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Compare and contrast the Italian mafias Cosa Nostra and ‘Ndrangheta. How did they compare to other mafias around the world? Assess the pros and/or cons to the way they conducted “business.”

The crime groups Cosa Nostra, which translates to “Our Thing” and ‘Ndrangheta, “Society of Men of Honor” are viewed as two of the largest and most stable mafias that originated in Italy. Cosa Nostra is located mainly in Sicily while the ‘Ndrangheta started in Calabria. Both groups have been reported to contain somewhere between 4000-5000 male members. A more recent report puts the ‘Ndrangheta at over 10,000 members (Spolar, 2008).  One of the main similarities of the two groups is that they must “keep secret the composition, the action, and the strategies of their mafia groups” (Paoli, 2008, p. 17). This is especially true for Cosa Nostra. One of the things that work for ‘Ndrangheta in the past was that they kept a very low profile and did not kill public officials at least prior to the 1990’s (Spolar, 2008).

These two Italian mafias are similar to Chinese Triads and the Japanese Yakuzain in that not only did they relied on the “secrecy of brotherhood,” they also branched out further than just producing and selling illegal goods and services.  Both were focused on political gains and at one point were more effective at protecting their community members than the state was (Paoli, 2008). A few of Cosa Nostra and ‘Ndrangheta strong points were also a source of weakness for them. One of their major differences was how they recruited members. For example, in order to be recruited one must be either a decedent of a mafia family member or have been born in their respective local areas (Sicily or Calabria). ‘Ndrangheta has used this in the strictest measure and normally only accepts recruits from close family although marriage can strengthen outside ties (Varese, 2006). While this policy has given them a greater bond of trust and according to Calderoni (2012) they have the least amount of defectors or collaborators with the law, it has also prevented them from being able to bring in new blood that could have enabled them to obtain additional networks and skills.

Another issue that was extremely prominent for Cosa Nostra (with one exception) was the ability of families to venture and set up shop outside of Sicily (Paoli, 2008). ‘Ndrangheta on the other hand is known to have “families” located in as many as 20 different countries and has been compared to Al Qaeda due to their “cell-like” structure (Spolar, 2008, Varese, 2006). Their ability to branch out to other areas around the world has helped them gain a foothold in markets outside of Italy especially in the drug trafficking market. It is estimated that ‘Ndrangheta brings in about $55 to $70 billion dollars of which 62% comes from drug trafficking (Spolar, 2008). This cell structure also allows the ‘Ndrangheta to act like the mythical creature Hydra, in that if one of their “heads” is cut off, they are still able to function through other families/cells because each family has its own “head” and acts autonomously (Varese, 2006). As I mentioned before one of the other major differences of Italian mafias was their involvement in politics and “sovereign control” over communities they were entrenched in (Paoli, 2008). In Varese's (2006) comparison of 'Ndrangheta's different attempts to “migrate,” he points out how the 'Ndrangheta were able to offer “protection, regulation, dispute resolution and taxation” to the communities they were operating in, thus also offering a social component to their services (p. 414).

Calderoni, F. (2012). The structure of drug trafficking mafias: The 'ndrangheta and cocaine. Crime, Law and Social Change, 58(3), 321-349. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10611-012-9387-9

Paoli, L. (2008). The decline of the Italian Mafia. In: Siegel D, Nelen H (eds)

Organized crime: culture, markets and policies. Springer, New York, 15–28.

Paoli, L., & Wolfgang, M. E. (2001). Crime, Italian style. Daedalus, 130(3), 157-185. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/210569916?accountid=8289

Spolar, Christine. (2008). Rising mafia emerges from Italy’s shadows: Global drug traffickers compared to Al Qaeda. Tribune.

Varese, F. (2006). How Mafias Migrate: The Case of the ‘Ndrangheta in Northern Italy. Law & Society Review, 40(2), 411-444.

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