In Palermo, a pizzeria fights racketeering


In Palermo, a pizzeria fights racketeering

Antonio Cottone, owner of La Braciera, an excellent pizzeria in Palermo, tells us about his experience in countering racketeering.

“ The worst moment of the day is always in the evening, when I have to go home ”, confesses Antonio Cottone , owner of La Braciera , a pizzeria in Palermo awarded for the fourth consecutive year with the three segments by Gambero Rosso . The restaurateur has become a symbol of the fight against pizzo for having his extortionists arrested 3 years ago, for breaking certain unspoken rules in San Lorenzo, one of the districts most harassed by the mafia.antonio cottone de la braciera tells us about his experience against extortionistsThis gesture of courage also earned him the special mention of the prestigious Giorgio Ambrosoli Award last year in the name of the principles of integrity with which he exercised his profession. In the large, golden food and wine schedule, among the tales of beauty, of goodness, of originality, of culinary visionary dreams, we cut out a small parenthesis to dwell on the difficulties , and also on the fears, which some entrepreneurs live in their daily lives. Because real life takes place outside the spotlight, even with its ugly parentheses. We remind you that in recent months some famous Campania pizza chefs have come under the crosshairs of criminal organizations, only because they operate with their heads held high, respecting the law, because they are icons and therefore the most suitable target to send a certain message to the territory and to everything. the country, if only to demonstrate its strength. Among these, the last in order of time, the most striking was the bomb detonated in via dei Tribunali 32 in the historic pizzeria of Gino Sorbillo , an intimidating act whose purpose has not yet been ascertained and which he himself has documented has become viral. We talked about it with Antonio Cottone.

Together with your brothers Roberto and Marcello you physically framed your extortionists just as they were asking you for protection money by having them arrested in the act of crime …
It was exasperation. They showed up and it all happened very instinctively and suddenly. We haven’t thought twice about it. We reacted with clarity, I don’t know how. First we made them talk or rather almost confess: they were unaware, in favor of the camera installed in our room. We even went out of the club and prevented them from leaving with the car: my brother was on the roof, I was banging my fists on the hood, both oblivious to the fact that the two criminals could have a gun with them, and luckily they were. without. So we called 113 and from there began our process of reporting. At that time we were opening the pizzeria inside Villa Lampedusa, we were in bureaucratic chaos. They pressed, demanded regularizationof old payments, even envisaged the inclusion of a person in the company to manage the new premises. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

You have decided to change course and stop paying. You had been a victim of extortion for twenty years
In ’97, when we took over La Braciera and with it also the protection money paid by the previous managers, the socio-political-cultural situation was different, the consciences were different. We did not imagine then that one day we would not pay any more. There were situations that led people to judge that moment certainly not suitable for rebelling. This was the climate in which we found ourselves. But then things started to change. The constant arrests, the trust in the institutions, have begun to instill courage. The Police, the Carabinieri, the Guardia di Finanza have gone a long way into this framework, periodically today they cut branches, they are pressing making it difficult for the districts to reformulate the asset. Perhaps in Palermo the situation is slightly improving compared to the contexts in which colleagues like Sorbillo operate.

Didn’t you fear retaliation after the arrest?
The arrest was a mental cure-all even if you live with a sword of Damocles on your head. I have 3 children – the eldest is 14 – and a wife. I don’t deny that I have phobias. In the evening when I return I inevitably think that someone can follow me. In the meantime, I no longer use the car but only the moped, so that I can free myself and escape immediately. However, you learn to live with all this. Then the people’s response gives strength. Especially the young people who come to meet me to congratulate me, to thank me. The results of our gesture have also changed something in the neighborhood where we work and this pays off a lot. We managed to bring some neighbors (who have always been victims of extortion) to our side, to make them begin a path of legality.

Tell us about the dynamics of extortion today: how do they approach?
Compared to the past, the methodology in Palermo has changed. Today they approach not directly. They try to do this by using an intermediary, an acquaintance, an unsuspected person from the neighborhood, so that they can put the so-called good word. They do not expose themselves immediately and directly.

In Palermo, the number of those joining the Confcommercio Addio Pizzo and Io Non Pago association is growing…
They are mainly young people who join the circuit and who immediately take a stand against racketeering. The extortionists themselves, as shown by the wiretapping, desist if they see a business under the protection of one of these programs. They know they can start complaints right away, they don’t want trouble.

What do you feel like saying to colleagues who have experienced or are experiencing a situation similar to the one you went through?
We must rebel. We have to do it in many. You have to find strength and never give up, I say this above all to the guys who open new businesses: don’t give in, you have to oppose from the beginning. They play on arrogance, on intimidation, but if you can react, blow their game. Our strength lies in this. And then just keep in mind that it is always a downhill path, sooner or later they are caught. We just need to accelerate this path.


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