Plati (Italy) (AFP) – Italy goes to the polls this weekend for the local and regional elections, but not in the village of Plati in the southern region of Calabria, the heart of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which controls much of the cocaine trade in Europe.
Such is the local grasp of the infamous organized crime syndicate that no one dares to run for office in the facility of 3,500 residents, many of whom have parents in Australia, the destination of choice for generations of emigrants.
A walk through the village near the tip of Italy’s toes soon sets the scene: half-finished or damaged gray buildings, road works and potholes everywhere you look and trash cans spilling out into the streets.
The only pop of color is provided by the town hall, which is painted in vivid shades of red and yellow, although the initially cheerful impact is shattered as further inspection reveals the metal shutters on the windows have been riddled of bullets.
There are a lot of things an ambitious young mayor could put his teeth into, but a plaque on the facade of the building helps explain why no one is stepping forward. It pays homage to a former mayor, Domenico Dimaio, “the pride of the honest inhabitants of Plati, victim of his duty, brutally murdered by criminals”.
Killed on March 27, 1985 following an argument with local Mafiosi, the name Dimaio now also adorns the only square in the village.
– Few jobs, many babies –
With no candidates to reclaim Dimaio’s legacy, the village is ruled by Luca Rotondi, the smartly dressed and bespectacled administrator appointed by the region of Reggio Calabria.
“I organize all day-to-day business, from recycling garbage to school buses, from balancing the budget to building a playground for the children,” he told AFP.
Rotondi divides his time between Plati and Bagnara, a neighboring town of 11,000 inhabitants where the city council was dissolved in April due to mafia infiltrations.
Rarely on the phone, he smiles at a rumor that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi could visit Plati on Tuesday, June 2, the feast day of the Italian Republic.
After first offering his visitors a very sweet espresso, he confides: “This village never ceases to amaze me.
Despite the lack of prospects – one in two adults is out of work – and the shadow of crime, Plati has a high birth rate and, according to his administrator, “mothers are very involved in village life.”
Rotondi adds: “People come to me and say ‘I have no water’ but what do they want me to do? Where can I find the money?”
To illustrate his point, the official pulls out a file full of letters he sent to the region asking for the dispatch of experts to resolve the problems created by a torrent which crosses the village.
“He’s a good person,” said Giuseppe Lentini, former deputy mayor of Plati, of the administrator before showing AFP the gaping hole left after a giant flood in 1951, which left 18 people dead .
After the disaster, which had a profound impact on the local agricultural economy, many young people made their way to Down Under and the local secret clan-based Mafia tightened its vital grip on the area, raising funds through kidnapping for ransom before gradually entering the drug trade with such success that he now manages much of the cocaine trade in Europe.
– Being honest is not enough –
“It is true that serious and atrocious things happened here 30 years ago, but is it right that we still carry the legacy”, asks Lentini. “Do our young people still have to live with this burden? “
In the streets, the silence is interrupted by the hum of mopeds driven by young men without helmets. Old men watch from plastic chairs by the side of the streets as women dressed in black rush with children in their hands.
“You better film somewhere else,” a teenager told AFP while another gently asked for the footage of him and his daughter sitting on his scooter to be deleted. “It’s not allowed, if it ends up in the hands of the police … you understand.”
In the main street bar, a base for supporters of Italian football champions Juventus, the owner offers coffee on the house but is far from being there. “Here, young people have only one option: to go, either north or abroad”, that is all he has to offer on the fate of the village.
For Domenico Nasone, the regional coordinator of the anti-mafia organization Libera, the absence of candidates in Sunday’s poll is not a surprise.
“Potential candidates say, ‘Why should I risk my life, why should I try to be a hero? “The majority of people here are honest, but in Calabria just being honest is not enough.”