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A chilling portrait of the world's mafias
August 14, 2017 | Financial Times | Book review by John Lloyd of

Mafia Life: Love, Death and Money at the Heart of Organised Crime, by Federico Varese, Profile Books £14.99

Two of the most chilling observations in this learned, fluent book is, first, that the mafias “put themselves forward as institutions of government, ultimately in competition with the legitimate state”. Second, that “mafias thrive in democracies”.

Totalitarian regimes, such as the Italian Fascists, suppressed the mafia almost to extinction; democracy restored, they grew again. Only now — with massive policing, greater ease of sentencing, increased surveillance and pentiti — is the Sicilian mafia facing, if not extinction, then severe reduction. But the Neapolitan Camorra and above all the Calabrian ’Ndrangheta across the straits of Messina have grown and grow still. Calabresi families are rich on the proceeds of the heroin trade from the container port of Gioia Tauro (unfortunately Varese doesn’t say much about them here).

Mafia life is often short and usually tense. The Russian vory v zakone (thieves-in-law), spawned in Soviet prison colonies, live more than any other by their own law, spurning contact with state and police, vicious in their feuds. The Japanese Yakuza, who like to trace their lineage back to the samurai (Varese thinks their origins are in late-19th-century gamblers), settle scores with a sword....
Mafias sometimes side with, and are used by, states. The Hong Kong Triads, facing pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014, took the side of the Chinese authorities in confronting the young demonstrators — and gained some credit with Beijing. Where mafia are powerful, as the drug cartels in Mexico and the Wa heroin refiners in Myanmar’s Shan and Kachin regions (said to process 45 per cent of world supply), they create their own “states” with laws, social provision and a savage punishment code.
organized_crime  drug_cartels  globalization  institutions  book_reviews  books  Japanese  Russians  Italians  mafia  gangs  viciousness 
august 2017 by jerryking

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