‘Ndrangheta: The History of Italy’s Most Powerful Organized Crime Syndicate

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Synopsis

The word “mafia,” Sicilian in origin,[1] is synonymous with Italy, but Italy is home to several different mafias, with three being particularly notorious. While the Cosa Nostra of western Sicily is the most infamous, other powerful groups include the ferocious ‘Ndrangheta of Calabria and the Camorra, the third-largest mafia, which is active in Naples and the Campania region.[2] A “mafia” is loosely defined as a criminal organization that is interested in social, economic and political power, combining elements of a traditional secret society with those of a business, but further levels of nuance are necessary in order to understand these groups.[3] In a general sense, this is because each mafia creates a myth about the development of the organization, which becomes like an unquestionable truth. In essence, part of what makes its members so completely loyal to it is also what makes outsiders so utterly afraid of it.[4]   

The ‘Ndrangheta (pronounced an-drang-et-ah) is a close neighbor of the Cosa Nostra and currently considered the most powerful (and difficult to spell) criminal organization in Italy. The ‘Ndrangheta is centered around Calabria, the most southwestern region of Italy, almost touching the Sicilian city of Messina. Though it began as far back as the late 19th century, it was not until the 1950s that the ‘Ndrangheta started to spread its tentacles throughout Italy and then across the entire globe, forming an empire that now ranges from Australia and Turkey to Chile to Canada.

The fact that the ‘Ndrangheta is overshadowed by the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, as well as by the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra, allowed it to grow and develop outside of the public eye. For years, people actually considered the Calabrian mafia to be part of the Cosa Nostra as a mere appendage, rather than its own entity.

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