Italy: Roman politics riddled with scandal

Five Star Movement can gain

A whole series of scandals has rocked the political life of Rome in recent months. The `Mafia Capitale’ trial and the dismissal of the city’s Mayor, Ignazio Marino, by his own party – the PD – and then the explosion of the `Vatileaks’ scandal a few days before the Pope’s special jubilee celebrations began, have created a situation without precedent in recent Italian history.

The `Mafia Capitale’ trial

The `Mafia Capitale’ affair saw the arrest of Massimo Carminati, an ex-neofascist terrorist, and his associate, Salvatore Buzzi. Buzzi had previously been jailed for murdering a business associate (stabbing him thirty six times!). He had later become the main organiser in Rome of the `red’ cooperatives managing Roma camps and migrant reception centres. He became a respectable intermediary in Roman politics and built up a vast fortune. In his own words: `immigrants are more profitable than drugs’.

Carminati and Buzzi are accused of having run a Mafia-type criminal organisation with strong links to the capital’s politicians. Article 416b of the Penal Code, used on members of Cosa Nostra and the Camorra, is being applied to them. The first hearings of the Mafia Capitale involved 46 people accused of embezzling public funds from Rome’s administration, extorsion, corruption, money-laundering and rigging property auctions. Among them is the illustrious Gianni Alemanno, until two years ago mayor of the capital. He is alleged to have received from Carminati sums like 75,000 euros for election fundraising dinners, 40,000 euros for his ‘foundation’ and about 10,000 in cash.

Two years ago, Ignazio Marino of the PD beat Alemanno for the post of Rome’s Mayor with 64% of the votes to his 36% but raised little enthusiasm in the capital amongst either centre-left party activists or ordinary citizens. His candidacy had been supported by the Democratic Party (PD) in an attempt to play on the anti-politics mood and see off the possibility of victory for the right and/or the Five Star Movement.

The bankruptcy of Marino and the PD

Marino, a well-known and esteemed surgeon, was supposed to find a way of cutting out the tumour of the power groups linked to Alemanno and conduct a `civic revolution’ to lead the capital out of the mire it was in of corruption, clientelism, illegality and totally bad management. The choice of Marino was part of a general restyling operation which had led the PD to select or support `alternative’ mayoral candidates from outside professional politics, such as the ‘ Clean Hands’ magistrate, Luigi De Magistris in Naples, the lawyer, Giuliano Pisapia in Milan and the university professor, Marco Doria, in Genoa.

But, as could have been forseen, within a few months, Ignazio Marino showed himself completely incapable of managing a city such as Rome. The long-standing problems of the city – the housing emergency, urban decay, traffic congestion and especially the neglect of entire suburbs – were left unresolved. The ineptitude of Marino actually pushed the residents of difficult suburbs such as Tor Sapienza and Tor Bella Monaca into the hands of the extreme right. The neofascist organisation, Casa Pound, was able to use these problems as a pretext for stirring up protests against refugees and immigrants. A large part of the PD had been reluctant to support Marino as the candidate; although potentially useful he would not be easily controlled by the major economic lobbies who support Renzi’s party in Rome.

During his mandate, Marino had appeared more interested in building himself a national and international political profile than in trying to resolve the serious problems of Italy’s capital. The dire state of Rome’s public services in fact worsened with refuse piling up in the streets, traffic grinding to a halt across the city…

The long absences of the mayor from the city in moments of crisis were noticed. Among them was his participation, in the Papal visit to Philadelphia. In an outburst to journalists, Pope Francis declared: “I did not invite Mayor Marino and I asked the organisers: nobody invited him. Clear?”. Marino had further difficulties over his long summer holiday in Texas and the Caribbean, which he prolonged even while the Casamonica clan marked the death of its ‘Boss’, Luciano Casamonica, in grand style in Rome with a horse-drawn carriage in front of the cortege, music from ‘The Godfather’ and a helicopter to drop rose petals on the mourners!

Marino’s absence from key meetings such as that to discuss the organisation of the 2016 Jubilee with Rome’s Prefect Gabrielli and the prime minister forced the government to place the mayor ‘in adminstration’. Gabrielli’s powers were increased and two big figures from the PD were parachuted into his adminstration – Marco Causi, as deputy mayor, and Senator Stefano Esposito as director of transport. This reshuffle, the third in a few months, did not resolve the grave weaknesses in the Marino administration. The ‘coup de grace’ for the surgeon-mayor was the scandal which erupted over receipts and reimbursements for political dinners.

There was the scandal of the 15,000 euros spent for the trip to America for the Pope’s visit using the administration’s credit card, the expensive meals bought on the Campidoglio credit card, such as that held in a restaurant 200 metres from his mother’s house with journalists, the 263 euro meal with representatives of the Sant’Egidio community, which cares for the poor and the dinner at the `Manfredi’ restaurant with the Uzbek magnate, Usmanov, (3,500 euro). There was the 1,270 euros for twelve `surgeons of international standing’ going to an audience with the Pope and the hotel receipt for the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia, made out to `Ignazio Marino of Thomas Jefferson University’, even though Marino has not taught there for many years!

It then came to light that this mayor, supposed to be `cleaning up’ public life, had ‘form’ from his previous life as a leading heart surgeon. He had been forced to resign from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the Ismet transplant centre which he led, after a dubious affair of receipts and invoices.

Marino tendered his resignation, then withdrew it. Eventually he lost the confidence of the 26 councillors of the PD and the opposition, who all resigned, causing the automatic dissolution of the council and the nomination of an extraordinary commissioner by the government. The `clean-up’ by the mayor who liked to travel by bicycle was thus ended. The PD and Rome’s citizens had been ready to accept an incapable and incompetent mayor as long as he was honest, but without even that, he had to go.

The demise of Marino strengthens the M5S

The moral, political and economic crisis of the capital began long before the arrival of Ignazio Marino in the Campidoglio. Luigi di Maio, vice-president in the Chamber of Deputies and a leading member of the Five Star Movement (M5S), claimed that they would find a billion spare euros wasted every year in Rome which could be invested in transport, schools, roads, and social services.

Reality, however, is more complicated. Good intentions and a `war on waste’ cannot change the reality of a city completely seized-up for many years. The room for manoeuvre which Marino and any mayor of the capital would have if they were not prepared to break the ‘stability pact’ with the government is extremely limited. The city’s coffers are empty. The power lobbies are stronger than ever – the property speculators, administrators, banks, charitable foundations etc. – and ready to fight any change in the capital.

In this precarious situation, Pope Francis decided nevertheless to press ahead with his ‘extraordinary jubilee for mercy’ which will attract tens of millions of pilgrims and tourists to Rome this year. The three million inhabitants find themselves governed by two high-ranking civil servants – the Rome Prefect, Franco Gabrielli and the former prefect of Milan, Francesco Tronca.

The PD-led government, using the excuse of potential chaos in the country’s capital, has imposed a policy of repression against anyone trying to stand up to government policies such as the USB-organised public sector workers, the Students’ Union against and all transport workers in Rome being told they cannot strike during the `holy year’ which lies ahead.

In May there will be local elections in Rome and in the other two most important cities in the country: Milan and Naples. They could be a serious problem for the PD and for prime minister, Matteo Renzi. In Rome, the PD seems incapable of choosing a candidate with reasonable prospects of victory. Stefano Pedica who could become the PD candidate in Rome commented in relation to the prospect of a 5 star movement victory: “No one will be able to govern the city on its own therefore we must do it together". It is looking likely that a `unity’ candidate – the builder Alfio Marchini, from a rich and powerful Roman bourgeois family – may hold the necessary cards to assemble a `respectable’ neoliberal list to overcome the anti-political and impotent mood amongst hundreds and thousands of Romans. The PD, having lost all credibility through the Marino scandal and wanting to prevent an M5S victory, might well back Marchini. The right-wing former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has chosen Guido Bertolaso – a weak candidate that used to be president of the Civil Protection Service and has already been discredited by various scandals at the time of his presidency. He will also be backed by the Northern League.

The possibility of an M5S victory is gaining ground as anger grows against clientelism – the waste and graft of ‘the Caste’. In this context, the M5S campaign for self-imposed pay cuts is finding strong support.

This is understandable but the Marino affair demonstrates that it is not enough to act in good faith, or call for good government from the magistrates and the law-makers. Without a popular mobilisation, drawing in thousands of people to take an active part in controlling what goes on, it will not be possible to defeat the power groups which have for decades played ‘good cop/bad cop’ in the city, whatever the colour of the elected city governments. The M5S is precisely not able to actively mobilise workers and citizens and bring them into struggle.

Via Crucis – the Vatican exposed

Rome is literally host to the Vatican state which now also shown to be riddled with corruption and abuse of power. Independent journalists – Emiliano Fittipaldi and Gianuigi Nuzzi – have published hitherto secret documents. Their book – Via Crucis – contains details of struggles by cardinals within the Roman Curia against the `gentle revolution’ of Pope Francis. He himself replaced the German Pope, Ratzinger, when he was obliged to resign after losing a long power struggle with the Roman cardinals. In the words of one high-ranking cardinal: `the Pope changes, we stay the same’.

The opposition to him has gone as far as getting the commission’s archives out of an armoured safe with the use of a blow-torch! The Nuzzi investigation tells of mis-management of the Vatican finances, the squandering of more than 40 million euros in totally unprofitable banking investments and a deficit of half a billion euros in the Vatican pension fund which puts the minuscule pensions of the mostly lay employees at risk.

Further, the 650,000 euros used to rebuild the grand villa of Cardinal Bertone (previously Secretary of State under Pope Benedict) was paid for with funds from the Bambino Gesu paediatric hospital. Taxes on the Obolo di San Pietro Foundation were used to build up the deposits of IOR – the ‘Bank of God’. Bishops and abbots made use of those sums paying for narcotics, luxury living and buying up apartments to the value of $4bn in Rome – available for high-ranking prelates. These revelations can be just the tip of the iceberg.

Time for a break with the past

The moral, political and social crisis of the Italian capital is a thermometer that indicates the general crisis and degeneration of the whole Italian establishment – a political elite that is corrupt and incapable of carrying out its own responsibilities entrusting them to technocrats and obscure civil servants.

It is quite possible that in the next elections in Rome, the 5 Star Movement of Beppe Grillo could win. If it is accompanied by a new offensive of workers’ struggles and campaigns over housing, quality public services and of students in struggle against privatisation in schools and universities, it could prove to be a turning point. A new force would have to be built that, unlike the 5 SM, is made up of workers and young people with elected leaders and public representatives prepared to live on no more than the average wage of workers. It is wrong of Grillo and Co. to believe his movement can break the power of the traditional political and business forces in Rome simply by waving the flag of honesty and competence. It has no programme for refusing to implement the austerity that central government is imposing, nor with the domination of banks and big companies in the economy and in Rome itself. Mass disappointment will be the result.

ControCorrente, which organises the Italian activists of the CWI, works for the building of a general mobilisation of workers, of the impoverished middle class, of the young and the precarious workers which can break definitively with the power of lobbies, of property companies, of the Vatican and of big business in Rome and in the whole country.

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February 2016