"See Naples and Die"
In the new Italian film Gomorrah -- an arresting, documentary-like portrait of Italy's most powerful mafia element, the Camorra -- mobsters wreak havoc on Naples, leaving behind a trail of bodies in their quest to protect a 15 billion Euro shadow economy built on drugs, sweatshop-made designer clothes and garbage. Also left in their wake, as VBS.tv's new series Toxic Napoli illustrates: deadly waste.'See Naples and die,' Goethe is purported to have said, referring to the bay's stunning beauty. The expression still applies today, but in a wholly different manner. Along with the bodies they've turned lifeless, the Camorra dump thousands of tons of illegal waste a year across this once beautiful landscape. For decades, the Neapolitan government has taken bribes and looked the other way, leading to a situation that in 1994, the European Union deemed an official environmental emergency. And things have only grown worse.
The Latest Crisis
When the crisis reared its head in December 2007, leaving piles of stinking garbage lying across the streets of Naples, the mafia's role in the waste industry came under closer scrutiny from the authorities and the public. The EU even got involved, taking Italy to the European Court of Justice.
In May, Silvio Berlusconi's new government developed a solution: eight dumps to deal with the immediate problem and the construction of four incinerators as a longer-term solution.
But locals have turned out in the thousands to protest the plan, mainly because they fear that the mob will simply take control of the new facilities and use them to burn toxic waste. The natural gas-guzzling incinerators will also produce considerable greenhouse gases and require ample land. Last week, 150,000 hit the streets of Naples to protest the mafia's presence and the garbage problem.
As John noted, when Prime Minister Berlusconi recently opened the first incinerator, outside of Naples, he did so without the typical Bishop's blessing. Meanwhile, a protest of hundreds was blocked by police.
Mutated sheep and crying mothers are some of the freaky effects of the crisis as captured by the VBS crew. Tourism is suffering too. And Campania's famous buffalo-milk mozzarella was found to be tainted with dioxin thought to have come from uncontrolled trash burning. I haven't seen them yet, but it would be interesting to know how many deaths and illnesses can be attributed to the mafia's waste management.
In 2007, an Italian reader responded to Jeremy's post on the garbage that began piling up in Naples:
meanwhile most peoples eye's are burning and itching from the burning trash, and yet the heat still rises, and so does the toxic air quality. I don't know what the answer is to Naples problem, and neither does any other one person. As long as people stay in Naples and say "that's just the way it is" the buck will pass from generation to generation... Unless a collective decides what needs to be done, then this space is not worth yours or my time, if I understood correct, the American Embassy had to open the Italian Governments eyes to the fact that, Tourism is at [stake] here, so they get a few folks together to make it look like [they're] doing something. If we keep going to hell and there was no ice water then, yet you keep going back to hell, do you think the water will just show up now? I didn't think so, Our children's futures are at stake here and for what I've seen they care about their Children ... or do they?
While citizens grow more courageous in their opposition to mafia control, the blood-letting and dirty dumping has continued mostly unabated. In June a waste disposal boss and crucial police informant was assassinated, the fourth in a series of killings. According to the Guardian, Franco Roberti, the chief anti-mafia prosecutor of Naples, told the daily La Repubblica: "A formidable opportunity to strike at the clans has been lost." The waste boss "had decided to talk [and] denounce all the bonds that link politics to the Camorra. His words would have angered many people. Too many of them had an interest in taking him out."
Roberto Saviano, the author of Gomorrah, the non-fiction expose that inspired the film of the same name, recently fled Italy after spending two years under close police protection.
"Those Cheesy Postcards are Bullshit"
The producers of the sobering VBS.tv documentary give more detail:
Seven million tons of garbage bales are stockpiled in the region—pyramids of festering trash spread across several acres, which, even according to the most optimistic of calculations, will take at least 15 years to be disposed of and processed (and this estimate does not include the waste that will be produced during the interim). Piles of rotten garbage line the city streets and alleyways, but, because they're such nice guys, every so often the authorities send the military to burn it. And Neapolitans wonder why their lungs feel like the inside of a scorched dumpster every few months.
If all of this wasn't enough, the countryside of Campania is dotted with illegal toxic waste dumps that are managed, once again, by the Camorra. This has led to wonderful tourist attractions like mutant sheep, thoroughly contaminated fields still used for farming, poisonous mozzarella, and to the realization that the bucolic images of Southern Italy you see on those cheesy postcards at the Naples International Airport are utter bullshit.
One of the more chilling scenes in Gommorah (which was awarded the 2008 Grand Prix at Cannes) comes halfway through the film. After one of them is badly burned in a toxic waste spill, a team of African immigrants refuses to continue unloading barrels of the stuff into a mafia controlled dump. The mobsters aren't fazed. They call in a group of local kids, who gladly sit atop piles of phone books so they can see above the wheels of the large dump trucks that are also, quietly, sealing their fate.
Also see a slideshow of the "Garbage Wars in Naples" at Time