In Mondragone, during the first protest organized by “Verso il 19 Luglio” Local Committee, we met a woman. On July 19th 2011 our movement organized a sit-in next to a supermarket which had been victim of a-probably-intimidating bomb few days before. In that circumstance, that woman told us a story that shook us for two reasons. Primarily she , who was victim of usury in a conspirancy of silence’s land (omertà translator’s note) often headed by underground economy, had been audacious to lodge a complaint of this sad activity in order to help other people that are in the grip of it. Besides her extraordinary heart, the second thing that shook us was the complete oblivion reserved to her by our city, even if she is the embodiment of civility and love for our territory. For security reasons, her identity will stay anonymous.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED INTO USURY?
After the second half of the nineties I moved to Mondragone with my family. My husband had a public occupation and I had teenager sons. I did not know lots of people and I became friend with a woman. I trusted her and I shared with her my financial issues. Without any concern she offered me her help: she could have taken her husband’s money and I could have given this money back to her when I had it. After a while, she told me that her husband found out everything and that she needed all the amount of money back. When I told her that I wasn’t able to do it, she suggested me to ask somebody else for help, to a third person. I made a deal with this third person. It consisted in the fact that he would have repayed my friend back in order to give me time. In exchange I should have paid the double of the initial amount of the loan charged with interest rates. Three millions of liras (1.500 euros) plus other three that were supposed to be paid by a monthly instalment of 400.000 liras (200 euros).
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO PAY SINCE THE CAUSES OF THIS DEBT WERE YOUR FINANCIAL PROBLEMS?
The first months I handled it, but it slowly became a huge deal and I once paid with a delay of 15 days. That person told me that, from that moment on, every single day of delay would have charged the debt of 20,000 liras (10 euros) more than the due amount. Really tough times came. Meanwhile I tried to manage these problems, due amount of money continued to augment. In few months my debt was more than 20 million of liras (10,000 euros). I kept paying.
DID YOUR HUSBAND KNOW ABOUT IT?
Of course not. The only ones who knew about it were my sons and they encouraged me a lot, they supported me. I invented several excuses and illnesses in order to get my family a meal. I asked Caritas for help that fed me and my family but I still needed money. So I started selling all my personal effects. Whenever I had money I gave them to those loan sharks. To face the repayment of my debt I referred to other “illegal moneylenders” who worked in the same way of the other people I previously referred to, even if it would have unbelievably charged my debt. At the end to settle my loan with them I asked to a really powerful family in this field.
WAS IT A KIND OF USURY INTO USURY?
A vicious circle that damages people exploiting their weakness? I had no choice. I accrued debts on debts and the amount was growing with the passing of days and hours. I was stuck within two loan shark families. Both blackmailed me.
HOW DID YOU START THINKING ABOUT LODGING A COMPLAINT?
After more than one year from the day when everything began, while I was going to the Good Friday’s Procession I met my alleged friend that threw me in that depressing situation. During the Procession my heart started rebelling. That night was another sleepless night. I had a showdown with myself. I thought about suicide to free myself and my relatives. Then I had a kind of enlightenment and I understood that MY FEAR WAS THEIR STRENGHT. I could not stand it anymore, so I decided that I needed to break the silence. I would have preferred to die rather than survive in those conditions. I confessed everything to my husband. Some days after I lodged a complaint to the police.
I started collaborating with the public officers who were in charge of dealing with that kind of issues issues. They asked me to bring to my house the person who made me enter in usury processes and they a recorder in my house. It taped the “unwittingly” evidence of the threats my alleged friend made me. Concerning the second family I referred to, my duty was to discover where they had their “bookkepeer”. After several tough months living in fear and in a state of uncertainty while keeping giving them money, those people had been arrested.
YOU HAVE BEEN BRAVE BUT, ACCORDING TO YOU, WHY DOES ONE GET INVOLVED IN USURY?
Because of financial issues, of course. In some parts of the year, sellers face a turndown and they have no legal help to compensate the losses due to the deficit between outcomes and incomes. Even if a shop does not sell, it has to cover some costs and taxes. It is obvious that this mechanism affects more small trade than big trade realities. Concerning those who ask for “help” and are not related to commercial activities, the cause is linked to one’s family. In cities where average salaries are shamingly low, being responsible for a family is a wild goose chase. When I asked for the illegal loan I hadn’t a commercial activity.
WHAT KIND OF RELATIONS HAVE YOU BEEN IN WITH CITIZEN ISTITUTIONS?
…when I lodged the complaint against the loan sharks I have been warmly welcomed. My economic conditions were disastrous, also because in order to help justice I had to keep repaying my debt. I asked the Mayor in those days for some help to buy books for my kids. I never asked for money. What I actually got from him was a check but I did not receive proper moral and institutional support by the Mayor.
DID YOU TRY TO ACCESS ANTI-USURY FUNDS?
At that time I hadn’t a commercial activity and unfortunately laws for usury victims only referred to traders. I hope that you will be able to deeply understand the controversial aspects of 108/1996 Law that regulates anti-usury foundations and especially I hope you will get the paradoxical and nonsensical attitude of Consulta nazionale delle Fondazioni antiusura (National Committee for Anti-usury Fundations, translator’s note).
LET’S GO BACK TO INSTITUTIONS. WHAT WE WANT TO UNDERLINE IS THAH YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN A GUEST OF POLITICAL STAGES OR CITY COUNCILS. YOU ARE A STRONG WITNESS. ACCORDIND TO US, YOU SHOULD BE AN EXAMPLE. WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY?
In our city we have national politicians whom I have referred to several times and I just received contacts with foundations that offered loans but with absurd requests. Do you know De Sica’s “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”? If you have no Saint in Paradise… and then those national politicians cannot keep a defined line on those matters. You must remember that electors in our territory are quite various.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT REQUESTS OF FOUNDATIONS WERE ABSURD?
Because I was supposed to find 10 people, who were not relatives,who could have granted for me.
HONESTLY WE THINK THAT IT IS NOT SUCH A BIG ISSUE..
Actually it is. When I lodged the complaint several acquaintances pointed the finger against me because according to them I was treacherous. I was a betrayer of an insane system. I was desperate. People stick to the strongest ones and if you try to break the lines you are pointed as different, hostile, traitor. This ill is called conspiracy of silence (omertà). In your opinion does it exist something that wants to keep this status quo? If I think about banking and the process of loans, I can almost say that usury is legally practiced by banks. Nevertheless I cannot tell if the State knows why people get involved into usury. honestly I do not know if the State is a “voluntarily” or “unintentionally” partner of this situation, but what I have been through makes me feel doubtful about some institutional mechanisms.
IN MONDRAGONE THERE WAS AN ANTI-RACKET COUNTER. IT LASTED FEW MONTHS AND THEN IT CLOSED FOR SOME REASONS. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION?
It was an useless electoral tool. It is not the counter itself that grants support to loan sharks victims, but the people who work there. We need people who are able to risk their own life to eradicate this problem. Electoral spots die after a while. We need acts.
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS?
I am a religious person. I believe in God and I think that someday someone will say “stop” to these injustices. It will come as a revolution which will blow away this intolerable rot.