Town the mafia shut down

Andrew Gumbel in Reggio Calabria, where the stench of open sewers is matched by something rotten at the core

REGGIO Calabria is exactly the kind of place that should have benefited from the overthrow of the old political order in Italy three years ago.

Instead it is suffering the consequences of this week's continuing turmoil in Rome, where Antonio Maccanico, a 71-year-old bureaucrat with no electoral mandate is making the latest seemingly doomed attempt to form a stable government.

"The state is completely absent here, except as a symbol of repression through the police. Young people have no model of normality to follow," remarks Mario Nasone, leader of a social centre trying to ween young Reggini away from the only flourishing businesses in town - the construction rackets, extortion scams, and international drugs and arms traffic of the 'ndrangheta, or Calabrian mafia. "This is a major problem both for Italy and for Europe."

Years of misguided central government policies and systematic graft have left Reggio with no industrial base, and no significant source of legal income outside the public sector. Agriculture survives only thanks to government and European subsidies, while the modest port attracts only a handful of ships aside from the ferries to and from Sicily. Unemployment stands at 32 per cent, with the figure reaching 50 per cent for the under- 25s.

The city itself boasts one elegant street, the Corso Garibaldi, which runs north to south through the centre and is dotted with pleasant neoclassical and Liberty-style villas including the museum famous for its Bronzes of Riace; otherwise it is an unplanned jungle of illegally built, half-finished concrete eyesores strewn with rubbish and rusting scrap-iron, and rutted, pockmarked roads without pavements or proper drainage.

Reggio is perhaps the only city in western Europe with open sewers in some of its poorer quarters. Its water system dates from the time of the 1908 earthquake, and its water is undrinkable. It is the only city in Italy without gas mains (everyone has to buy bottles), and the only one without a state-approved slaughterhouse; the supply of meat is controlled by the mafia which employs a network of contraband slaughterers in the surrounding villages.

The 'ndrangheta extorts a pizzo, slang for protection money, from every shop and viable business in town, and has more power than the city council in awarding licences to retailers. The 120 stands in the city's market in Piazza del Popolo, for example, are all illegal.

"The mafia has attacked every deepest fibre, every nerve, every last inch of tissue in our organism, jeopardising not only the integrity of individuals but the very survival of our civic society," writes the city's chief attorney in a report on Reggio compiled by the parliamentary anti- mafia commission.

Cross the 'ndrangheta and it will cross you. Last summer one of the city's badly overstretched team of prosecutors, Giuseppe Verzera, found a decapitated cat impaled on the gate of his country house. Mario Nasone's Agape centre receives constant telephone threats and was recently trashed overnight, with faeces left strewn on the floor and walls. Paolo Pollichieni, a journalist with the local paper, La Gazzetta del Sud, has had his car blown up three times.

The city's only textile factory has just laid off all 400 workers, and the other significant private sector employer, the railway machinery firm Omega, has halved its staff with a similar number of redundancies. "We are punished purely for being in the south. Contractors and investors just don't want to know," said the city's councillor in charge of employment, Antonio Camera.

Punished not just for being in the south, but on the very toe with much- mooted plans for a bridge across the Straits of Messina now indefinitely shelved, Reggio risks being isolated altogether. A new container port in Gioia Tauro 35 miles to the north shows signs of taking off after years as a development white elephant; furthermore, there is talk of linking ferries directly from Gioia Tauro to Sicily, just as road links have already been developed between Gioia Tauro and eastern Calabria. The already negligible need for anyone to go to Reggio could disappear completely.

It has been a slow but spectacular decline for the beautiful city the Greeks founded as Rhegium in the 8th century BC. Hit by major earthquakes in 1783 and 1908 which destroyed all its ancient buildings, it attracted national attention in 1970 when young neofascists, backed by the mafia, fought police and troops in the streets for nearly a year in protest at a decision to make Catanzaro, not Reggio, Calabria's regional capital.

Thereafter the mafia, in cahoots with local and national politicians, siphoned off development funds to build up its considerable local and international interests. The only northern businessmen to invest would generally arrive, pocket the government aid money and then declare themselves bankrupt before escaping as fast as possible.

The spiral of corruption reached its zenith in the early 1990s, when sitting mayor Agatino Licandro - since then the author of a remarkable confession - reported "suitcases coming into city hall stuffed with money but going out empty". As a result of the nationwide corruption scandals, most of the city council wound up in handcuffs.

The new mayor, a leftwing literature professor called Italo Falcomata, has repaired some of the damage, starting to disburse L600bn (pounds 255m) in special development aid for tourism, transport and improvements to the water and sewage systems. He has also worked to improve the city's image, for example inviting star director Giorgio Strehler to inaugurate the new season at Reggio's fine theatre. "Last summer, the ice-cream sellers stayed in the city for the first time in years," he boasted.

One can't help feeling, however, that even Mr Falcomata's laudable efforts are no more than handing sandwiches to a man who is bleeding to death. Reggio needs serious investment overseen by a responsible national government. But three years after Italy's "revolution" it is still waiting.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker