Failed states, failed cities

Things keep going from bad to worse in Naples, where the piles of uncollected rubbish are still heaped up.  Last week, the head of a waste disposal firm turned ‘super-witness’ – who was due to testify about links between corrupt politicians and the Camorra, Naples’ mafia – was gunned down in the street. According to John Hooper in the Guardian:

The Carabinieri, the military police, said yesterday the killing was impossible to reconstruct because no one would admit to having seen it. However, after a search for bullets and casings, they concluded that at least 18 shots were fired from two 9mm-calibre automatics. Orsi was hit twice in the chest and once in the head, suggesting that, in classic mafia style, he was given a “coup de grace” by one of the killers as he lay dying.

Why the Camorra’s interest in trash?  Because they’re big players in the sector, Hooper explains – not least in illegally dumping toxic waste which they truck down from the north of Italy.  That’s also why the people in and around Naples are opposed to the government’s plan to build incinerators to get rid of the rubbish backlog; they figure that the Camorra would take them over within about ten minutes, and use them to burn the toxic stuff too.

Meanwhile, Mexico‘s also sliding.  Last month, the country’s acting chief of police was gunned down.  According to the Economist:

One of his bodyguards, who was also wounded, managed to wrestle the police chief’s assailant to the ground and arrest him. Mr Millán was conscious for long enough to ask his killer who was behind the hit, but died before he could get a reply. The answer to his question, provided later by investigators, helps cast some light on why it is so hard to end drug-related violence in Mexico. They say that his assassin was sent by José Antonio Montes Garfias, another federal police officer.

The week leading up to May 13 saw 113 murders in Mexico, including 17 in just one day – and estimates of total deaths due to organised crime range from 1,100 to 2,500 people this year. 2,700 federal troops have now been deployed.  As the Economist concludes, “the war on drugs has never seemed less like a metaphor”.  And here’s the real catch: “success in disrupting drug cartels only leads to more violence as gang members fight to fill power vacuums and continue to supply the ever-lucrative drug market”.  (See also John Robb’s recent write-up.)

In Naples and Ciudad Juarez alike, organised crime’s basic stance towards the state is the same as you’d find with Hezbollah in Lebanon, MEND in Nigeria or the Taliban in Afghanistan.  The aim is not to cause the collapse of ‘official’ governance.  Rather, it’s to keep the state ‘hollowed out’: so short of capacity and legitimacy that insurgents or organised crime can step into the gap, and then not only operate freely, but also start building up legitimacy powerbases of their own (c.f. another example of the Camorra in action).