In a damning assessment of Italy's south, US diplomatic cables in 2008 published by WikiLeaks describe a region plagued by crooked politicians, organised crime and a fatalistic people who won't pay taxes but uncomplainingly pay protection money.
The Calabria region where the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate is based would be a "failed state" if it were independent, while it and its Sicilian counterpart would be the main beneficiaries of a bridge project backed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, US diplomats wrote.
The cables noted signs of hope like Sicilian businesses and youth rebelling against the Mafia, but show diplomats discussing the need to impress upon Berlusconi's government that organised crime was a serious priority and required urgent action.
"Although law enforcement, business associations, citizens' groups, and the Church, at least in some locations, are demonstrating promising engagement in fighting organised crime, the same cannot be said of Italy's politicians, particularly at the national level," J. Patrick Truhn, the US consul general in Naples, wrote in a cable dated June 6, 2008.
"At the national level it is generally referred to, if at all, as a 'southern' issue, although it affects the entire country and although the South's criminal organisations have made worrying advances in the North."
The leaked cables are an embarrassment to Berlusconi's government that has trumpeted the capture of several mafia bosses as a major accomplishment, though the cables were written before some of the more recent high-profile arrests.
Truhn suggested the United States may also want to seek more cooperation from the Catholic Church against organised crime, noting it had often been accused of turning a blind eye.
A cable titled "Can Calabria be saved?" paints a bleak picture of the southern region as almost entirely in the stranglehold of the 'Ndrangheta, considered among the most dangerous and powerful crime syndicates in Western Europe.
"No-one believes the central government has much, if any control of Calabria, and local politicians are uniformly seen as ineffective and/or corrupt," Truhn wrote on December 2, 2008. "If Calabria were not part of Italy, it would be a failed state."
The cable recounts meetings with pessimistic officials on a trip to Calabria, including a prefect who felt the entire society was involved in perpetuating an "intractable situation".
In Naples, a senior prosecutor lit a cigar in a no-smoking office and complained that "Neapolitans have 'something in their DNA' that causes them to react to any law by breaking it".
The cable said a top police official in the Naples region told the US consul general in Naples that the Camorra, the local crime group, "exploits a general atmosphere of delinquency in Naples".