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Separatism, the Allies and the Mafia: The Struggle for Sicilian Independence, Front Cover. Monte S. Finkelstein. Lehigh University Press,
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Historian Tim Newark unravelled the myth in his book Mafia Allies. A version that is probably closer to the truth is that Vizzini simply led a delegation of locals to meet an Allied patrol whose commander had asked to speak to whoever was in charge.
Vizzini was taken to a command post outside Villalba and was interrogated about a recent firefight involving an American jeep on patrol. When Vizzini made it clear that the Italian soldiers had fled and the firefight had been caused by exploding ammunition, the frustrated US army official took his rage out in a stream of obscenities. Vizzini was utterly embarrassed by the incident and ordered his interpreter not to tell anybody what had happened. The Mafia only became credible again after the end of the invasion.
In the chaos that followed the invasion of Sicily and the collapse of Fascism, the American army often relied on senior churchmen for advice on whom to trust. He had a long record of involvement with Catholic social funds and there were several clergymen in his family. He claimed to have acted as a peacemaker; only his intervention saved his Fascist predecessor from being lynched. He described the consequences of AMGOT's policies: "By the beginning of the Second World War, the Mafia was restricted to a few isolated and scattered groups and could have been completely wiped out if the social problems of the island had been dealt with The Americans seemed to have appreciated Vizzini, not only because of his political power, but also because he had opposed the Fascists.
For his part, Vizzini liked to brag about his contacts with the Americans, and spoke of their support for the separatist movement. Vizzini was later to become an important player during the separatist crisis.
Because of his excellent connections, Vizzini also became the 'king' of the rampant post-war black market and arranged to get Villalba's overly inquisitive police chief killed. Many other mafiosi, such as Giuseppe Genco Russo , were appointed as mayors of their own hometowns. In Villalba all power was in their hands: church, Mafia, agricultural banks, latifundia, all in the hands of the same family … One used to go and see him and ask 'Can you do me this favour?
Vizzini established one of the largest black market operations in southern Italy, together with the American gangster Vito Genovese , who had fled to Italy in after being accused of murder. Don Calogero sent truck caravans loaded with all the basic food commodities necessary for the Italian diet rolling northward to hungry Naples , where their cargoes were distributed by Genovese's organization.
All of the trucks were issued passes and export papers by the AMGOT administration in Naples and Sicily, and some corrupt American army officers even made contributions of gasoline and trucks to the operation. Vizzini initially supported the separatist movement in Sicily.
As Italy veered to the left in , the American military became alarmed about their future position in Italy and felt that the island's naval bases and strategic location in the Mediterranean might provide a possible future counterbalance to a Communist mainland. On December 9, , the central committee met in secret in Palermo. Vizzini and baron Lucio Tasca — one of the more important leaders of the movement — held common views, and despite protests by progressives, Vizzini remained at the session as the representative of Caltanissetta.
The Fronte was popular on the island and advocated independence of Sicily under American influence. Although the Americans strongly emphasized that the United States did not want Sicily as the 49th state, in late , some claimed that the Fronte's ideas were the result of American propaganda that had encouraged separatism prior to the invasion. Fronte leaders spread rumours that they had the backing and protection of the United States.
Many of its members were "lieutenants in the high Mafia" and Vizzini was considered its leader. Nester had good ties with leading mafiosi. Castellano became convinced that the Mafia was the strongest political and social force on Sicily to be reckoned with.
He started to establish cordial relations with Mafia leaders. The general believed that law and order could be restored if "the system formerly employed by the old and respected Maf f ia should return to the Sicilian scene.
- Salvatore Aldisio.
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Most mafiosi soon changed sides, joining the Christian Democrat party Democrazia Cristiana — DC when it became clear that an independent Sicily was not feasible and the OSS quietly dropped support for the separatist movement in and turned to the DC. There is no evidence that Aldisio and Vizzini ever met to discuss the issue.
Aldiso did, however, invite Calogero Volpe, a fellow Christian Democrat and Mafia member befriended by Vizzini, to secret gatherings with Christian Democrats. They were now forced to reconsider their loyalty to it. In the course of the start of the Cold War , the elections were a triumph for the Christian Democrats, who would govern Italy with up and downs for the next 45 years in different coalitions. Vizzini, a staunch anti-Communist who opposed the fight for land of Sicilian peasants, organised his own peasant cooperatives in his area during both post-war periods, through which he deflected the appeal of the left-wing parties, maintained his hold over the peasants, and guaranteed his own continued access to the land.
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Pantaleone used his leverage with the left wing press. In the morning tensions rose when Christian Democrat mayor Beniamino Farina — a relative of Vizzini as well as his successor as mayor — angered local communists by ordering all hammer-and-sickle signs erased from buildings along the road on which Li Causi would travel into town.
When his supporters protested, they were intimidated by separatists and thugs. The rally began in late afternoon. Vizzini had agreed to permit the meeting as long as land problems, the large estates, or the Mafia were not addressed.
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Li Causi did not. Pandemonium broke out. The rally ended in a shoot-out which left 14 people wounded including Li Causi and Pantaleone. When Pantaleone and Li Causi had arrived in the town, they asked Vizzini if they were in hostile territory and whether their meeting might be disturbed. The Carabinieri quickly restored order and arrested eight people, including the mayor. Several others, including Vizzini, evaded the police dragnet.
Sixty persons were interrogated, but the investigation was doomed from the start. The trial dragged on until , but by the evidence had already disappeared. Vizzini was never convicted because by the time of the verdict he was already dead. The Villalba attack inaugurated a long series of Mafia attacks in Sicily on political activists, trade union leaders and ordinary peasants resisting Mafia rule. The Portella della Ginestra massacre was attributed to the bandit and separatist leader Salvatore Giuliano.
Separatism, the Allies, and the Mafia
Nevertheless, the Mafia was suspected of involvement in the bloodbath and many other attacks on left-wing organisations and leaders. Police suspected that it was a cover for heroin trafficking. The laboratory operated undisturbed until April 11, , when the Roman daily Avanti!
The photographer was beaten up, but he never reported the fact to the authorities after receiving an expensive new camera and cash. In the media Vizzini was often depicted as the " boss of bosses " — although such a position did not exist in the loose structure of Cosa Nostra, and later Mafia turncoats denied he ever was the boss of the Mafia in Sicily.
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