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Cablegate: Can Calabria Be Saved?

VZCZCXRO3993
RR RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHNP #0096/01 3371502
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 021502Z DEC 08
FM AMCONSUL NAPLES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6309
INFO RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC 0014
RHMFISS/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RUEABND/DEA HQ WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/COMSIXTHFLT
RUEHNP/AMCONSUL NAPLES 1048
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 NAPLES 000096

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/2/2018
TAGS: PGOV ECON PREL BEXP SENV SOCI KCRM KCOR IT
SUBJECT: CAN CALABRIA BE SAVED?

REF: A. NAPLES 36, B. NAPLES 37, C. NAPLES 38, D. NAPLES 73

NAPLES 00000096 001.2 OF 004


CLASSIFIED BY: J. Patrick Truhn, Consul General.
REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (SBU) Summary: If it were not part of Italy, Calabria would
be a failed state. The 'Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate
controls vast portions of its territory and economy, and
accounts for at least three percent of Italy's GDP (probably
much more) through drug trafficking, extortion and usury. Law
enforcement is severely hampered by a lack of both sources and
resources. Calabrians have a reputation as a distant, difficult
people, and their politicians are widely viewed as ineffective.
Much of the region's industry collapsed over a decade ago,
leaving environmental and economic ruin. The region comes in
last place in nearly every category of national economic
assessments. Most of the politicians we met with on a recent
visit were fatalistic, of the opinion that there was little that
could be done to stop the region's downward economic spiral or
the stranglehold of the 'Ndrangheta. A few others
disingenuously suggested that organized crime is no longer a
problem. Nearly every interlocutor complained that the region
lacks a civil society. Amid the doom and gloom, there are a few
positive signs, nearly all from young people. This most
problematical of Italy's regions will continue to be a drag on
the country until the national government devotes the necessary
attention and resources to solving these thorny problems. End
summary.

2. (U) Calabria, the foot and toe of the Italian boot, is beset
by seemingly intractable problems. During a November 17-20
visit to all five provinces, virtually every interlocutor
painted a picture of a region of weak and corrupt government,
throttled by the iron grip of Western Europe's largest and most
powerful organized crime syndicate, the 'Ndrangheta. The formal
economy is in a shambles, with GDP per capita only half that of
northern regions and official unemployment rates over 20
percent. No one believes the central government has much, if
any, control of Calabria, and local politicians are uniformly
seen as ineffective and/or corrupt. If Calabria were not part
of Italy, it would be a failed state.

Catanzaro: "We Are Used to Organized Crime"
--------------------------------------------- -----------

3. (C) We spent our first night in the bleak and chaotic
regional capital of Catanzaro, where, after repeatedly declining
our requests for an appointment over the course of a year, the
Regional President, Agazio Loiero, finally received us. Loiero
complained about the region's negative image and noted that
organized crime, relatively inaccessible markets and poor
infrastructure combine to discourage investment in the region.
The perceived high risk of investing in Calabria has also meant
higher interest rates for entrepreneurs. However, Loiero was
unable to offer any solution to the region's difficulties, other
than an idea to make low-interest loans available to small and
medium enterprises with EU structural funds. When the CG asked
how Loiero envisioned utilizing the nearly 14 million euros that
the EU has allocated for Calabria, the President gave a vague
reply and changed the subject. When the CG asked whether
Sicily, where citizens' and industrialists' associations have
joined law enforcement in actively opposing organized crime,
could serve as a model for Calabria, Loiero responded, "We are
the real island."

4. (C) We got an even more downbeat assessment from Catanzaro's
chief prosecutor, Antonio Lombardo. Lombardo echoed what we had
heard from other prosecutors about the difficulty of combating
the 'Ndrangheta: its family-based structure and the lack of
informers make it nearly impossible to penetrate. He bitterly
complained about the lack of funding and personnel resources in
a province where organized crime seems to control almost every
facet of society. Only 12 of the 18 prosecutor positions are
currently filled, and there are only five anti-Mafia
prosecutors; Lombardo bemoaned that few magistrates seek
assignment to Calabria and the central judicial authorities do
not consider it a priority to fill the vacant positions. He
added that his office does not even have the resources for an
effective wiretapping program. Organized crime is not
considered an emergency in Italy, Lombardo observed: "It is a
stable factor in our country. We are accustomed to losing part
of our GDP to organized crime and we factor it in to our
economic planning." In Calabria it is nearly impossible to
avoid paying extortion or collaborating with the 'Ndrangheta, he
went on; "People are victims and accomplices at the same time."
While not denying the importance of law enforcement, Lombardo
said that in an ideal environment it should have a marginal
role. "We are no substitute for a clean and civil society and
well-managed businesses."

