At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Giuseppe Impastato - anti-Mafia activist

Son of mafioso was murdered for speaking out



Giuseppe 'Peppino' Impastato, pictured in Cinisi in 1977
Giuseppe 'Peppino' Impastato,
pictured in Cinisi in 1977
Giuseppe Impastato, a political activist who was murdered by the Sicilian Mafia in 1978, was born on this day in 1948 in Cinisi, a coastal resort 36km (22 miles) west of Palermo which is now home to the city's Punta Raisa airport.

Also known as Peppino, Impastato was born into a Mafia family.  His father, Luigi, had been considered a significant enough figure in the criminal organisation to be sent into internal exile during the Fascist crackdown of the 1920s and was a close friend of the local Mafia boss, Gaetano Badalamenti.

Impastato had already begun to take an interest in left-wing political ideology when his uncle, Cesare Manzella, was blown up by a car bomb in 1963, the victim of a contract killing.  The murder had a profound effect on Impastato, then only 15, who denounced all his father stood for and left home.

He began to write, founding a left-wing newsletter, L'Idea Socialista, in 1965, and soon joined the Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (PSIUP).  He became the regular instigator of student and workers' protests during the late 1960s and led a number of anti-Mafia demonstrations.

At that stage, he was considered more a nuisance than a threat by Badalamenti but all that changed after Impastato, pursuing a career in journalism, joined with a group of friends to launch an independent radio station in 1976.

Impastato in 1968, campaigning against a third runway at Punta Raisa airport
Impastato in 1968, campaigning against
a third runway at Punta Raisa airport
Impastato hosted a popular show that regularly mocked politicians and mafiosi and sought to expose wrongdoings.  Badalamenti, who was later shown to have bribed officials to win a construction contract for a third runway at Punta Raisa airport, was a particular target.

It was claimed by Impastato that Badalamenti had an arrangement with the local police whereby they turned a blind eye to his activities so long as he guaranteed officers a quiet life by eliminating petty crime in the town.

The police chose to ignore the claim but Badalamenti was sufficiently riled to want Impastato silenced.  He warned Luigi Impastato that if he could not persuade his son to stop making such accusations he would be killed.

Luigi himself died in suspicious circumstances in 1977, knocked down by a car.  When Badalamenti and his associates turned up at the Impastato house to offer condolences, Peppino railed against them, accusing them of being responsible for his father's death, and vowed to step up his campaigning.

He disappeared on the evening of May 8, 1978, as he was preparing to stand in Cinisi's municipal elections as a Proletarian Democracy candidate.  After friends and family began to search for him, they discovered his remains in the early hours of May 9 close to the main Palermo-Trapani railway line.

Gaetano Badalamenti
Gaetano Badalamenti
Impastato had been killed and his body tied to the railway line along with a quantity of explosive, which was then detonated. His death might have made national news but was completely overshadowed by the discovery later in the same morning of the body of the kidnapped politician Aldo Moro in the boot of a car in Rome.

With little attention from outside, the Cinisi police pursued the line that Impastato had been killed in an attempt to blow up the railway line, or had intended to take his own life in doing so.  No evidence that pointed to murder was found and no arrests were made.

It was only through a 23-year campaign pursued by Peppino's brother, Giovanni, and his mother, Felicia, with the help of an anti-Mafia documentation centre in Sicily, that justice was done and Badalamenti was convicted of ordering the killing.  It took 18 years for them to persuade the authorities even to reopen the case.

In the event, Salvatore Palazzalo, who turned state's evidence as a Mafia pentito, provided vital information that led to the arrest and trial of Badalamenti and Vito Palazzalo, his cousin and Badalamenti's right-hand man.  Vito Palazzalo was sentenced to 30 years' jail, Badalamenti to life.  Both died in custody, Badalamenti in the United States, where he was already serving a 45-year term for his part in the so-called Pizza Connection drug-trafficking ring.

At around the time of the convictions, Peppino's life was celebrated in 2000 in a film, I cento passi - 'the hundred steps' - that being the distance between the Impastato house and the home of Gaetano Badalamenti.

The beach at Cinisi
The beach at Cinisi
Travel tip:

The coastal town of Cinisi, on the eastern side of the Gulf of Castellammare, is blessed with a wide, sandy beach, which makes it an attraction for tourists, who can also enjoy visiting the Benedictine Monastery that overlooks the town, as well as a number of interesting churches.  The town is guarded by a watchtowers thought to originate in the 15th century or earlier.  There are also several nature trails in the area, which is renowned for its natural beauty and the quality of local produce.  A ricotta festival takes place in Cinisi each May.

Palermo's striking Metropolitan Cathedral of the  Assumption of Virgin Mary
Palermo's striking Metropolitan Cathedral of the
Assumption of Virgin Mary
Travel tip:

Palermo is home to some wonderful architecture, including the 9th century Palazzo dei Normanni, with its impressive neoclassical facade, the Cappella Palatina, the royal chapel of the Norman kings and famous for its mosaics, the atmospheric Teatro Massimo opera house and the magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, which was originally erected in the 12th century but which has had many additions and alterations.  It combines five distinctive architectural styles - Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and neoclassical.

More reading:


Libero Grassi - the businessman who refused to pay protection

The life and death of anti-Mafia crusader Giovanni Falcone

The kidnapping of Aldo Moro

Also on this day:


1932: The birth of novelist Umberto Eco

(Picture credits: Cinisi beach by Abrahami; Palermo cathedral by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo; via Wikimedia Commons)

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