It was 16:58 and 20 seconds on July 19th, 1992, when, in Palermo, Sicilia, a one hundred kilos-TNT bomb hidden inside a parked FIAT 126 car, burst viciously, damaging buildings, other cars and the street itself: Via d’Amelio.
Some people also died—the Italian judge Paolo Borsellino and his bodyguards Emanuela Loi, Vincenzo Li Muli, Claudio Traina, Agostino Catalano and Eddie Walter Cosina, while another one, Antonio Vullo, was badly injured.
The case is widely known in Italy as the “Massacre of Via D’Amelio” and the ones who set the bomb were men of “Cosa Nostra”, the Sicilian mafia.
The target was Paolo Borsellino, who was at that time the most relevant member of the Palermo city Antimafia Pool, a squad specialized on investigating and fighting mafia activities.
The unit was established in Sicily in 1984, quite in coincidence with the major arrest operations resulted from “Pizza Connection”, a transnational inquiry about drug trafficking between U.S. mafia and Cosa Nostra.
The Pool was achieving some real progresses in those years, not just thanks to special equipped troopers and vehicles, but also because its chiefs had innovative ideas on how to eradicate mafia.
The most brilliant idea came from the man who later became, together with Borsellino, the Italian symbol of the fight against organized crime: the judge Giovanni Falcone, who also had an important role in Pizza Connection’s trials.
Falcone introduced the strategy of persuading caught members of Cosa Nostra to reveal secrets of the organization, offering them a minor condemn in exchange.
By collaborating with ex-members of Cosa Nostra, the so-called “pentiti” (“those who have repented”), and by designing special anti-mafia laws, pool magistrates had been obstructing and disrupting the criminal organization in a cornering chase that reached its peak with “Maxiprocesso”— the mega-trial.
Held in Palermo city’s prison (Ucciardone) from 1986 to 1992 – inside a bunker court room built just for the occasion – the trial stated 19 life sentences and 323 reclusion sentences for Cosa Nostra chiefs and members.
This never happened before.
In the past, mafia had political infiltrations so strong that every time its affiliates were caught, they were put on jail just for few years, and then released.
The sentence from Maxiprocesso really changed the landscape, since some of the most powerful leaders of Cosa Nostra – Michele Greco, Giuseppe Calò and Luciano Liggio – previously considered untouchable, were condemned to life sentence.
The reaction from free mafia bosses was quick and ruthless.
On May 23th, 1992, while Falcone, his wife and his bodyguards were going back to Palermo from Punta Raisi airport, a five hundred kilos-TNT bomb exploded under the highway, blasting the convoy, near Capaci town.
Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and his bodyguards Vito Schifani, Antonio Montinaro and Rocco Dicillo died in the most famous mafia massacre, known as “Capaci’s slaughter”.
Falcone and Borsellino were more than colleagues, they were friends since childhood, they grew up together, and even at work they were always together, sharing information on their objectives, so that each one knew what the other one’s work was focused on.
When Falcone was murdered, Borsellino was chosen to take Falcone’s office and to push further his investigations.
Cosa Nostra killed Borsellino too, so that the government had no men left to fill the spots in the Antimafia Pool, which was dissolved.
From March 1992 to July 1994, further bombs set by Cosa Nostra burst in other Italian cities – in Rome, Florence and Milan – sometimes just damaging buildings, sometimes injuring and killing people.
By doing so, mafia got revenge on Italian Justice, showing that neither such brilliant men like Falcone and Borsellino could stop them.
Previously, Cosa Nostra had executed the ones who tampered with its trafficking, and many people from police, politics and Justice were also slayed — this time though, the style was different.
The usual mafia execution deals with a quick assault made by professional killers, who silently pursue the target and flee away, leaving no clue to the police, sometimes even unable to find the corpse or state if the crime is linked with mafia.
Why mafia did not just silenced the two magistrates, and then pretend not to exist, as it always did before?
The answer came many years later, in 2008, when Gaspare Spatuzza, a boss in jail since 1997, decided to repent and to cooperate with Justice.
The just-repented boss explained that, since 1990, Cosa Nostra was going through a tough crisis.
As the Antimafia Pool already knew, Cosa Nostra was active and under the radar well before Fascism and its survival had always been ensured with pacts arranged with corrupt politicians. In 1942, Cosa Nostra dealt with the American Army and supported their battle against fascists and nazists in southern Italy.