Vibo Valentia: An "Indifferent Society"
--------------------------------------------- --

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5. (C) The Prefect of Vibo Valentia province, Ennio Sodano, has
practically written Calabria off. In his view, "the entire
Calabrian society is involved" in perpetuating an intractable
situation. "Business owners pay extortion, but don't complain.
They don't pay their taxes," he said. "It's a cultural problem,
this indifferent society." Sodano was highly critical of the
lack of vision for spending the EU structural funds. He made no
bones of his desire to transfer out of Calabria at the first
opportunity.

6. (C) The mayor of Vibo Valentia apparently hoped our meeting
would yield nothing more substantive than a photo op. He and
his coterie clearly became uneasy when the CG asked how the city
is confronting the problem of organized crime, and he
continually tried to steer the conversation to more superficial
topics. The Provincial President was not much more
communicative, never speaking above a whisper.

7. (C) The regional president of the national environmental NGO
Legambiente, Nino Morabito, who met us in Vibo, opined that
Calabria has very few good politicians -- and none in leadership
positions. Like Campania, Calabria has also experienced illegal
dumping of toxic waste on its territory, but because the
population is smaller, it often goes unnoticed. A lot of
illegal waste comes into Calabria not by land but by sea. One
of the issues Legambiente is following closely is the almost
ubiquitous illegal construction along the coast. The week
before our visit, the Legambiente representative in Vibo
Valentia had his car set on fire, presumably to intimidate him
from denouncing the rampant zoning and construction violations
occurring in the province. He was able to extinguish the
burning vehicle just before the fire spread to his house.

"Now Kill Us All"
---------------------

8. (U) The morning of November 19, we traveled to the town of
Polistena to meet with about 30 members of the group
"Ammazzateci Tutti" -- "Now Kill Us All," so named in defiance
of the 'Ndrangheta following the 2005 mob assassination of
Calabria regional Vice President Francesco Fortugno. The young
people had traveled from all over the region to meet with us.
Since its founding, Ammazzateci Tutti has held regular
demonstrations designed to pressure the Italian state into
taking action against the 'Ndrangheta; in February 2007, a
protest in Reggio Calabria drew thousands into the streets. One
of the group's organizers, law student Aldo Pecora, observed
that organized crime and Masonic societies control virtually
every facet of society, including the economic and political
systems. He asserted that the 'Ndrangheta may be viewed as the
armed forces of powerful people. Unlike the Sicilian Cosa
Nostra, he said, the 'Ndrangheta has close ties to Calabrian
government structures. The group formally asked the CG to "save
Calabria."

"Children of Pythagoras"
-----------------------------

9. (U) Our next stop was Crotone, on the Ionian coast, where
some 2,500 years ago Pythagoras taught math at one of the
premier universities of the Ancient Greek world. Today Crotone
is beset by economic and environmental ruin after its three
factories shut down in the 1990's, leaving behind industrial
slag and an unemployment rate of 24 percent. The local director
of the Industrialists' Federation (Confindustria) pointed out
that Crotone has the lowest income per capita of any province in
Italy. The mayor and city council president told us that the
city is trying to increase tourism by promoting the area's Greek
heritage. "We are the children of Pythagoras," the city council
president said proudly. But the officials observed that a major
cleanup of the former industrial sites is a prerequisite;
contaminated with millions of tons of industrial zinc and other
waste, these sites are opposite a major archeological zone.
They expressed concern about awarding a contract for the
cleanup, given the pervasive presence of organized crime. At
our meeting with the provincial president we noted the
innovative technology of the California-based company,
AdaptiveArc, which may be the ideal solution for Crotone's
environmental cleanup, and which already has attracted potential
waste-to-energy contracts in Cosenza and Vibo Valentia. In the
evening, the CG addressed the local Rotary Club, reiterating
that the United States is an engaged and dependable partner in a
wide range of challenges from economic development to organized
crime, but no one but the Calabrians themselves can create a
civil society in their territory.

