The blood tribute paid by Palermo and Sicily in the fight against the mafia during the 1970s and 1980s is staggering. 

In addition to judges, politicians, and law enforcement officers, numerous citizens, independent entrepreneurs, and those who refused to give in to the mafia’s extortion demands also paid with their lives: Pietro Pisa, Giovanni Gambino, and Vincenzo Spinelli in the terrible year of 1982, Roberto Parisi, Pietro Patti, and Gianni Carbone in the violent year of 1985, Paolo Bottone and Francesco Paolo Semilia the following year, Luigi Ranieri and Donato Boscia in 1988, engineer Vincenzo Miceli, CEO of Acciaierie Megara in Catania Alessandro Rovetta, and HR manager Francesco Vecchio in 1990.

Despite the extremely concerning situation, there was no public debate about extortion in the country. This silence was finally broken by Libero Grassi’s public denunciation letter in 1991.

His traumatic murder a few months later, however, plunged the issue back into oblivion, despite the extraordinary collective response that followed the massacres of 1992.

For over a decade, Cosa Nostra, hit by an unprecedented wave of repression from the State, opted for a strategic retreat aimed at strengthening its positions and avoiding direct confrontation with the institutions.

In the early 2000s, the mafia in Palermo and Sicily, led by Bernardo Provenzano, remained strong and deeply rooted. In 2001, the Minister of Infrastructure at the time, Pietro Lunardi, publicly stated regarding the mafia and camorra: “They have always existed and always will. Unfortunately, this is a reality we have to live with.”



Among the oldest and most structural criminal activities linked with the mafia phenomenon, extortion is a fundamental point of perspective to understand what the mafia is.

It takes the form of an extortion demand, practiced through violence – either explicit or implied – carried out against an individual economic operator by the criminal organization.

The demand can take the form of a cash payment or, in more recent and original forms, through the imposition of various services. Extortion, in fact, can be imposed through the hiring of personnel specifically indicated by the neighborhood’s mafia family or by forcing them to choose suppliers close to them or – even worse frontmen for the mafia family itself.

The proceeds from extortion often serve the mafia families as a base for investments in illegal but highly profitable markets, while simultaneously cementing their influence and coercive force over society, which recognizes their power and “territorial authority.”



A prominent Sicilian entrepreneur, owner of the SIGMA company, but also a radical activist and free man, Libero Grassi made headlines in 1991 when he decided to publicly announce his refusal to pay the mafia’s extortion demands through the press.

Libero Grassi took pen and paper and published a letter in the “Giornale di Sicilia” informing his unknown extortionist that he would not give in to threats, preferring to place himself under police protection.

Libero Grassi hoped that his act of rebellion would spark a collective reaction, but unfortunately this didn’t happen. Instead, he was accused of seeking easy publicity and isolated by fellow entrepreneurs and the local community.

After months of desperate attempts to make his gesture an example – even being hosted by journalist Michele Santoro in his program “Samarcanda” broadcasted on national television – he was assassinated on August 29th 1991 at 7:36 a.m. in Via Alfieri, at short distance from his home, while he was on his way to work at the factory.

The trauma was enormous. For years, the issue of extortion disappeared from the public agenda.