Italy has always been infamously known for its issues with organized crime. Until recently, Sicily's Cosa Nostra (in English, "Our Thing,") has been the only name worth knowing in connection with the Mafia. However, the past few years have seen a family-run crime organization known as the 'Ndrangheta (from the Greek for "courage" or "loyalty") coming up in the ranks.
Author and Mafia historian John Dickie takes us into the secret world of this (literally) underground crime organization, guided by the Cacciatori (Italy's Mafia "hunters"), who, in Calabria, are much more respected and feared than the actual police force.
Formed in the 1860's, Calabria's 'Ndrangheta began when a group of Sicilian mobsters were banished from Sicily by the Italian government. Thus, the Calabrian Mafia is distinct from their Sicilian counterparts because of their extreme distrust for government. While Cosa Nostra often works hand-in-hand with the state, keeping a constant dialogue going, the 'Ndrangheta have long thrived in shadow. Calabria is located in the "toe" of Italy's "boot," making it an excellent place to hide out.
The 'Ndrangheta operated quietly within the small communities there, conducting their business in secret and hiding out in underground bunkers when the heat got too high. The communities housed them, and their secrets, until the early 2000's when the big crackdowns on Cosa Nostra began in Sicily. With all of the government's attention focused there, the 'Ndrangheta began to grow, unchecked. Instead of warring with local government, they chose to buy it -- piece by piece, person by person. Thus, when someone in Calabria has a problem with the 'Ndrangheta, it is unsafe to go to the local police. And so, the Cacciatori were born.
The 'Ndrangheta's secret empire is located beneath the villages in Aspromonte ("harsh mountain"). It's a geographically perfect place to hide, as the rocky terrain makes the mountain extremely difficult to access, and thus, those in law enforcement who would still care to go against the 'Ndrangheta, have little foothold. The mountain houses an underground labyrinth of bunkers, built for kings and supplied with enough comforts that a Mafioso could survive here for months.
With concealed entrances, very cleverly disguised exits, false walls, secret rooms and a tunnel system that runs underground, the Cacciatori take presenter John Dickie on a tour of some of the bunkers they have found that have housed everyone from big bosses like Antonio Pelle and Ciccio Pesce (who even built an underground greenhouse to grow cannabis in), to beautifully built and supplied bunkers that have never been used at all.
With the 'Ndrangheta's bosses being Europe's biggest cocaine traffickers, the "protection" taxes and tariffs imposed on local businesses, and all manner of extortion, fraud and violence, the 'Ndrangheta are now the most powerful organized crime organization in the world. With an annual revenue of 53 billion euros, this is definitely the organization to watch out for.