By: Liz Flynn
The word ‘mafia’ is used to represent organized crime around the world. However, its origins are in Sicily and originally referred to a branch of Italian organized crime called Cosa Nostra. This is possibly the best-known branch of the mafia in the world.
The origins of the branch date back to the late 19th century in western Sicily when the French influence during the Napoleonic era brought about changes to Sicilian society. This was followed by the unification of Italy in 1860. This upheaval led to the formation of criminal gangs, including Cosa Nostra. They created lucrative businesses that offered protection for money and this structure is one that continues in branches of mafia across the world.
During the 1920s, Mussolini imprisoned over 1,200 members of the Sicilian mafia. This did not entirely destroy Cosa Nostra but it certainly made them weak. In fact, many of the most important Mafiosi emigrated to America at this time. These included Joseph Bonanno and Carlo Gambini. Both these men went on to become two of the most powerful and notorious mafia bosses in New York.
World War II led to further changes, including formerly imprisoned Mafiosi being put in positions of authority when the Allies invaded Sicily in 1943. Unintentionally, they had made Cosa Nostra strong once again. The mafia gained even more authority when the government invested in the rebuilding of Sicily following the war.
Most of the regeneration took place between 1959 and 1963. Nobody who represented a construction firm was given a building. In fact, just five people were allocated over 80% of the permits and it is likely that these were Mafiosi who were given positions of authority.
The Corleonesi family were one of the most influential families in Cosa Nostra and they were based in Corleone, just outside Palermo. Michael Navarra was the head of this mafia family until 1958. Luciano Leggio (pictured), who became the new boss, had ordered for the murder of Navarra by shooting. Bernardo Provenzano and Toto Riina, two notorious members of the mafia, aided Leggio in the killing and supported him in becoming the new boss. Despite being an influential mafia family, the families from Palermo referred to the Corleonisi family as ‘I viddani’, meaning ‘the peasants’.
Killings ordered by the Corleonisi family were rife in the 1980s. During this decade, thousands of people were killed and this led to them ruling the Sicilian mafia. Also during this decade, a campaign against Cosa Nostra was established by the magistrates who wanted to rid Sicily of organized crime.
This campaign became successful when Tommaso Buscetta was arrested and he turned informant. The evidence he provided was the basis for a court case lasting from 1986 to 1987. As there were 474 members of the mafia on trial, a special courthouse was built. The case led to the conviction of 342 of the Sicilian mafia.