Before leaving, the American officers thanked back the mafia by appointing its chiefs as Mayors of the liberated cities.
After the Second World War, Cosa Nostra grew up so quickly and even more powerful than before; but then, something threatened its survival.
In February 1992, the Magistracy of Milan discovered and publically exposed a huge bribery web, the so-called “Tangentopoli”— the city of bribes.
A great inquiry followed, commonly known as “Mani Pulite”— the Cleaned Hands. The entire political system was covered with shame and many influent politicians were put on trial and arrested, while others had to retire from their office.
Falcone and Borsellino, who had been observing carefully the mafia’s mechanics, decided to strike hard exactly when the criminal organization was without guard.
After the Maxiprocesso sentence, Cosa Nostra’s crisis got worse than ever: most of its leaders were imprisoned and their gangs dissolved, while other ones were under constant risk of being detected and sentenced to life; so they got ready for everything in order to save their freedom and their power.
According to Spatuzza, here came the idea of organising slaughters, often targeting famous and high-ranked office men or significant artistic and historical buildings.
From 1992 to 1993, the negotiate between mafia and government, known as “La Trattativa” (“The Dealing”) began: men from Cosa Nostra, from the Parliament, from the police and from the secret services, met underground several times in order to conciliate Justice behavior with mafia’s requests.
Spatuzza revealed that during the 1993 autumn he had been organising, in collaboration with other bosses, a huge slaughter at the Olympic Stadium of Rome, by making a TNT-filled car explode during a football match; but suddenly, in October, he received from his colleagues the order to stop, since a deal was finally reached.
He was told from Giuseppe Graviano, another mafioso working at the stadium attack, that the Sicilian entrepreneur Marcello dell’Utri just put the criminal organization in touch with Silvio Berlusconi, whom at that time was an entrepreneur standing for the 1994 Italian elections.
On March the 27th, 1994, Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia, won the elections, and from the end of 1993, Cosa Nostra never set bombs anymore.
As several judges, detectives, historians, journalists, and politicians stated, it is very likely that Berlusconi brought to Government people linked with Cosa Nostra, and that he fed mafia with resources coming from his entrepreneurship activities, as well as from state taxes, getting in exchange the mafiosi’s votes supporting his policy.
Surprisingly, Paolo Borsellino was probably aware of The Dealing.
During a video-interview recorded just five days before being killed, he talks about some relevant men close to Berlusconi, as if he had been gathering information about them.
As soon as Falcone was murdered, Borsellino immediately started investigating on the massacre, trying to reconstruct what his friend’s work was focused on.
He began writing down on a red agenda every clue he collected and his personal thoughts about it, and wherever he went, the magistrate used to carry the agenda with him — as if it was filled with some real secrets, perhaps about The Dealing.
After the bomb exploded in via d’Amelio, Giuseppe Ayala, a colleague of Borsellino, collected the red agenda from the judge’s car and gave it to a police officer, but when afterwards the attorney asked for it, the police could not find it anymore.
During the very last days before his death, the judge spoke in mysterious sentences:
They will kill me, but that will be not the revenge of the mafia, because mafia does not seek revenge. Perhaps, the ones who will physically murder me will be men from the mafia, but the ones who ordered my murder are other ones”
I will not see the results of my work. You all will, after my murder. Because the people will rebel. Righteous people will revolt.
The whole story is much more complicated than the one resumed so far, and the inquiry about the two murders is still going on, but Falcone and Borsellino’s effort was not vain.
First, it supplied Justice with knowledge about organized crime mechanics, so that their countermeasures are now studied and applied all over the world, with success.
Second, their sacrifice inspired next generations with the idea that getting rid of mafia is possible, as long as citizens and government work together.
Several anti-mafia no-profit associations such as “Libera”, “Addio pizzo”, “Ammazzateci tutti” were born with the aim of helping people oppressed by mafia and involving the population in understanding the phenomenon, by organizing demonstrations, public meetings and volunteering activities.
Hopefully, the citizens realize their main way to prevent mafia is to push themselves on paying attention to politics, in order to distinguish fair politicians from corrupt ones, and carefully address their vote.
Anyway, most of the Italians are aware of the problem, and especially the young generations often talk about it, write about it, sometimes even joke about it, and by doing so, they remind themselves they have somehow to cope with mafia.
Paolo Borsellino really wished for it, since he said, once: