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hy have you come here together with all these cops?” says Francesco Cuccia, mayor of Piana Degli Albanesi, a small town in Sicily (Italy) but also the local Mafia boss. His interlocutor is the President of the Council of Ministers and Fascism’s leader Benito Mussolini. On May 6, 1924, Mussolini is in this small town in order to attend the inauguration of a dike in the valley of Belice River. It’s just a small part of the larger process of Italy’s re-building, but Mussolini knows the importance of being constantly in contact with people, and he attends also small events like this.

As previously said, Mussolini is the President of the Council. His dictatorship has not started yet (its beginning is dated January 3, 1925, by scholars). Anyway, he is one of the most powerful men in Italy (he shares this rank with the Pope and the King) and he cannot accept someone talking to him like this. In particular, he feels humiliated when Cuccia says: “You are here with me, you have nothing to be afraid of. My men are here to protect us.” At that moment, Mussolini realizes that someone else has the power in some areas of Italy. Once more, he cannot accept it.

Benito Mussolini (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

A Plan For Sicily

On May 12, 1924, Mussolini is back in Rome. The first thing he does is to summon Francesco Crispo Moncada, the Head of the Police. Mussolini orders Moncada to study a plan in order to get the power over Sicily back. Totalitarianism cannot afford the presence of other sources of power, besides those recognized by the Constitution (i.e. the Monarchy and the Church). He appoints Cesare Mori, the former Prefect of Bologna, as the man that will defeat Mafia. He is not a Fascist, or at least he is not involved in political life. Anyway, he is known as an energetic, hard-working man, who had already fought Mafia in Trapani (Sicily) between 1909 and 1915. On May 28, 1924, Luigi Federzoni, Minister of the Interior, commissions Mori to go to Trapani again, in order to solve this issue.

Cesare Mori Prefect of Trapani

Back in Trapani, Mori’s first action is to cancel all the firearms licenses. But his stay in Trapani is very short, as, on October 20, 1925, Mussolini appoints him as prefect of Palermo, with special powers over the entire island of Sicily and charged of eradicating Mafia by any possible means. In the telegram, Mussolini writes to Mori:

“Your Excellency has carte blanche (i.e. full powers), the authority of the State must absolutely, I repeat absolutely, be re-established in Sicily. Should the laws currently in effect hinder you, no problem, we shall make new laws.”

Cesare Mori (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Cesare Mori Prefect of Palermo

By the end of 1925, Mori takes up his charge in Palermo. Within the first two months, Mori arrests five-hundred men. In January 1926, Mori’s most famous action takes place, which is the occupation of the village of Gangi, a stronghold of various criminal gangs. He succeeds in making arrests en masse to avoid alerting wide swaths of Mafiosi into hiding. In his book “The last struggle with Mafia”, published in 1933, he writes about those years:

“These operations were carried out in considerable numbers and on a large scale; and the rapidity with which they occurred one after the other and the exactness of evidence on which they were based completely strangled the criminal associations which for so many years had flourished with impunity. And the whole island raised a hymn of liberation.”

Iron Prefect

These successful actions gained him the title of “Iron Prefect”. The reason why he didn’t fail where so many others did, is that Mori understood the necessity of showing the presence of the State. Furthermore, Mori understood the importance of showing a strong central authority to rival Mafia. If you do that, Mori believed, people will see that Mafia is not their only option for protection. When relieved of his duty in June 1929, Mori had already contributed to some 11,000 arrests. He died in Udine on July 5, 1942. Sad to say, but he died just in time not to see Mafia rising from its ashes.

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