If until now the coronavirus has especially affected regions in northern Italy, its impact in the south of the country, which is poorer and with more unemployment, may be even more serious, given the risk that the mafias increase their power, in places where public institutions fail to provide an adequate response to the crisis.
"If the State does not arrive, the crime arrives, which disguises itself as a benefactor, gives you something to eat and then charges the bill," explained the mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris to EFE. He warned of the real danger that "the virus will trigger criminal contamination".
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Leoluca Orlando, mayor of Palermo and with a history in the fight against the mafia, puts it another way: "if a patient calls the doctor and he doesn't answer, he will call a healer". Both warn that criminal organizations have a liquidity that public institutions lack and, as De Magistris said, "have no bureaucracy".
The endless crisis in the south
"The health crisis first reached the north and then came to the south, but the economic crisis had already started in the south," says Orlando, mayor of the capital of Sicily and one of the most populous cities in the country, but also one of the poorest.
The paralysis of the economy decreed by the government, which has put workers from all over the country in a delicate situation, has an aggravating factor in the south of Italy: the millions of informal workers who have many difficulties in obtaining state aid.
In Italy, there are 3.7 million workers in the informal economy, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT, in its acronym in Italian), "of which a good part is in the south", highlights Angelo Colombini, secretary of the CSIL union, very present in the region.
In Sicily, Campania and Calabria, the 2008 crisis caused many companies to close and not reopen, says Colombini. Because of this, people are now forced to face "the impossibility of working, when they already had many problems before".
In view of the situation, the government tried to advance some measures, such as aid of 4.3 billion euros (about R $ 24.5 billion) to municipalities and 400 million euros (about R $ 2.2 billion) in vouchers for purchase, in addition to announcing that it will increase the minimum income, a benefit on which many southern families depend.
For De Magristris, who before being mayor of Naples was a prosecutor in cases against the mafia, these measures are "a first step", but more resources are lacking, especially for small towns, which are "on the verge of collapse".
The danger of the next day
The alarms sounded days ago, when a group of people robbed a supermarket in Palermo and, on social media, dozens of calls to popular revolt appeared, something that Orlando says was nothing more than "an isolated episode that never happened again".
Even so, the city carried out a "very tough preventive action" to prevent the situation of people's need from turning into an increase in violence.
In Palermo, the number of families using social services has increased from 600 to 10,000 in just a few weeks, says Orlando. For him, this can generate a "new poverty" of workers who had to stop and lost their sources of income.
"After a crisis like this, there will be a lot of social fragility and this is fertile ground for the mafias", explains Vicenza Rando, lawyer and vice president of the anti-mafia association Libera, who fears that criminal organizations will enter new professional sectors, like health.
All respondents agree that the greatest danger will come when the health crisis ends and thousands of companies fail or need liquidity. "In the beginning, they will come with the human face of someone who wants to help, but that only serves to make them recover a space they had lost", points out De Magistris.
"For the mafias that go with their money to a company in difficulties, it doesn't matter so much that it recovers, but to control the territory and the public consensus", continues Rando.
"In 1985 I cut the contracts for all companies operated by the mafia and the dismissed workers protested against me, taking my coffin," recalls Orlando, who says that the last thing he wants is to go back to that time.
"In 1985 I quit all contracts with the companies operated by the mafia and the dismissed workers spoke out against my taking away," recalls Orlando, who insures that he absolutely wants to avoid going back to that time.
How to stop the mafias?
First, it is necessary to "intervene in real needs, because if the fire of need is not extinguished, we will have a bomb in our hands", says De Magistris, who cites Naples' initiatives as an example, as a support bank for the most vulnerable.
"The problem is today for those who want to eat, tomorrow will be the day of moneylenders", warns Orlando, who asks the government to relax city tax rules so that it can spend more funds on the economic recovery.
In Libera, the request is for a collaboration from the European Union because, according to Rando's warning, "the mafias have no borders" and in such a situation they can even expand their operations across the continent.
In addition to the response of the institutions, citizens from the south and from all over the country began to implement community solidarity initiatives, with an emergence in Naples of the so-called "spesa sospesa" (expenses suspended, in Italian), a basket placed on the street where neighbors leave food for those in need.
"In Naples we have a saying: the Neapolitan goes hungry, but never dies. As we know how to suffer, we have a very strong social protection network that gives us antibodies against the crime virus", concludes De Magistris.