Italy's Mafia Survivors Take Risks for Justice

Friday, March 23, 2012

Italy held a national day of mourning for people killed by the Mafia on March 21. Wives, daughters and mothers of the survivors also have paid a price. Two of them, described here, have led the struggle for justice.

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Felicia Bartollotta

Another campaigner is Felicia Bartollotta. She died in 2004 after years of pushing for justice in the 1978 slaying of her 30-year-old son, Giuseppe Impastato. That year she founded the Impastato Center in Cinisi, a village near Palermo.

Anna Puglisi, now the president of the Impastato Center, said after the Mafia's gangsters killed Felicia's son, members of the Bartollotta's family had a vendetta against the killers. Instead, Felicia Bartollotta wanted justice, not bloodshed.

Bartollotta's son's family had ties to the Mafia but stood against it. He broadcast reports of crimes he heard about through personal sources on Radio AUT, an independent station in Cinisi that Impastato created with friends.

His broadcasts, by now famous throughout the country, drew anonymous threats that he ignored as he continued to say what he could about Cinisi's Mafia. One of his broadcasts concerned Mafia involvement in a project to build aircraft runways in Cinisi.

Impastato's reports sided with farmers who were being dispossessed of their lands. He was abducted on May 9, 1978. The official police report said his wounded body was placed on a railway and dismembered by a passing train in Cinisi.

The Impastato Center is a nonprofit advocacy group for survivors of Mafia killings. It also spreads awareness through schools about efforts to counteract Mafia influence.

At first, the center focused on spurring along various investigations of Impastato's murder. In 2001, a court convicted Mafia boss Don Gaetano Badalamenti of ordering Impastato's killing and sentenced him to jail for 30 years. Felicia Bartollotta was a witness at the trial.

Since 1978, thousands of women have asked for moral and legal support by the Impastato Center, Puglisi said. Female survivors, she added, are bravely pressing for justice.

One example, she said, is Maria Benigno, a Palermo native who in 2002 witnessed the killings of her brother and husband. She went to the nearest police station and Sicilian police later caught the attackers. "Her timeliness was decisive in catching the killers," Puglisi said.


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Valeria Marchetti is an Italian journalist based in Rome.


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