AUS DEM SPIEGEL
Ausgabe 3/2008

The Stink of Greed In Naples, Waste Is Pure Gold

Part 2: A 'State of Emergency' Drags On


Leftists are in power in Campania and Naples. Bassoni, the former mayor and now the regional president, was once seen as the man who could lead a Naples renaissance. He was a modern type of communist, as elegant as he was charismatic. But his popularity has waned, and today his name is listed at the top of the protestors' banners -- as the first of the politicians they insist should be fired. Mario Martone, a Neapolitan filmmaker, has suggested that the politicians in office should publicly break out the garbage bags and begin sorting -- as a gesture of repentance.

Protesters set a bus on fire during the clashes between police and demonstrators in Pianura, near Naples.
DPA

Protesters set a bus on fire during the clashes between police and demonstrators in Pianura, near Naples.

Naples, as it happens, is a city of excessive, melodramatic gestures. Nothing is meant quite the way it's said, but this time residents seem to have had enough. "A community that is sinking into and suffocating in its own excrements," writes author Michele Serra. "It's difficult to imagine a more disturbing allegory, worthy of a Dante in its reproachful force."

Money earmarked to handle the region's growing garbage crisis was used for other crises. There are 25 white garbage trucks owned by the city of Naples parked on a lot on Via Virginia Woolf, in the city's refinery district. This is where Pasquale Romano and his 360 fellow workers of Bacino Napoli 5 work. "Our job is to separate garbage. But not one of these vehicles works. Each of them is missing one part or another," says Romano, 48. He and his crew sit around, smoking and playing cards. They're paid to spend six hours a day here "on call" -- and they've been doing it for the past seven years.

According to an outraged Romano, 2,300 of these idle garbage men are employed throughout the region. The group is coordinated by a company called T.E.R.G.A., or "Consulting and Outsourcing Services," on behalf of the waste disposal commissioner. T.E.R.G.A.'s slogan is "Effectiveness - Efficiency - Profitability."

A parliamentary report concluded that the special commissioner's office has proven to be an "ineffective and harmful illusion," and that its main purpose is to provide for the welfare of itself and its employees.

The "state of emergency," which has lasted for the past 14 years, keeps an entire industry of shipping and storage companies, consultants, institutions, inspectors and waste disposal companies afloat. When there is a state of emergency, money flows more easily and less attention is paid to laws.

For example, in Terzigno, a town in the Mt. Vesuvius National Park, the Camorra used a cave for garbage disposal for several years. The government eventually seized and closed the site. But now Terzigno is slated to be reopened -- legally, this time -- as a temporary dump.

The government in Rome fears that the problems in Naples will adversely affect the entire country's image, and could also lead to the cancellation of European Union subsidies. In June, the European Commission in Brussels even wrote the city a warning letter, in which Eva Kaluzynska, the Commission's Spokesperson for Regional Policy, noted: "The Commission is following developments in the situation in Campania with great interest."

Prime Minister Romano Prodi has made local officials' failures in Campania a top priority, thereby linking his political survival to the garbage issue. Prodi gave former national police chief Gianni De Gennaro 120 days to find a solution to the waste crisis. At least four waste dumps are to be reopened and three incinerators are to be built.

As police chief, De Gennaro was successful in hunting down members of the Mafia and of the Red Brigades, an Italian terrorist group. He was also responsible for the police's brutal tactics during the G-8 summit in Genoa in 2001.

Prodi also appealed to other regions to show solidarity, asking each region to take some of Campania's waste. Lombardy and Venice, both proud northern regions, have already given Prodi their polite refusals, suggesting that Naples take care of its own waste management problems.

An incinerator scheduled to be built in Acerra, the only one in the region, has been under construction for the past 10 years. The delays have been caused by lawsuits, protests and outrageous incompetence and sloppiness on the part of the plant's operators. Acerra will begin operations this year -- if a new operator can be found.

Campania's garbage will likely be sticking around for some time to come. In Ponticelli, a poor Naples neighborhood where the refinery, a flea market and a garbage transfer station are located, trucks have been lined up since last week. They are waiting to take the city's garbage to the freight depot, where it will be loaded onto trains and taken across the Alps to places like Leipzig and Bremerhaven in Germany. According to Italian newspapers, German incinerator operations are paid €130-170 per ton of waste.

Naples' waste is, indeed, pure gold.

"I am optimistic," says Antonio Valiante, vice president of Campania. The new commissioner, he says, has more power than his predecessors, money is flowing once again, and it is "only a matter of hours" before the dump in Pianura will reopen. Valiante insists that once shouldn't always be so pessimistic, and that Naples remains a wonderful city. "Just look at that view," says Valiante, pointing to the window in his office. The view encompasses the Gulf of Naples, sailboats bobbing on a glittering expanse of water and the Mole, with the double peak of Mt. Vesuvius towering in the background. It's said that an explosion is long overdue.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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