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LA STAMPA

Don’t Let The Mafia Disturb Your Perfect Italian Beach Vacation

Authorities say one stretch of the picturesque region of Puglia is infested with local mob bosses who extort money from beach resort owners and use the coastline for drug trafficking. Locals are scared silent.

A beach near Vieste, Italy
A beach near Vieste, Italy
Niccolo’ Zancan

VIESTE - Along the Gargano peninsula, no one seems to want to say the word ‘mafia" aloud. This popular tourist destination in the Italian southern region of Puglia is jammed right now with summer sun seekers. But, yes, the mobsters are here too.

In the last 10 years, 141 people have been killed in this area, with 77 of the cases still unsolved. "Are you still here, journalist?" quips Maria Piscopo, sister of the most recent mafia victims. "You should leave. It's better that you don't write anything. I've warned you."

Her brothers, Martino and Giovanni Piscopo, were the owners of the resort Sfinalicchio, which is near the village of Peschici. The resort includes a restaurant, beach chairs and umbrellas around a small swimming pool, and direct access to the sea. It looks like many other tourist facilities in the area.

It was also the last place the Piscopo brothers were seen alive. The morning of Nov. 18, 2010, they left the resort and went to harvest olives. They never returned. After 10 days, their burned bodies were found in an old car; the corpses full of fractured bones. Authorities say the brothers had been tortured, killed and left few hundred meters from their resort, as a warning to everyone who might consider challenging the local mob.

I met Maria Piscopo at her restaurant. She does not like to speak about this story. She is trying to protect her nephews. "We haven't told them the truth. They think that it was a car accident," she said.

She is critical of the magistrate's investigation. "They have compared us to families that we don't know. We're just workers. It must be a case of mistaken identity. Here there are so many cars which look exactly the same as the one my brothers used to drive," she said.

So two people were murdered – maybe by mistake – and the tourists are still swimming in the blue sea as if nothing had happened. Everyone chooses to ignore the Piscopo brothers' case, and the other 139 murders of the last decade.

Arson and a horse's head

There have also been regular car chases, rounds of machine-gun fire, and 90 arson cases since 2009. The Gargano mobsters used to be known as the shepherd's mafia. They have evolved. Currently, the mobsters work mainly in tourism, just like many of the honest workers in the area. There are extortions and usury. The mobsters need direct access to the sea for their trafficking of drugs and weapons with Albania and Montenegro, just across the Adriatic Sea.

Four years ago, the head of a horse was hung in the main square of Peschici, just like in the movie The Godfather. Recently, arson destroyed the gate of the home of Giuseppe Mascia, president of a local anti-mob association. Now, he is as scared as the majority of the other locals. "We have already exposed ourselves to danger too much. We cannot tilt at windmills like Don Quixote. Some of the people involved are already at home arrest. This is not a good sign," Mascia said.

Each summer, more than 500,000 tourists arrive on the Gargano peninsula. Just in the village of Vieste there are more than 200 tourist facilities. "We are holding on," said the son of Pino Vescera, owner of the resort Lido Oasi, where arson recently destroyed the discotheque on the beach. The work to rebuild it is almost over, though."

Giuseppe Mascia explains that 33 tourism operators in Vieste had banded together to resist. "We had tried to send a signal. But using certain words can end up frightening people," he said.

Still, someone is brave enough to say those words. "The mafia is among us," father Giuseppe Trotta, rector of the church Santa Maia di Merino, declared after the murder of the Piscopo brothers.

"The mafia of Gargano is one of the most violent and most underestimated in Italy," said the district attorney of Bari, Antonio Laudati.

The investigators are trying to predict the next chapter of this war between the different mobster families: the Libergolis, the Romitos, the Notarangelos.

These mobsters of the Gargano peninsula, like the honest people too, have one particular advantage. The surroundings are beautiful. The landscape is not degraded like the outskirts of Naples, or poor and abandoned like much of the southern Italian countryside. Here, business does not center around public contracts. Instead, there are families on vacation, beautiful vistas, and elegant waiters who serve delicious fish in restaurants with a seafront view. The tourist facilities are affordable. The weather is perfect. It seems like another beautiful summer...except for a certain chilling silence.

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - mcastellani

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