‘Ndrangheta: Italy’s Most Dangerous Mafia

Out of Italy, the ‘Ndrangheta is less well known than the Sicilian or the Neapolitan mafias. However, it is definitely the most dangerous and powerful one.

By Edoardo Murari

Calabria is surely not one of the best known Italian regions. Despite its wonderful sea places like Tropea, its Riace bronzes and its unique spicy cuisine, it is also one of the less visited by tourists. This is in part due to the relative isolation from the rest of the country. Suffice it to say that it took 55 years to finish the still limited motorway infrastructure. For this reason Calabria is sometimes called the “third island”.

‘Ndrangheta: a huge presence all over the world

A thing whose echo has instead unfortunately crossed the regional borders and that nowadays has huge presence and influence all over the world is the local mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta. This strange — even for Italians — word, whose etymology is still debated, refers to a complex network of criminal families who dedicate themselves to a wide range of illicit affairs such as drug trafficking, extorsion, gun-running and illegal waste disposal. Out of Italy, the ‘Ndrangheta is less well known than either Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian, and Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia. However, it is definitely the most dangerous and powerful one.

In Europe, the control of cocaine trade is monopolized by this organisation which operates by making agreements directly with the Colombian Narcos, thus managing to transport drugs from South America to the major European harbors like Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp, and to the homeland docks of Gioia Tauro, the first Italian commercial port where ‘Ndrangheta infiltration has been verified multiple times by the state police. It has been estimated that their activity amounts approximately to assets for 27 billion euros, approximately 62 percent of this illegal economy.

Hierarchy and politics

The internal hierarchy is based on strong familial ties and, in the past, turf wars for territorial control between clans have often occurred. A case that shocked the whole of Europe is the 2007 Duisburg massacre, where six people, including a 16-years-old boy, were shot dead in an Italian restaurant.

Ndrangheta has also great influence in politics. This allows them to infiltrate public contracts and earn money from infrastructure construction. Since 1991, 83 town councils have been dissolved for the presence of ‘Ndrangheta, not only in Calabria — as one might think, but also in Northern Italy.

A no-man’s-land?

Just to give a recent example, after the arrest of the mayor of Riace Domenico Lucano, the Interior minister Matteo Salvini, who in the past has tagged him as an “enemy”, published on the social media a video of a citizen of Riace criticizing the town’s system designed to integrate migrants.

Despite the minister’s alleged good faith, the problem is that this person was allegedly suspected of affiliation with ‘Ndrangheta. Moreover, Salvini has a special bond with Calabria, as the electoral constituency that elected him congressman was here. Something that only ten years ago would have been impossible for a Northern League representative. However, according to an investigative report, there are local party members who run affairs with ‘Ndrangheta elements.

Despite Salvini’s and other polticians’ statements against mafia, the problem with the ‘Ndrangheta poses important questions that seem still far from being part of the public debate, as it is perceived as an hidden phenomenon that does not impact the everyday life of the majority. Unfortunately, now more than ever, the political effort is instrumental and remains mainly formal, as a strong stand to fight this dangerous organization hasn’t shown up yet outside the judiciary.