ROME, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) — In the days since his death, commentators remain divided over the extent to which the end of Toto Riina, the Mafia kingpin who died in prison a day after his 87th birthday, will have on the organized crime activities he had tried to control.
Riina — who was born with the name Salvatore on Nov. 16, 1930 — was known in mob circles as the “Boss of Bosses” even though he had spent the last quarter century behind bars, serving 26 consecutive life sentences, some for murders dating back as far as the 1950s.
Mafia watchers are divided over the extent to which Riina was able to direct the activities of the Sicilian mob from his jail cell, but almost everyone assumes he retained at least some influence.
“Riina most likely remained, to some significant extent, in charge right up to the end,” Enza Rando, an attorney who was the state prosecutor in two of Riina’s trials, told Xinhua. “As long as he was alive, whoever was running the Mafia on the outside would have to be deferential to Riina’s views.”
Salvatore Lupo, a professor of modern history, said he thought Riina’s influence from prison was more limited. But Lupo did say that Riina’s deal represented the “passing of an era.”
What is even less clear is how whatever power vacuum created by Riina’s death will be filled, and what this period will mean for the Sicilian Mafia’s long-term prospects.
Rando, who is now vice-president of Libera, an anti-Mafia association that offers support to victims of mob violence, said it was unclear whether Riina hand picked a successor. She said that if he did not, there could be a succession battle that could “make some noise.”
But she also noted that when power was passed from one figure to the next in the past, the changes in Mafia strategy and power. “In the short term, any changes will be limited,” Rando said. “The Mafia as it will exist in a month or two will be almost identical to the one that existed a month or two ago.”
Lupo agreed that Riina’s death was unlikely to yield major changes in the way the mob operates, and he said he believed that whoever ends up running things going forward they will be unlikely to halt the Mafia’s steady decline in influence and power.
“Right now, the Sicilian Mafia is at its weakest point since the Fascist governments in the 1920s and 1930s,” Lupo told Xinhua. “The Mafia has been in decline because it is not evolving with technology and because it chose a path of terror and disruption.”
Still, Lupo, who has written multiple books about the Sicilian Mafia, said the organization is unlikely to fade away completely.
“Unfortunately, I cannot predict the Mafia will be gone in 25 years,” Lupo said. “But I can say it is extremely unlikely that in 25 years it is as strong as it was 25 years ago.”
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