The pizzo (Italian: [ˈpittso]) is protection money paid to the Mafia often in the form of a forced transfer of money resulting from extortion. The term is derived from the Sicilian pizzu ('beak'). To let someone whet their beak (Sicilian language fari vagnari u pizzu) is to pay protection money. The practice is widespread in Southern Italy, not only by the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, but also by the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria and the Camorra in Campania.
Another etymological explanation of the term is "beakerful," referring to the right of an overseer to scoop from the grain being threshed by peasants. Paying the pizzo may also involve adding someone (often a member of a criminal organisation) to the payroll, provisioning of services by Mafia-controlled businesses or subcontracting to Mafia-controlled companies. Businesses that refuse to pay the pizzo may be burned down.
In return for paying the pizzo, businesses receive "protection" and can enlist neighbourhood Mafiosi to cut through bureaucracy or resolve disputes with other tradesmen. Collecting the pizzo keeps the Mafia in touch with the community and allows it to "control their territory."
The Mafia extorts more than 160 million euro a year from shops and businesses in the Palermo region, and investigators estimate that Sicily as a whole pays 10 times that figure. Approximately 80% of Sicilian businesses pay a pizzo. According to Palermo University, the pizzo averages €457 (US$512) per month for retail traders and €578 for hotels and restaurants, but construction companies are asked to pay over €2,000 per month according to economic daily Il Sole 24 Ore.
Among the first to refuse to pay protection money was Libero Grassi, a shopkeeper from Palermo. In January 1991, he wrote an open letter to the Giornale di Sicilia, the local newspaper. Published on the front page, it was addressed to an anonymous "Dear Extortionist." It caused an uproar and later that same year, Grassi was murdered.
In 2004, Addiopizzo (English: "Goodbye Pizzo"), a grassroots consumer movement frustrated with the Mafia's stranglehold on the local economy and political life, peppered Palermo with stickers stating: "An entire populace who pays pizzo is a mob without dignity." The group organise demonstrations wearing black T-shirts with the Addiopizzo logo, a broken circle with an X in the middle and the words "consumo critico" (critical consumption).
- Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 241
- Paoli, Mafia Brotherhoods, p. 164
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- To the Mafia's horror, pizzo-free shop opens Palermo doors Archived 14 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine, AFP, 8 March 2008
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- Cavallaro, Felice (5 May 2006). "One Hundred Defiant Shopkeepers Say "We Don't Pay Protection Money"". Corriere della Sera.
- Paoli, Letizia (2003). Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style, New York: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-515724-9 (Review by Klaus Von Lampe) (Review by Alexandra V. Orlova)