- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2008

NAPLES | For more than a century, hundreds of thousands of impoverished Neapolitans made their way to the imposing port station building in the Bay of Naples to embark for a new life in the United States.

These days, the maritime station, lapped by the crystal-clear waves of the Mediterranean, is courting tens of thousands of Americans on cruise ships, who face the prospect of being mugged, a legacy of Mafia mobsters who - luckily for the U.S. - never left home.

Air-conditioned shopping malls have been erected in an annex to the heavily guarded station building so that cruise passengers can buy traditional Neapolitan jewelry, cakes, fine wines and other souvenirs and return to their cabins without fear of Mafia thieves.

Robbing American tourists is a favorite pastime of Mafia thugs, who control much of the city. Another favorite pastime is making sure the streets of Naples are piled high with stinking piles of trash - their way of teaching the Italian government that, like TV’s Tony Soprano, only they have rights to remove solid waste.

The foot soldiers of the Camorra, the vicious Naples version of the Cosa Nostra, lurk in the shadows waiting for the tourists, many descended from the original emigrants to the United States.

After a shopping spree, tourists can admire the huge marble-topped desk where emigrants to America used to sign their embarkation papers.

Visitors can also relax in a luxury restaurant in the station serving exquisite seafood and pasta at tables with a view of the Vesuvius volcano and the isle of Capri.

While many passengers on the cruise vessels that ply the Mediterranean prefer not to venture into Naples’ trash-clogged streets, port authorities are at pains to point out that the city’s long-running rubbish crisis ended weeks ago when Prime Minister Berlusconi deployed the army to start clearing away the Mafia-generated stench.

Despite opposition from local residents, he ordered waste dumps opened near Vesuvius and sent in bulldozers, under army protection, to cart away mountains of trash that had piled up in squares and roads for months.

After the army operation, port officials also insist that those tourists who do leave their vessels need take no more precautions than would be normal in any other big city.

“Naples is far less dangerous than New York, but you wouldn’t think so reading the international press,” shrugged one senior port station official.

The port authorities and other southern industrialists recently invited foreign reporters to tour a constellation of high-tech factories and business plants in the Campania region to show off “the Naples that produces” and dispel the myth that “Naples is only trash and [Mafia].”

Antonio D’Amato, head of the southern branch of the Cavalieri di Lavoro - business magnates awarded with the equivalent of a knighthood for services to industry - insists that large companies like his SEDA state-of-the-art packaging company, which supplies paper cups and burger boxes to Coca-Cola, Pepsi and McDonald’s, are effectively immune from Mafia extortion.

“Only small firms submerged in the black economy are vulnerable,” he says. “If anyone demands protection money from a big company, the response is simply to pick up the phone and call the police who swoop very rapidly.”

Reporters toured dazzling plants, such as the aircraft factory at Pomigliano, where the aviation concern Alenia builds fuselages for C-127 transport planes and ATR aircraft. They also visited the multinational Unilever’s ice cream factory, and the huge CIS interport facility between Naples — Italy’s third-largest city — and Caserta, which provides a strategic crossroads for cargo arriving from Asia at the Calabrian port of Gioia del Tauro en route to Germany.

World-famous architect Renzo Piano designed the central CIS building. The complex is managed by Gianni Punzo, a pugnacious entrepreneur who hired Argentine ace Diego Maradona for Naples’ soccer club in the 1980s.

Foreign newsmen also saw impressive schools for tailors and designers at the Kiton fashion house and the Tari cooperative grouping hundreds of jewelers’ firms also housed in ultramodern premises between Naples and Caserta. The cooperative was founded to provide safety in numbers for artisans fed up with the Mafia muggings that plague downtown Naples.

The public relations exercise underlined the evident potential of Campania ‘s well-educated but relatively cheap labor force for foreign investors.

Inevitably, however, many foreign companies will remain concerned at the disturbing presence of organized crime.

In a dramatic killing earlier last month, for example, Mafia hit men fatally shot 70-year-old Raffaele Granata in front of dozens of terrified sunbathers and tourists at a beach at Marina di Varcaturo on the outskirts of Naples. One of the gunmen purportedly emptied a Kalashnikov magazine into Mr. Granata in the bar he ran at the beach.

Mr. Granata’s son, Giuseppe, is the mayor of Calvizzano, a town adjacent to the Naples district of Chiaiano, where residents earlier this year staged violent protests against the opening of a waste dump. Mr. Granata probably was killed for refusing to pay protection money, police say.

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