difficile dire quanto Giuseppe Petrosino, alla vigilia del suo fatale viaggio in Sicilia, avesse intuito del fenomeno mafioso e soprattutto quale coscienza avesse della pericolosità di quella organizzazione criminale.

    Quel che è  certo è che i suoi elementi di giudizio scaturivano principalmente dalla singolare esperienza di aver visto nascere negli Stati Uniti questa particolare forma di criminalità e di avere esaminato decine e decine di casi .

    I ripetuti arresti che aveva operato a partire dalla famosa indagine dell’uomo nel barile nel 1903, ancorchè spesso vanificati da un apparato giudiziario eccessivamente garantista, gli avevano dato la sensazione che la guerra, magari con la concessione di maggiori poteri alla polizia ed era questa la ragione del suo coraggio e della spavalderia che mostrava quotidianamente affrontando da solo uomini rozzi e violenti.  

    L’America, tuttavia, non era la Sicilia e la differenza profonda tra questi due mondi era che mentre negli Stati Uniti le azioni mafiose e di taglieggiamento , ancorchè confinate nella enclave italiana di Little Italy e di Brooklyn, non solo non avevano consenso sociale, ma erano spesso ostacolate da parte delle numerosissime Mutual aid societies, sorte anche per sollecitare l’autorità costituita alla persecuzione di piccoli e grandi malviventi.

    In Sicilia le cose stavano molto diversamente. La mafia costituiva un potere consolidato nel tempo e del tutto alternativo allo Stato. La supina accettazione delle regole mafiose da parte delle comunità occidentali ed interne dell’Isola, rendevano la mafia più forte dello Stato che spesso nei suoi organi centrali e periferici era decisamente connivente con l’organizzazione criminale.  

    Petrosino, in America si affannava a spiegare che La mano nera non era una organizzazione
    unitaria ma una semplice sigla inventata da qualcuno che nei Balcani aveva avuto esperienza di anarchia, utilizzata adesso da piccole bande criminali spesso in conflitto tra di loro per il controllo dei territori. Spiegava anche che questi individui dediti al crimine erano  reietti da parte delle società d’origine e che mai in America avrebbero potuto prevalere.

    Certo, Petrosino sapeva che la polizia americana non era immune da collusioni con le bande criminali e quanto era accaduto a New Orleans in occasione dei tragici fatti che avevano portato all’uccisione del capo della polizia locale ed al linciaggio di undici siciliani lo aveva mostrato con sufficiente chiarezza. Il sistema, però, - era questa la sua convinzione – era sano e, per togliere il cancro, sarebbe stato sufficiente che la grande Democrazia americana, verso la quale il poliziotto aveva sconfinata ammirazione, si decidesse a concedere  poteri e strumenti adeguati.
    Non sappiamo esattamente cosa Petrosino pensasse dell’Italia e della Sicilia, prima di partire per la sua nazione d’origine. Il piano predisposto per lui di raccogliere informazioni dirette e soprattutto di reclutare segretamente in Italia una squadra di informatori di fiducia, era motivo sufficiente per giustificare la diffidenza che egli mostra al suo arrivo verso le autorità italiane in generale e verso gli organi di polizia siciliani in particolare. Tuttavia, egli non ha contezza fino in fondo dei pericoli a cui va incontro. Certo, si indigna quando giunto a Roma scopre che il New York Herald, ed a catena altri giornali europei, avevano rivelato la sua missione, ma dentro di se è pronto a comprendere le ragioni elettoralistiche del suo amatissimo capo, autore delle rivelazioni alla stampa.

    In Italia, sebbene viaggi sotto falso nome, viene subito riconosciuto prima a Roma e poi nella sua città natale, a Padula, dove una piccola folla gli tributa gli onori dovuti ad un concittadino di fama internazionale. Persino a Palermo, nella trattoria Oreto di Piazza Marina, dove consuma ritualmente i pasti, si accorge che due individui da lui fatti rimpatriare dagli Stati Uniti, lo avevano notato e riconosciuto. Tutto questo, però, non cambia il suo atteggiamento . Rifiuta la scorta offertagli dal questore di Palermo e da solo contatta informatori su informatori con la spavalderia che gli era consueta. In queste condizioni, la sorte del tenente Petrosino è segnata e le cinque revolverate che lo freddano a poche decine di metri dal ristorante Oreto in piazza Marina, la sera del 12 marzo 1909, sono un inevitabile epilogo.

    C’è, però, un elemento che, a nostro modo di vedere, spiega più di ogn’altro il suo omicidio, ed è il livello di approfondimento a cui pensiamo che il detective fosse giunto nelle indagini sulla consistenza dell’associazione criminale mafiosa.

    Dal suo taccuino di appunti rileviamo che aveva puntato l’attenzione su quel Vito Cascio Ferroche aveva conosciuto ed indagato in America. Sospettato di essere stato mandante o forse anche coesecutore nel delitto del barile, l’uomo era stato costretto ad un precipitoso rientro in Sicilia. E  appunto con lui, probabilmente, il detective americano aveva appuntamento in Piazza Marina la sera del 12 marzo.

    Nell’Isola, don Vito Cascio Ferro, dopo il suo ritorno dagli Stati Uniti, era rapidamente cresciuto negli affari criminali e con i modi del gentiluomo di rango, nel 1909, era ormai diventato il capo riconosciuto della mafia siciliana. Frequentava i salotti bene di Palermo ed era il diretto patron di una estesa organizzazione politica che eleggeva plebiscitariamente persino un deputato al parlamento nel collegio di Bivona: l’on Domenico De Michele Ferrantelli.

    Per intenderci, Don Vito Cascio Ferro non era un mafioso che aveva bisogno di chiedere al politico di turno per ottenere e concedere favori. Era in grado di crearsi da solo la sua rappresentanza nello Stato legale ed aveva una capacità di contrattazione con i poteri forti almeno pari a quella dei mafiosi di età contemporanea che, affrancatisi dalla subordinazione ai politici con i traffici della droga, si creano in proprio una struttura politica di riferimento.

    Com’è ampiamente noto su Vito Cascio Ferro e su i suoi accoliti si appuntarono i sospetti degli inquirenti e l’onesto capo della polizia di Palermo, il trentino Baldassarre Ceola, da poco trasferito da Milano, formula subito contro costoro un circostanziato e motivato atto d’accusa. Li deferisce, però, al giudizio di una imbelle magistratura che, a due anni di distanza dall’omicidio, scarcera e assolve tutti per mancanza d’indizi.

    Lo stesso Vito Cascio Ferro, arrestato e condannato all’ergastolo per altri delitti nel 1926, nell’ambito dell’operazione Mori, quando non avrà più niente da perdere, confesserà con vanto di avere ucciso Petrosino.

    Questi, però, ripeto, sono fatti noti su cui appare inutile soffermare ancora l’attenzione. Ciò che invece mi preme sottolineare in questa sede è che l’onesto Questore di Palermo che aveva sequestrato ed esaminato le carte di Petrosino, nei suoi primi rapporti alle superiori autorità, aveva fatto capire che le indagini del detective americano rivelavano connivenze della mafia con importanti gangli delle istituzioni statali che sarebbe stato prudente esaminare con una certa cura. Lo stesso falso alibi presentato da Cascio Ferro di essere stato per tutta la sera del 12 marzo alla festa elettorale dell’on De Michele Ferrantelli aveva ricevuto conferma oltre che da quest’ultimo, da importanti politici presenti all’evento.

    Di ciò  Ceola non fa cenno nel verbale di denuncia alla Sezione d’accusa, ma lo zelo con il quale aveva raccolto elementi ed indizi a carico degli imputati e l’attivismo che continuava a dimostrare nelle indagini nonostante che la sezione d’accusa avesse già da tempo cominciato il suo lavoro, determinano l’evento decisivo dell’intera inchiesta. Il 17 luglio 1909, a tre mesi dalla morte di Petrosino, il questore di Palermo Baldassarre Ceola riceve un dispaccio dal Ministero dell’Interno che lo esonera dall’incarico, richiamandolo a Roma. Pochi giorni dopo, viene collocato in pensione col titolo onorario di Prefetto del Regno. Morirà dopo nove mesi, il 1 aprile 1913.

    Dopo l’allontanamento del questore, le carte di Petrosino scompaiono e non vengono prese in considerazione neanche dalla Sezione d’Accusa. Vito Cascio Ferro, con l’alone del martire ingiustamente perseguitato, appena scarcerato, riprende il suo posto nell’onorata società.

    A distanza di cento anni, a noi che tentiamo di accumulare il giudizio sul piano storico, non resta che sottolineare la singolare circostanza che la sorte del questore Baldassarre Ceola appare identica a quella del prefetto Cesare Mori; il quale, giunto in Sicilia per combattere la Mafia nella seconda metà degli anni Venti, dopo aver fatto piazza pulita di una buona parte dei quadri malavitosi ed aver ottenuto la condanna all’ergastolo per nuovi reati dello stesso Vito Cascio Ferro, proprio quando era sul punto di svelare i collegamenti della mafia con il cosidetto “terzo livello” (aveva preso nella rete il federale di Palermo ed un parlamentare siciliano con importanti incarichi di governo), il 16 giugno 1929, con parole di giubilo viene di colpo messo a riposo e mandato a dirigere un consorzio di bonifica nel Friuli.

    Ed , a ben guardare, il tragico destino di Joe Petrosino non è poi tanto diverso da quello di eroi contemporanei come Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, Giovanni Falcone e Paolo Borsellino, anche loro giunti a svelare i segreti della cupola ed a perseguire i capi riconosciuti dell’organizzazione mafiosa. Come Petrosino, vengono barbaramente trucidati insieme ad altri innocenti a seguito di complotti che lasciano chiaramente intravvedere connivenze politiche ed istituzionali.

    Cosa vuol dire tutto ciò ? Che la lotta alla mafia in Sicilia non ha fatto un passo avanti dall’omicidio di Petrosino ad oggi? Probabilmente no. Il livello di consenso sociale alle organizzazioni criminali in Sicilia e grandemente diminuito e la lotta alla mafia fatta da uomini determinati e coraggiosi come il procuratore Grasso beneficia non poco del nuovo clima instauratosi nell’Isola dopo gli eventi tragici degli ultimi anni. Le distorte logiche di un sistema politico ancora rozzo e distante da una democrazia effettiva sono, però, ancora di grande intralcio ai generosi tentativi di estirpare la mafia e le sue connivenze. Oggi, come ieri, occorre non abbassare la guardia, ma occorre soprattutto una costante vigilanza critica da parte di tutti coloro – ed ormai in Sicilia sono tanti – che hanno maturato la coscienza che la guerra può essere vinta soltanto con il puntiglioso rispetto di tutte le forme di legalità anche negli aspetti più trascurabili della spesso faticosissima vita sociale e politica siciliana.

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    Il Professor Marcello Saija. è ordinario presso la Facoltà di Scienze. Politiche. Università degli Studi di Messina.