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The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures. Working together, the Cosa Nostra and Nigerian gangs are reshaping the drug and sex trades in one of African refugees' biggest gateways into Europe. Will the alliance last — or will it erupt in violence? Eric Reguly investigates. This article was published more than 3 years ago.
Some information in it may no longer be current. B y day, the Ballaro market in the ancient heart of Palermo is a riot of colour and noise, a delightful assault on the senses. The Italian merchants lure their customers by singing ditties or simply shouting at them in Sicilian dialect: " Chi su belli stu puma! The seemingly endless stalls are piled deep with blood oranges, lemons, chicory and melons; the fish trays are loaded with cuttlefish, octopus, prawns and sea bass.
Some of the old Sicilian merchants make chickpea fritters, a local specialty. By night, Ballaro's mood changes. The street merchants are gone, their stalls packed up. No tourists are in sight, not one. The streets are full of African men, mostly young Algerians. They sit in bars, hang around on corners or in small shops, which seem to double up as informal living rooms after the sun sets. Absolutely everyone — the police, the state prosecutors, the Sicilians — knows that the Africans are selling illegal drugs, including marijuana, hashish, cocaine and heroin.
In reality, Ballaro by night is Sicily's biggest open-air drug supermarket. The refugee crisis has hit Sicily particularly hard and one of its disturbing developments is that some of the Africans who land in Sicily and don't flee north to Germany or Sweden are staying put and resorting to lives of crime. So far, they have been successful not because they are ruthless, but because they are working with the Sicilian Mafia, known as the Cosa Nostra, which has controlled Ballaro and other Palermo areas for decades.
The question: Will the alliance between the Nigerians and the Mafia last or will it, eventually, erupt in violence if a power struggle between the two groups emerge. Francesco Bellina, a Palermo photographer who knows Ballaro inside out, gave me a nighttime walking tour of the area.