WORLD SOCIAL FORUM: For a People's Fight Against Organised Crime

Sabina Zaccaro

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ROME, Jan 26 (IPS) - Civil society groups are looking to the World Social Forum this year to strengthen their campaign for justice in the face of organised crime.

About 80,000 people from 150 countries are expected to attend the largest global alliance among civil society movements in Belem in Brazil Jan 27-Feb 1. Participants at this ninth WSF say cooperation is key to building concrete action towards a fairer world.

Libera (Free), a major Italian anti-mafia group, says a global fight against organised crime is necessary "because organisations affiliated to the mafia are always more interconnected; they have no borders, and coordinated, global action is needed to fight them."

Libera is involved in many anti-mafia activities, such as acquisition of farms and buildings confiscated from groups allied to mafia. These are then transformed and used for social purposes, such as schools and drug rehabilitation centres.

"Mafia actions have a trans-national dimension, and the Italian mafia can now count on alliances in diverse sectors," says Tonio dell'Olio, head of the international section of Libera.

Human trafficking, trade in narcotics and arms, eco-mafias, labour exploitation and money laundering can be successfully contrasted only by a "global social network committed to fight illegal acts."

Libera will organise a workshop in Belem to promote a Latin American civil society network against the mafia. "Starting from the WSF, we will work to build a network with Latin American associations which can link the idea of social justice and respect for law with economic and social development," Dell'Olio told IPS.

Libera wants to share its experience and expertise in handling political pressure with other organisations at the WSF, he said. It will present a European law as a model for social use of confiscated goods and for strengthening investigative and judicial cooperation among European member states.

Narco-traffic in drugs such as heroin, cocaine, cannabis and marijuana is the biggest source of income for mafia groups.

The 2007 World Drug Report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says this criminal market feeds more than 230 million drugs consumers around the world. Europe is the second biggest global market for drugs after North America, with an estimated wholesale value of 1.8 billion dollars. The biggest markets in Europe are Spain, Italy and Britain.

In Italy consumption of heroin, cocaine and synthetic drugs has risen rapidly over the last 30 years, and the police department now talks of "mass consumption" of these substances.

The traffic is in the hands of powerful and well-structured criminal organisations that not only have capital and people working within the territory, but also alliances with criminal groups abroad such as the Colombian cartels, Libera reports.

According to Dell'Olio, the profits and power of Italian criminal organisations widely known as Naples' Camorra, Calabrian 'Ndrangheta and the notorious Cosa Nostra of Sicily have grown enormously since they got access to international narco-traffic.

Narco-traffic appears to have been strengthened by unfair policies and the general lack of social justice and measures to tackle poverty. "These are often inadequate; they miss realism, and so are destined to fail," says Libera president Father Luigi Ciotti.

Ciotti set up the Gruppo Abele (Abel's Group) 30 years ago to help drug victims in juvenile detention centres. But the root of the problem, quite literally, lies elsewhere.

"If you look at the conversion of crops in countries producing cocaine, you'll see that one hectare of coca returns 10 to 15 times more than one hectare of coffee cultivated land," says Ciotti.

The real dimension of the problem has been underestimated, he says. "The first step to fight criminal organisations effectively is to give an accurate and transparent picture of their business volumes, making clear their real dimension and all the possible interconnections and implications."

Lack of transparency feeds the mafia, Ciotti said, "that's why we do need truth."

Between 1997 and 2006, 7,923 people, mostly male youths, died in Italy from consumption of illicit drugs. Libera says they are all victims of the mafia. (END/2009)