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Cannoli to celebrate his conviction. Huh? Say Again? PDF Print E-mail
Jan 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Image  Sicily's Governor Totò Cuffaro, who was forced to resign his office on January 26th, knew who to make friends and influence people. But he must certainly regret the cannoli he distributed to supporters on January 19 to celebrate his criminal conviction, one carrying a five-year jail sentence,  on charges of the favoreggiamento (aiding and abetting) of several of the island's known or suspected criminal bosses. Celebrate?  Huh? Say again?

      Yes, the first reaction of the pudgy, 50-year old President of the Region, before giving in to a ground swell of public pressure and resigneing his office, was to celebrate, passing out cannoli and marzapane to all his many well-wishers shortly after the verdict came in. Why? Because although convicted on charges of having revealed the details of police investigations to “friends” suspected of being mafiosi,  the Palermo court had failed to invoke article 7 of the criminal code. Had they done so, he would have been declared guilty of aiding and abetting not just individuals but the Mafia as an organization, a sentence that among other things could have led judicial authories to order his worldly goods confiscated.   

 ImageBecause of this when the verdict was read out, Cuffaro, known to many Sicilians as Vasa Vasa  for his habit of kissing everyone in sight, made the sign of the cross and burst into tears. Shortly afterwards in his office in the Palazzo d'Orleans, he was immortalized, by a reporter’s camera, happily carrying around a tray filled with cannoli. No matter that he didn't actually plan to give out the cannoli which were sent to him by a baker who was a graqde school friend. The former Christian Democrat, who started his professional life as a doctor for a railroad workers’ association to become, at present, leader of the Sicilian branch of the center-right UDC party (part of Silvio Berlusconi’s Freedom Alliance) was clearly relieved and wasted little time in annoucning  that even though the sentence officially barred him from holding public office, he had no intention of resigning. “The majority of Sicilians want me to stay”, he insisted     

       And  at first it looked as if he might be right. After 30 years living, studying and working in Italy you kind of think you've seen it all and then, ommioddio, there you go, down the rabbit hole once again into an upside down world.  Elected president of the Region, or Governor, for the first time in July, 2001 with 59% of the vote, and re-elected in 2006 with a 53% share, Cuffaro is extremely popular. In the last national election, his branch of the UDC polled 18% of the vote, almost three times the party’s national strength, and his loyalty to his friends, even those suspected of being mafiosi, had made him the most powerful man on the island. Only four days after his conviction, the Sicilian Regional Assemply, reflecting the consensus of the current center-right majority, voted 53 to 37 to reconfirm him in office. After all, doing "favors" for "friends"  even if the former contravene the letter or the law, is so much a usanza or custom in some parts of Italy that many Sicilians probably didn’t even blink at learning that Cuffaro had told police suspects their offices were bugged. 

       But Cuffaro, a man who not long ago appeared in a TV spoof wearing the typical Sicilian mafioso cap known as a coppola, clearly had not reckoned with the determination of those who represent, or care about, the “new Sicily”,  Italians who seek to carry forth the example of Sicilian modern-day martyrs like slain anti-Mafia investigators Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Luca de Montezemolo, the fiery head of Confindustria, the National Manufacturers’ Association, called for him to step down saying it was intolerable for Sicilian industrialists who were standing up to Mafia extortion to accept a Governor who had been convicted of collusion. One of the last acts of Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s government, forced to resign on January 245h by a failed vote of confidence in the Italian Senate, was to issue a decree that would have suspended Cuffaro from office. And hundreds of “new Sicilians”,  led by a group of univiersity students dressed as cannoli, demonstrated in downtown Palermo  and plastered the city with posters calling on Cuffaro to remove himself from power.

      The Governor’s  initial determination to stay on no doubt in part  reflected the unusual constraints of Italy’s garantista  legal system according to which sentences become executive only after being confirmed by all three levels of judgement, the first degree regular courts, the second degree  appeals courts and, finally, the high court, the Corte di Cassazione. This system has been deleterious in a country where personal and political ethics often appear wanting; former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi never thought of resigning when judicial charges were filed against him on several counts and on several occasions. One of Italy’s major bankers, Cesare Geronzi, ihas been convicted  in the lower level courts of corruption but continues to receive new appointments.

      And getting back to Sicilian matters, what to say about Pier Ferdinando Casini, the national head of the CDU, who despite his usual moralizing tone has already told Cuffaro that the party will back him no matter what. He has apparantly promised him a safe Senate constituency in the next  general election which means Cuffaro will have a new reason to celebrate: parliamentary immunity from future judicial proceedings.  

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