Cultura Mafiosa in Colombia


Translated by Forrest Hylton.

The word’s origins are polemical: it comes from the Arabic mahya–bullying, arrogance; and maffia, in Tuscan dialect, a synonym for ostentation. The etymology fits like a ring on a finger. The mafia as we know it today was born in Sicily to defend feudal señores with shotguns and nothing but gunshots, contracting hit men and buying or killing judges. Let’s continue, since we’re getting warmer.

Thus was the Onorata Societá formed, governed by a code of honor — omertá, synonym for the law of silence — and one of its most profitable businesses was cattle rustling. We’re hot. The mafia lays its eggs in the U.S. during the Great Depression and has its day in the sun: Sicilian immigrants — poor, unemployed, looked upon badly and treated worse — co-operate in order to break the law on the model of the Onorata. This is Cosa Nostra, the era of the Godfather and the famous Lucky Luciano, dedicated to drugs, prostitution, and gambling. We are nearly burning. The police figure it out and Lucky gets 30 years, which changes with the support the Sicilian mafia gives to the U.S. Army in Italy at the end of World War II. We are practically on fire.

In our midst is a political inheritance that leads from the chulavos and pájaros [hired guns and police assassins who killed for the Conservative Party during la Violencia-tr.] in the 1950s, to the bands of contrabandistas and emerald czars of the 60s and 70s, who passed their legacy down to the narcos, called "magicians" — a play on the term mafia — who continue to rule today and who have bought their ticket to the future with the name "emergent groups" [given to paramilitary groups that have proliferated since the official demobilization process concluded in 2006-tr.]. It was unquestionably the aristocracy — white, wealthy — that first felt, resented, and ridiculed the external symptoms of the mafia — its extravagant, irreverent, presumptuous culture — so the mafia built country clubs designed to compete with the ones that declined to accept it, bought the most expensive cars, the finest thoroughbreds, the haciendas with the most notable lineages, the most upright judges, the generals with the most medals, and re-tailored the values of the self-proclaimed good people’ to suit itself. Those good people’ soon discovered it was better to join the mafia than to fight it, and so they did. Some, it is true, blushed at certain ties established through marriage, but in the end they, too, shrugged their shoulders. "Money is money," and the rest is worthless.

The mafia did not abandon its gold mine. Instead, it broadened and consolidated it, and continued with its business, its powerful influence on institutions, its crimes, and its weapons; those were the days when U.S. Ambassador Lewis Tambs spoke of narco-democracy [1983-tr.]. The decadent aristocracy, already narcotized, already holding all the cards, appreciated the recognition and praised the great diplomat, who, by the way, wound up in Central America associated with those he had denounced. Later, this social coalition came up with another business enterprise: paramilitarism, and with it parapolitics, which is today coming ever closer to the Prince: his cousin, former private secretary, electoral barons, former head of security, and former campaign backers all have, as they now say, slight complications.

The mafia, whether Sicilian or Colombian, has forged itself against the law, has constructed — with blood — its own channels of upward mobility to political and economic power, and above all, has impregnated the rest of the country (84%, to be precise) with its culture: "I don’t take any crap," "I’m the shrewdest," "everything’s worthless." It is the culture of meeting force with force, taking justice into one’s own hands, of rewards for fingerprints or digital memory, of "sell it to me or I’ll buy it from your widow," "I’ll cut your face off, faggot," "get out of the way or I’ll get you out of the way." Its coat of arms: a burning heart. When Senator Piedad Córdoba says that a mafia culture dominates the country, she makes a statement that is courageous as well as just. After taking over the boards and the political directorates, now the mafia is looking to impose its norms, values, and principles — the hard way more than the easy way.

Alfredo Molano is a political columnist for El Espectador, where this essay originally appeared, and the author of many books of oral history, including The Dispossessed: The Desterrados of Colombia (Haymarket, 2005), and Loyal Soldiers in the Cocaine Kingdom: Tales of Drugs, Mules, and Gunmen (Columbia University Press, 2004).

Forrest Hylton is the author of Evil Hour in Colombia (Verso, 2006), and with Sinclair Thomson, of Revolutionary Horizons: Past and Present in Bolivian Politics (Verso, 2007). He writes for New Left Review, NACLA Report on the Americas, and CounterPunch.org



Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st  Century
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?
Ben Debney
Guns, Trump and Mental Illness
Pepe Escobar
The NATO-Russia Face Off in Syria
Yoav Litvin
Israeli Occupation for Dummies
Lawrence Davidson
Deep Poverty in America: the On-Going Tradition of Not Caring
Thomas Knapp
War Party’s New Line: Vladimir Putin is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Brandon Jordan
Sowing the Seeds of War in Uruguay
Binoy Kampmark
Imperilled by Unfree Trade: the TPP on Environment and Labor
John McMurtry
The Canadian Elections: Cover-Up and Steal (Again)
Anthony Papa
Coming Home: an Open Letter to 6,000 Soon-to-be-Released Drug War Prisoners From an Ex-Con
Ramzy Baroud
Listen to Syrians: The Media Jackals and the People’s Narrative
Norman Pollack
Heart of Darkness: A Two-Way Street
Gilbert Mercier
Will Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite Militias Defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq?
John Stanton
Vietnam 2.0 and California Dreamin’ in Ukraine
William John Cox
The Pornography of Hatred