“The most concrete emblem of every economic cycle is the dump. Accumulating everything that ever was, dumps are the true aftermath of consumption, something more than the mark every product leaves on the surface of the earth. The south of Italy is the end of the line for the dregs of production, useless leftovers, and toxic waste. If all the trash that, according to the Italian environmental group Legambiente, escapes official inspection were collected in one place, it would form a mountain weighing 14 million tons and rising 47,900 feet from a base of three hectares. Mont Blanc rises 15,780 feet, Everest 29015. “

This is Roberto Saviano, in Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System. Organized crime, it quickly becomes apparent from Saviano’s account of the havoc the Camorra wreaks on Campania, is a misnomer. “Organized” is really not the word for anarchy piled on top of blood thirst, outsize machismo married to insane greed, blinding pride, temper tantrums, and an endless supply of artillery.

But what is perhaps most instructive (and chilling) about Saviano’s story is how difficult it is to distinguish the various criminal endeavors of the Camorra from their business enterprises. Clearly, the crime bosses don’t make a distinction between business and crime–they just have a slightly more inventive way to get business done, a few more options when it comes to making themselves competitive. And that’s one reason why the trash business has been so attractive to them.

According to Saviano, the Camorra, which dominates the construction industry, routinely mixes toxic waste into cement and then builds apartments, offices, houses, schools with it.

The Camorra takes loads of toxic waste from the north (in return for payment), dumping it into the pits meant for the subsidized destruction of agricultural surpluses (and collecting the subsidies), and then selling the agricultural surpluses that didn’t actually end up in the pits.

Graves are turned every 40 years in Italy, apparently, and the Camorra accepts payment to dispose of the bodies and then dumps them into the fields around Caserta. Teenagers dig through the charnels in search of skulls to sell on flea markets.

And all of this in their own back yards. Any land not already used for some other purpose in the countryside around Naples is liable to be used to dump waste, without licenses or any kind of environmental provisions against leaching or outgassing. To reduce volume and allow for additional dumping, kids are paid to burn the accumulating mounds. When all the combustible matter is gone, houses are built on top and sold to low-income families below market.

In the meantime, all of the household waste from Naples and Campania now gets on the train to Germany.

It’s a frightening tale and hope in very short supply.


2 Responses to “Apocalypse”

  1. 1 Chiara
    July 29, 2008 at 9:38 am

    Hi Marijke — I too just read Gomorrah, and felt the same sense of hopelessness. But ever since I finished the book, I have been following the Italian news on this subject, and there IS hope. Many of these people were sentenced to life in the recent Spartacus hearings, and many have been arrested within the last week or so, both in Italy and the US. The world now knows that the Naples garbage crisis is a direct result of the Camorra, and it is mentioned in all the news articles on the subject. Saviano’s book has really brought a spotlight to this problem where there was none before. Although things are still very bad, action is being taken, so maybe there can be some hope for the future.

    Take care,

  2. July 30, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks for your note, Chiara. It’s good to know that Spartacus is making a difference, in terms of punishing the most culpable. But what I’d like to know is that no one is jumping into the vacuum (as has happened so many times before), that officials are not going to support criminal behavior in the future, that industries elsewhere are going to be ready to pay for proper disposal of their toxic wastes, that the depressed economy in Campania is getting sufficient support to give people a decent shot at a job that will support them with some dignity, and that serious cleanup is going to be taking place in the country-side around Naples.

    I know, this is a lot to ask for.

    I really don’t want to sound like a cynical curmudgeon. In a general way, I’m very hopeful about humanity. Most people, in my view, have a preference for doing what strikes them as the right thing. But I do think the circumstances have to support it. And the things that strike people as the right thing to do cover a huge range of behaviors, unfortunately.

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