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On Wednesday, August 24, Italy was struck by a devastating earthquake, which destroyed several ancient towns and killed upwards of 290 people. However, several buildings which were newly built and thought to be quake-proof also collapsed, leading to suspicion that the buildings were built incorrectly and were not up to code, despite having passed inspections.
Italy has had a long history with corruption, especially due to organized crime and the mafia. Back in 2012, in the aftermath of earthquakes in the Emilia-Romagna region, many people were put on trial for helping the crime syndicates profit illegally from reconstruction projects in the region.
Many anti-mafia activists blame the poor building quality of such towns as those destroyed in the earthquakes on mafia interference in the construction industry, citing earlier examples of earthquakes in the 1980s, when thousands died.
“Behind those thousands of dead was reckless building and clan affairs,” says anti-mafia prosecutor Franco Roberti, “and without wishing to rush judgements, I see that also in 2016 many buildings crumbled, public buildings also, too many.”
Anti-mafia scrutiny is at an all-time high in times like this, and extra efforts are being made to ensure that all is done fairly and as quickly as possible. However, not everyone is confident that mafia tampering can be prevented.
“Construction is one of the mafia’s main sources of revenue, partly because construction is linked to territory, so the mafia not only seeks construction contracts for money, but also to mark their territory.” says Anna Sergi, an organized crime expert from the University of Essex, “There is very likely to be corruption in a reconstruction effort like this, because in Italy, where there is a lot of money, there is always a link to mafia power.”
She describes how hard it can be to identify organized crime members, as the stereotypical tactics seen in movies, such as guns, violent coercion, and other such staples of mob movies are often only found in the more old-fashioned areas of their influence. Instead, they use corruption and threats to obtain what they want.
Residents of the destroyed towns are in a state of near despair, as they see their homes in rubble, and they live in temporary trailers for housing. They worry that the government might spend too much time and money on the historical portions of towns, in order to preserve the image of Italy, rather than on the residential areas which most need the attention.
In addition to this mismanagement of time and funds, the ever-present threat of mafia involvement, and the shoddy workmanship often accompanying it, looms. Suffice to say the situation in Italy is dire, and one can only hope that the reconstruction efforts go well.