Business Environment

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---------------------------

10. (U) American business interests are limited. General
Electric has a small plant (producing air coolers and steam
condensers) in Vibo Valentia, and the provincial president
unrealistically hopes to get a second one. The savvy general
manager of one of the best hotels in the region has spent two
years and over one million euros to obtain authorizations for a
five-star Marriott resort on the Tyrrhenian coast, but has been
waiting for months for a ministry in Rome to move the necessary
paper. (Embassy Rome is assisting.) AdaptiveArc's gasification
plants are the only other potential investments on the horizon.

11. (SBU) We had a useful meeting with the Calabria
Confindustria young entrepreneurs in Catanzaro, where the CG
explained many of the Mission's initiatives to promote
innovation and growth. Unfortunately, an expected with regional
Confindustria president Umberto de Rose was canceled -- the
third time he has missed a meeting with the CG. The local
Confindustria director in Crotone told us that de Rose has not
taken a strong stand against members who pay extortion (unlike
in Sicily, where Confindustria expels those who do) because he
considers them to be victims who need support rather than
expulsion. She added that law enforcement successes have not
been as numerous in Calabria as in Sicily, and therefore
business owners do not feel so bold. A year ago, when the CG
met with Confindustria members in Reggio Calabria, and asked
whether they were prepared to follow the Sicily's lead, he
received a decidedly nervous reaction.

12. (C) Tourism remains one of the region's hopes, despite
inadequate infrastructure (the Salerno-Reggio Calabria highway
has been under construction for decades and rail connections to
and from anywhere off the Tyrrhenian coast are terrible),
environmental degradation, and organized crime. A year ago the
CG suggested that the President of the Province of Reggio
Calabria talk to tour operators representing the booming U.S.
cruise ship industry, whose thousands of customers regularly
call at Sicilian ports, just across the Strait of Messina, about
including a day in Reggio to see the prized Greek bronze statues
and perhaps visit the archaeological site of Locri. The
President's response was, "What's a tour operator?" When asked
by Confindustria's young entrepreneurs in Catanzaro how to
attract U.S. tourists, the CG emphasized the need for the region
to create a tourist identity, a brand that would set it apart
from dozens of other possible destinations.

Not Entirely Hopeless
----------------------

13. (C) Despite the myriad difficulties facing the region, not
everything is doom and gloom in Calabria. During our November
17 stop in Cosenza, the CG discussed the U.S. elections with a
group of smart, articulate and well-prepared political science
students at the University of Calabria, one of the few bright
spots in the region and where post has established a strong
relationship (the university is also developing an innovative
technology transfer center, about which Regional President
Loiero surprisingly seemed to know nothing). Our final stop, on
November 20 in the town of San Giovanni in Fiore, was an
unexpected and welcome ray of hope. The town was home to
Gioacchino da Fiore, the medieval theologian whose message of
hope President-elect Obama repeatedly mentioned during the
recent campaign, leading the town to invite him to visit. The
remarkably upbeat, dynamic mayor had just returned from the
U.S., where he negotiated a simulation training center for
doctors and nurses with the University of Pittsburgh Medical
Center (which already runs the highly successful ISMETT
transplant center in Palermo). The city of 19,000 has a small
but active American center, where our AmCit warden serves
residents and visitors alike, and where the city offers English
lessons to young and old.

14. (C) Comment: Throughout Calabria, we heard the same
laments over and over: the 'Ndrangheta calls the shots and
there is little hope for the region. The lack of optimism has
resulted in a continuous brain drain, with the best and
brightest young people emigrating to the North or to other
countries in search of opportunity. As was the case during our
previous visits to Calabria, we were struck by the lack of
vision and energy on the part of its politicians (see refs A and
D). Indeed, if Calabria's problems are going to be solved, it
will take a concerted effort by the central government to
reclaim the region as part of the Italian state. While law
enforcement successes (which so far have been modest) would no
doubt contribute, there also needs to be a revolution in the way
Calabrians themselves view organized crime, corruption and above
all civil society. We can help -- by encouraging the young

NAPLES 00000096 004.2 OF 004


members of Ammazeteci Tutti, by spreading our message of shared
values, and by implementing USG initiatives such as Mission
Italy's Partnership for Growth. In the absence of strong
government and institutions, we need to network with
non-governmental interlocutors; we productively used this trip
to identify an important array of new audiences. But unless the
central government gives greater priority to the region,
Calabria will continue to be a drain on the national economy and
a territory in the hands of extortionists and drug smugglers.
TRUHN

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