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Italian priest tells how land seized back from the Mafia is being put to social use
Wednesday, August 22, 2012

by Sophie Durut

Fr Tonio Dell’Olio, second from left, with (from left to right): Vincenzo Zacchiroli, Juerg Eberlé, Cristina Bignardi and Pierluigi Grazia, in Caux 2012‘Organized crime is now a globalised reality. The Mafia has very much benefitted from this globalisation,’ says Fr Tonio Dell’Olio, the Italian priest who founded the Libera Terra Association in 1995 in order to seize back land illegally help by the Mafia. The financial crisis has favoured the Mafia, he says. Globalisation means that the public’s stereotypical image of the Mafia no longer matches the Mafia that now operates around the world.

Fr Dell’Olio addressed the ‘food and sustainability’ work stream of the Caux conference on Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy, on 20 July. ‘Illegal smuggling of narco-traffic or drugs and illegal substances has generated so much profit that the Mafia has been able to reaffirm itself as an economic agent,’ he said. ‘The role of the Mafia is badly perceived: its business is less based around fake goods, toxic waste or drugs, but is mainly orientated around money laundering. The Mafia operates in the blurred lines between what is considered legal and illegal. The Mafia nowadays is almost welcomed. The word Mafia was created in Italy but now there are foreign groups of Mafia on our soil, such as Chinese, Bulgarian, Japanese, and Russian Mafia and many others. There are no conflicts between these different groups. They share out territories so their main interests are in the region where they work. The Mafia is not just a criminal organisation but rather a system, a whole set up. They produce their own mentality; they find that there is a fertile ground around them.’

Questions and discussionsReferring to the Argentine footballer Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’, Dell’Olio said: ‘Maradona breached the rules, and this was made possible thanks to the complicity of the referee. The Mafia breaks the rules as well. They do this because there is no efficient repressive system against them. The Hand of God becomes normal.’

Now Libera Terra is fighting back. ‘One of the main aims of the Mafia is to control land and territory,’ Dell’Olio explained. ‘So we proposed a law approved by the Italian Parliament. We demanded that the Mafia’s goods be sanctioned and that these various kinds of properties—companies, buildings and land—should be used for social good. Our association was created in March 1995. We went to schools and taught children that the Mafia could be controlled. We asked other organisations to come together and work with us against the Mafia. We also wanted to train journalists. We didn’t want them to limit themselves to reporting the facts but rather to investigate them.’

Since the law was passed 13 years ago, 4,500 properties—apartments, villas and land—have been confiscated from the Mafia and converted to community use, in Sicily, Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Lazio. The land is used to produce cooking oil, wine, pasta, taralli, legumes, preserves and other organic foods.  All the products are marked with the Libera Terra quality and civic responsibility assurance. Some of the land is run by cooperatives and Libera Terra wants this to make a fruitful contribution to society. ‘In Italy, 6000 young people now work in these fields,’ Dell’Olio said. Libera Terra makes sure that the land is registered properly and that organic farming methods are used.

‘In Italy, particularly in the south where the Mafia originated, when we ask someone how rich he is, we don’t ask about the amount of money that he has but about the amount of land he owns. If people lose their land, they lose face; they lose their power. We wanted to give back this land, which the Mafia had gained illegally, to civil society.’

Dell’Ollio linked the Mafia with the work stream’s focus on food and sustainability. Libera Terra not only changed the law; they implemented food cooperatives on the confiscated land. As one work stream participant noted: ‘Not only did you track the Mafia but you also did it for a social purpose and to foster a sustainable economy.’
Del Ollio also specified Libera Terra’s new activities towards responsible tourism. For instance, the organisation recently confiscated land from Giovanni Brusca (a big Mafia boss) to host tourists. The local mayor was part of this programme to show his determination in the struggle against pork-barrel spending.

Libera Terra is not only successful in Italy but also wants to invest in other countries affected by crime, such as in Latin America. This recycling of illegal land is made sustainable as the next generations are encouraged to follow these initiatives. During the interrogation of a member of Cosa Nostra (the Mafia in Sicily), a judge insisted that an educational programme for children be implemented to spare them from the Mafia.

Workstream participantsAsked why he was doing all this and how he has never succumbed to the Mafia, Dell’Olio said he firmly believed in the importance of non-violence to make society sustainable and always working in a group, never alone. He assessed his organisation’s success by insisting that the Mafia tried to strike back against these confiscations but were not able to stop them. Indeed, Libera Terra is careful about the security of its members and volunteers, but the movement is also conscious that the Mafia does not want to kill people engaged in social activity, because they fear attracting the attention and hate of the population against them.

The Mafia breaks rules but multinational corporations do not even need to break rules, the Italian priest continued. As long as big companies create capital, they can lay down their own rules. Everything in the system favours big companies breaching the rules. He suggested that multinationals be controlled the same way as illegal lands are now controlled by the law. Dell’Olio gave the example of certain pineapple land owners in Honduras, who launch pesticides directly onto fields where farm workers are exposed to these illicit substances. There is no law to control such abuses.

Dell’Olio stressed that what is most challenging for their organisation is to first recognise the Mafia, as it is really hard for people to accept that the Mafia exists and operates in their country. A German participant commented: ‘This should be taught to the public as a whole. We need your knowledge; we need to publish your intervention in national newspapers so that everybody knows. There are so many people who don’t know that the Mafia is in their country.’ In Germany, even today, a pizza chain does money laundering and few are aware of this.

http://www.liberaterra.it