The Camorra: The Criminal System of Naples

Naples, which has been compared to a third world city, has a GDP of 65% of the Italian national average, an unemployment rate more than double the Italian average, at 22.6%, and the city government is currently bankrupt and in danger of defaulting.[1]  Due to the poverty and lack of economic opportunities in Naples, and throughout the state of Campania, involvement with crime can seem like one of the few options available to the young people there.  This influence can be seen in the area to the north of Naples, which has the highest ratio of drug dealers to inhabitants in all of Europe, and the fifth highest in the world.[2]

In Campania the Camorra has been a part of society for so long it is simply referred to there as The System.  It is not certain when the Camorra first originated, some reports place it at 1417, where as others argue that it evolved from street thieves to an actual organization around the time of the French Revolution.[3]  Regardless of the actual date it formed, the Camorra has managed to exist far longer than most modern criminal and terrorist organizations.  The Camorra is organized in a horizontal manner, and is made up of individual mafia clans, as opposed to the more horizontally organized Sicilian or American Mafia’s.  The groups within the Mob form one of the largest criminal organizations in the world, with an estimated membership five times larger than the more famous Sicilian Mob.[4]  The Camorra are engaged in a wide range of activities, including drug, counterfeit cigarette, and human trafficking, as well as control of the local waste management industry that has resulted in the illegal dumping of ten million tons of industrial waste resulting in a rise of more than 40% of cancer cases, giving the surrounding area the nickname the Triangle of Death.16  The Camorra’s headquarters are in the state of Campania, but now most of their business is international, ranging from textile and fashion investments in China to running the tourism industry in Edinburgh, Scotland.[5]

Since 1979, the Camorra has killed at least 3,600 people, more than most criminal groups, and even more than famous terrorist organizations like the ETA in Spain, or the IRA in Ireland.[6]  Victims include rival gangsters, but also include politicians and other people who got in the way  of gang business.  One tragic example that was intended to terrorize the community into silence was the murder of the priest, Don Peppino Diana.  On March 19, 1994 Diana was shot twice in the back of the head while he was preparing the Mass.  The Priest was heavily involved in campaigns against the Camorra, including publishing an open letter denouncing the Camorra in 1991 as well as testifying against the Mob in an investigation in 1994.  The murder took place during the 1994 national election season, and was done in such a manner to intimidate voters and politicians into not seeking reforms.[7]

One of the major organizational goals of the Camorra is to infiltrate local politics in order to create a space where they can openly conduct their criminal business.  In Campania political corruption is mutually beneficial, for example the Camorra can help supply politicians with votes at election time, and the politician can help ensure that Camorra firms get public works contracts.  The amount of Camorra control is best illustrated by the fact that from 1991-2010 more than 75 councils in Campania have been shut down due to Camorra infiltration, more than any other region of Italy.[8]  The gangs relationship with politicians was not always so close, before the 1990s, the Camorra were still subservient to the politicians, and they had not established as close of a working relationship.  During this time period, political violence was much more common, for example from 1982-1983 there was 17 bombings against local administrators, 16 assaults on trade unionists, and 5 murders of council committee chairpersons.[9]

Tragically in Campania one doesn’t have to work against the Camorra to get killed; it is enough to be related to a rival, or even just be seen with one.  This was most evident during the 2004-2005 war between two rival Camorra clans over the drug and prostitution rackets of Naples.  During the war hundreds of people were killed in the street, including many innocent people who got hit in the crossfire.  One of the most horrific events of this war was the killing of Gelsomina Verde.  For a few months Verde had been the girlfriend of a mobster who had switched sides during the war, but they had broken up before the killing.  Even though the relationship had been short she was seen as a legitimate target for the gangsters who kidnapped her, tortured her, killed her, and threw her in a car that they set on fire.[10]  The killing outraged the public, but it also sent a message that betrayal will be punished, and even the most casual connection is enough to put you at risk.

[1] Lorenzo Totaro, “Naples Flirts With Detroit Fate as Budget Rejected: Euro Credit,” Bloomberg News, February 7, 2014. (accessed March 8, 2014); available from

[2] Roberto Saviano, Gomorrah, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), 64.

[3] Tom Behan, See Naples and Die: The Camorra & Organized Crime, (London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2002), 18-19.

[4] Roberto Saviano, 44.

[5] Ibid, 44, 262.

[6] Ibid, 120.

[7] Alan Cowell, “Gunmen Linked to the Mafia Kill an Italian Priest in His Sacristy,” The New York Times, March 20, 1994 (accessed March 8, 2014); available from

[8] Felia Allum and Percy Allum, “Revisiting Naples,” in Italy Today: The Sick Man of Europe, ed. Andrea Mammone and Giuseppe A. Veltri (New York: Routledge, 2010), 195.

[9] Tom Behan, 195.

[10] Roberto Saviano, 82-83.



About Leon Whyte

I'm a recent graduate of the Fletcher school of Law and Diplomacy. My interests include Pacific Asia and Security. I am looking for related opportunities.
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