Pubdate: Mon, 06 Nov 2006
Source: International Herald-Tribune (International)
Copyright: International Herald Tribune 2006
Author: Elisabeth Rosenthal, International Herald Tribune
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Marco L. has a memento of the late summer night when he and two
friends were sprayed with gunfire by men on scooters, as the friends
chatted near the Gate of San Gennaro in the heart of Naples. A bullet
is still lodged near his hip.

The ochre walls of the piazza are also scarred, with pockmarks from
bullets gone astray. The security grate on the toy shop has 80 bullets
holes, the owner estimates.

"They must have mistaken us for someone else," said Marco L., a baby-
faced 22-year-old in a red sweatshirt and jeans, who spent 15 days in
a hospital. He refused to give his surname for fear of retribution.
"They fired 12 or 13 shots and all three of us were hit," he said.

A wave of mob shootings and stabbings has terrorized Naples in recent
months, with nearly a killing a day over the past two weeks. The
situation, amplified by an amnesty that freed 2,700 minor criminals
from local prisons, is so dire that Prime Minister Romano Prodi
visited Naples last week to discuss sending in the army.

Living in a city that has long been synonymous with organized crime,
Neopolitans are inured to a measure of violence. But lately, changes
in the city's homegrown mob, the Camorra, have made the violence more
frequent and unpredictable - and more likely to intrude on the lives
of ordinary citizens.

The Camorra was once a disciplined organization whose wealth was based
on extortion and fake cigarettes. But it has devolved into a
decentralized collection of warring gangs, whose principal wares are
drugs like cocaine.

And so, Naples is in the middle of a Los Angeles-type drug war, with
fewer kingpins in control and more thugs vying for a piece of the action.

"The killings we are witnessing in our piazzas," said Franco Roberti,
coordinating prosecutor for anti-Camorra activity in Naples, "are
about different Camorristas trying to maintain control of street
distribution in the area." The victims are younger, he said, the
killing more haphazard.

"The organization is no longer vertical, it's horizontal," he said at
his office in a fortress-like modern building on the outskirts of town.

Indeed, the area where Marco L. was shot is a no man's land that is up
for grabs, lying between swaths of Naples where drug distribution
rights are firmly held. People who live in this hardscrabble
neighborhood of winding streets, where balconies flow with drying
laundry, say they live in terror. And if they see crimes being
committed, they are too scared to name names.

Early last week, Vincenzo Prestigiacomo, the son-in-law of a reputed
mobster, was gunned down as he left a coffee bar at 7 p.m., when all
the surrounding shops were still open. But on Saturday, the fishmonger
just 20 meters away on the Via Della Consolazione denied knowing of
the event. The owner of the coffee bar was equally mum, refusing to
give his name as he stood at the cash register, insisting that the
killing had taken place "far from here, a kilometer away."

But Roberti, the prosecutor, said the police were investigating the
death and Salvatore Arena, who owns a toy store nearby, remembers very
clearly the ring of six shots. "Of course I heard it - that noise is
normal here now at night," he said, surrounded by plush stuffed
animals, pink bikes and toy cars that are going unsold.

His wife, Rosaria Capasso, from an old Naples family, chimed that the
current gang members and their victims were often in their teens or
early twenties, not much older than the customers at the toy store.
They are unemployed and looking for money to buy expensive watches and
designer jeans, she said.

"They steal for money," she said. "They shoot like it's a video

The Italian government seems uncertain how to respond to the changing
mob and the surge in violence, whose roots people here trace to
political miscalculation in Rome, inconsistency in local law
enforcement and economic stagnation in Naples.

Months ago, the Italian Justice Ministry released several thousand
minor criminals from Naples jails in an amnesty to relieve
overcrowding, but that repopulated the city for a wave of crime, some
locals said. "It was a nice present from the justice minister," said
Armando Petrucci, who owns a popular clothing store on the Via
Umberto, whose bulletproof glass is cracked from past violence.

Others say the success of the police in arresting mobsters has created
a vacuum that is being filled by lesser criminals. A crime boss that
firmly controlled the area around the Gate of San Gennaro was arrested
a year ago, opening a battle for turf, said Arena, the toy store owner.

Roberti acknowledges the dilemma: "When the state intervenes and
captures a capo, it immediately creates space for a new camorrista."
The gangs that step in are always "allying or fighting."

But all agree that part of the problem is a local economy that
provides few legitimate opportunities for youth, combined with a
thriving drug trade that provides opportunity aplenty. Lookouts for
Camorra drug deals -- a kind of internship for mob wannabees - are
paid 1,500, or about $1,900, a month, Roberti said, which is more
than some of his police officers.

Giuseppe Starini, a postal supervisor, has 3 children, aged 19, 20 and
21. Although he took pains to make sure they finished school and
entered a profession, none can find a job, he said.

Prodi said he would not order in troops, but would send thousands of
extra police officers to Naples, and would put them on scooters so
they could keep up with the new Camorra. Roberti's office has only 18
cars, which are old and often break down, he said.

Roberti said an infusion of resources would help, but a true solution
also needed social reform. "You need to find a way to offer young
people legal jobs," he said.

"They may be less profitable, but you have security, you don't have to
worry about retribution."

Meanwhile, Marco L. is a fugitive in his own neighborhood. "I've
learned you can't hang out in one fixed place," he said, "and I don't
sit out here at night anymore."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake