Salvatore Riina, the “Boss of Bosses,” Dies at 87

December 13th, 2017

by Daniel Cook – Syracuse University

November 17th, 2017 marks the death of infamous Italian Mafia boss Salvatore Riina, known as the “Boss of Bosses.” His resume is a bloody one and during his rule of Cosa Nostra, the Mafia organization based in Palermo, his orders led to the slaughter of a multitude of people, including the infamous bombing of the two anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone on May 23rd, 1992 and Paolo Borsellino 57 days later. Riina was sentenced to 26 life sentences in 1993 for his crimes, and died while serving this sentence. He was 87.

My class was scheduled to visit Palermo as an academic field trip, and the first day of our trip happened to also be the day after Riina’s passing. We spoke to several anti-Mafia advocates, such as journalists and cooperation leaders, and the news of the death of the Boss of Bosses caused great anticipation and speculation amongst them. However, the same excitement did not apply to the everyday citizens. Despite this news that should have given them a sense of liberation, one cooperation leader said it best: “Palermo è silenzio” – Palermo is silent.

We did not have to look far to see what he meant. One day we were scheduled to visit the house of Giuseppe Impastato, an Italian political activist who used his radio station to speak out against the Mafia, which ordered his murder in 1978 when he was only 30 years of age. The house represents a thorn in the side of the Mafia, highlighting the injustice the organization has caused and continues to cause today. When asked by the pleasant waiting staff at a small café what our plans were, we told them our intention of receiving a tour through Impastato’s house. Polite smiles turned to blank faces as the waiting staff immediately transformed into the image of ignorance, granting us only the barest shred of attention when we ordered and paid. Despite the toppling of arguably the most notorious Mafia boss in history, Palermo is indeed silent and fearful of resistance.

Predicting the movements of the Mafia is a lot like predicting the weather: although we can make speculations based on patterns of the past, the best we can do is guess at the outcome. In this case, it is hard to know how the remaining Mafia members will react: will powerful Mafiosi squabble for outright power? Will the Mafia adopt a different hierarchal system? Is it possible that the organization will die off like a headless chicken without Riina? The latter is unlikely, but the journalists we spoke to all have varying opinions on how the Mafia will recover.

The unfortunate reality is that the Mafia likely will recover, because the common people are too afraid to stand up to them. The stony waiting staff is only one example of this; according to an Addiopizzo spokesperson, between 80 to 90 percent of businesses and merchants in Palermo still pay what’s known as the pizzo, a tax the Mafia enforces for their “protection.” In reality, it is a tax that ensures that the Mafia will not violently raid their shops. Addiopizzo, translated to Goodbye Pizzo, is a community of businesses who agree not to pay the pizzo. In addition to this effort, cooperation leaders are constantly working to divide land taken from Mafia members amongst farmers. Every little step helps bring down the Mafia that much further, even against the harsh odds.

However, without government assistance, efforts like these will take decades before they even have a chance to stop the Mafia because of how deeply the crime syndicate is entrenched in every-day life. While Riina’s death comes as a relief to many anti-Mafia advocates, they are keeping their hopeful thoughts to a minimum while continuing to slowly pick away at the Mafia while the rest of Italy, and indeed the world, watches.

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