Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Drowning in Garbage

Anybody who has ever watched The Sopranos or followed the progress of the US government's campaign against the Mafia knows that the carting trade has been one of the mob's favorite targets for infiltration and control. This makes sense: getting rid of garbage is an essential service, and the explicit or implicit threat that that service might be disrupted can induce those with money to pay to ensure that that doesn't happen. Garbage isn't glamorous, but it is lucrative, particularly if gangsters control it. It turns out that things aren't much different in Italy:
The Camorra, as the Naples Mafia is known, maintains a tight grip on the lucrative trash business, and as the situation has worsened, the Camorra's profit and power have risen.

Trash hasn't been picked up on the streets since Dec. 31, when the last of dumps in the area, which had been operating beyond capacity, couldn't accept more trash. And for several weeks before that, pickups had been sporadic at best. On Sunday, army units were called in to remove trash from school buildings so that students could return after the winter break. The gravity of the situation has led to a series of desperate but still useless measures taken by authorities. ("Southern Italy's Dirty Reality" by Gabriel Kahn, Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2008, p. A12)

The Naples mob controls the garbage dumps in Campania, and it is in their financial interest to maintain the crisis as long as possible: doing so puts pressure on the national and local governments to throw money at the problem, a large percentage of which would end up in Camorra hands. The suspicion is that the Camorra has organized opposition to incinerator construction, which would help to reduce the trash problem. More than that, they have illegally dumped toxic waste from the Italian north in Campanian dumps for decades, exacerbating southern Italy's trash capacity problem while creating an environmental disaster. I don't see a feasible solution, which is a shame, particularly since Naples is one of Italy's great treasures.

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