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Last Updated: Friday, 14 April 2006, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Mafia shadow hangs over Corleone
By Jonny Dymond
BBC News, Palermo

Bernardo Provenzano
Bernardo Provenzano's reign is over, but who waits in the wings?
On a hillside, just a few kilometres from the Mafia heartland of Corleone, four men are hoeing soil around young vines.

The wind whistles around them on a sharp spring day as they push and pull great clods of earth away from the green plants.

They work for a co-operative called Libera Terra - Free Land.

The land it uses has been given to it by the Sicilian authorities - it is land confiscated from the Mafia.

Because one of the things the co-operative makes is pasta, its motto is: "Fighting the Mafia with macaroni". It's not a great joke, but it raises a smile.

For those who detest the Mafia and all its works in Sicily there has been one very good reason to smile this week; the capture, after an astonishing 43 years on the run, of Bernardo Provenzano.

He managed to remain a fugitive not because he is so clever but because of his secrets
Salvo Palazzolo

Known as the "tractor" because of his habit of mowing down his enemies, Provenzano managed in the last 13 of his years on the run, to run the Sicilian Mafia, to be its "boss of bosses".

When Antonio Castro, the co-ordinator of the vineyard project of Libera Terra, was told of Provenzano's capture by a colleague, he says, "I told him 'Shut up. Don't joke.' Then I switched on the radio and I realised it was true."

Smiling broadly, Antonio Castro continues: "It's really a victory for our state."

Network of protectors

The Sicilian police are having their moment in the sun and there is a fair amount of gossip about how Mr Provenzano was finally brought into custody.

But the bigger question on Sicilians' minds appears to be about the previous 43 years of freedom.

Just how did he evade capture and run an international syndicate from a relatively small island, for so long?

Cheese dairy
Provenzano was arrested at a small house on the island of Sicily

There is a fair amount of talk about the code of "omerta" - silence enforced by fear and loyalty. But few of the people who are in a position to know believe that Provenzano remained at large for so long without the connivance of some very powerful people.

Maurizio de Lucia, one of the senior investigative magistrates on the anti-Mafia team, says it is "senior politicians and the Sicilian elites" who played a part in allowing Provenzano to remain free for all these years.

And that of course is part of the potential prize in his capture. Provenzano is no longer on Sicily. Within hours of his appearance at a courthouse in Palermo, he was flown off to a high security prison on the mainland, in Umbria.

There the authorities will see what they can get from him. Provenzano's power is in the secrets he knows, says journalist Salvo Palazzolo, who has written extensively on the now captive Mafia boss.

We have taken the flag, but where is the army? There is a big army behind him
Lorenzo Matasa

"He managed," says Palazzolo, "to remain a fugitive not because he is so clever but because of his secrets. We still have to unpick his web of secrets."

When he was captured in the hills around the Mafia heartland of Corleone, Provenzano is reported to have said: "You don't know what you are doing."

The implication was, say some, that Provenzano believed his links to those high up in the Italian administrative and judicial machinery would protect him in any event.

They did not. But his belief that they might speaks volumes about the reach of his network of protectors. The long war between the Italian state and the Mafia is far from over.

Amidst all the stunned rejoicing over Provenzano's capture, it seems churlish to point out that he will be simply replaced as he replaced others who came before him.

Fearful times

Indeed, he may be replaced by someone who believes in a different, more bloody and confrontational, strategy for the Mafia.

The shadow of the Mafia has not yet been lifted from Corleone

The bodyguards that accompany senior magistrate Maurizio de Lucia night and day and who keep an obvious watch over his apartment are not going to be dismissed for a long, long time.

"We have taken the flag, but where is the army?" asks another magistrate, Lorenzo Matasa. "There is a big army behind him."

Up in the hills around Corleone, the same hills where Provenzano hid for four long decades, the spring wind whips through the long grass, as the digging around the young vines continues.

"He is a bastard," ruminates Antonio Castro about Provenzano. "He has killed a lot of people both directly and indirectly. So of course he is a bastard."

And then he cautions me not to ask the workers what they think about the situation. They are all from in or around Corleone, and they are all afraid once more.

The local bosses are manoeuvring for the now-vacant top job and it is not the time to be heard speaking openly.


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