Jun
13

MOSE: Worse than acqua alta

By
The lagoon -- so beautiful, and so abused.

The lagoon — so beautiful, and so abused.

On June 4, the dam broke.

I don’t mean the ingeniously devised dam (a/k/a “MOSE”) still under construction, which is formed by mobile barriers intended to block high water from entering Venice for a few hours every so often.  I mean the dam that was the financing of the project.

No one is really surprised.  Any public work budgeted at 5 billion euros (6.5 billion dollars) is a monumental petri dish for cultivating corruption.  But what has stunned just about everybody is the sheer scope of it all.  I’ve heard some people say they don’t believe it will ever become completely untangled — names which were given code numbers, foreign accounts, fake receipts, fake financial reports, fake banks, even.  All of this created and maintained by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, the consortium which had sole power over the administration of the work, the awarding of contracts, and every detail of who and what was involved in the project.  Taken altogether, some estimate that the Consorzio paid out 1 billion euros in gifts, favors and graft.

The Northeast, especially members of the Northern League, has spent years sneering at the waste and crime south of Rome, past Naples, deep into the heart of Sicily.  The North wanted to secede from the feckless, blood-sucking South. Marches and vigils were held in the “fight against the mafia.”

The MOSE logo is very clever.

The MOSE logo is very clever.

But no more is the voice of the sneer heard in the land, at least not in the Veneto.

News of the arrest of the mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, sped around the world, though he is just one tiny (sorry, Giorgio, but you are, in fact, very tiny) piece of the story.  To spend even five seconds thinking about Orsoni is like thinking about a broken fingernail when you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer.

Orsoni resigned today, after house arrest, liberation, then plea-bargaining which got him a trifling four-month sentence.  To reach this point, we had to endure the usual tedious pantomime.

Day 1: “I didn’t take even one euro.”

Day 2:  “I took money but it was for my political party.”

Day 3:  “I took money.” How much?  560,000 even-one-euros.  Rabbit pellets! Emilio Spaziante, the number-two general of the entire Guardia di Finanza (what I call the Finance Police), was given 2,500,000 euros by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova.  Vulture chow!  Giancarlo Galan, the former governor of the Veneto Region, got 1,000,000 euros per year for seven years (2005 – 2011).

Back to Orsoni.

Day 4: “I’m not resigning.”

And on Day 5, “I have tendered my resignation.” Orsoni said he is bitter, disillusioned, and is going to leave the perfidious world of politics. He might as well; he already opened the Emergency Exit door himself.

Malfeasance of these dimensions requires a book, not a blog post.  A mere book?  “Give me a condor’s quill!” Herman Melville cried, staggering at the prospect of describing the white whale; “Give me Vesuvius’ crater as an inkstand!  Friends, hold my arms!”

Being a mere mortal, I can only outline a few details here, each of which is plenty.

One of the smaller barriers, with others under construction in Marghera last October.  The narrow upper edge is attached to the cement base by means of a hinge.

One of the smaller barriers, with others under construction in Marghera last October. The narrow upper edge is attached to the cement base by means of a hinge.

The tunnel in the cement caissons to which the yellow floating barriers are hinged.  This tunnel is 400 meters (1,300 feet) long, and 13 meters (43 feet) below the water's surface.

The tunnel in the cement caissons to which the yellow floating barriers are hinged. This tunnel is 400 meters (1,300 feet) long, and 13 meters (43 feet) below the water’s surface.

After five years of unflagging labor, 300 officers of the Guardia di Finanza had assembled enough evidence to validate — nay, require — the arrest of as many as 100 people on charges of corruption, bribes, kickbacks, fraud, influence-peddling, and every form of villainy in which money can play even so much as a walk-on role.  The complexity and the dimensions of this titanic construction of crime, begun in the early Nineties, has overwhelmed this project, overwhelmed even its perpetrators.

The edifice began to crumble with the unexpected retirement, on June 28, 2013, of Giovanni Mazzacurati, who spent 30 years at the apex of the Consorzio, first as director general, then as president.  He cited reasons of health.  He got a 7 million dollar departure bonus.  And on July 12, he was arrested for turbativa d’asta, or bid rigging.

The basic idea of the design.

The basic idea of the design.

At that point, even I knew what would come next: He wasn’t going to go down alone.

A straggling procession of degraded characters marches across the newspaper every day now, carrying the equally monotonous quantities of money — public money dedicated to the project, not private money — which they so eagerly accepted in so many forms, right down to the classic white envelope stuffed with cash.

A judge from the Court of Audit.  Members of parliament.  Members of the European parliament. Directors of the Magistrato alle Acque, the agency established in 1501 to safeguard the lagoon (Maria Giovanna Piva, director from 2001-2008 and Patrizio Cuccioletta, director from 2008-2011, received 400,000 euros a year to ignore what was being done in the lagoon).  Eleven years of good times rolling everywhere in the world of the famous floodgates.

In its report, which runs for many hundreds of pages, the Procura — an official government watchdog entity — said that there was “total confusion in the roles of the controllers and the controlled.  No obstacle, no vigilance, no important remark was made by the Magistrato alle Acque under Piva and Cuccioletta.”

Everyone knew something very fishy was up.  But the haul has been beyond anyone’s capacity to imagine.

“Corruption” is such a compact word that we tend to lose track of its essential meaning.  “Moral perversion; depravity; perversion of integrity; decay: rot; putrefaction.”

MOSE was supposed to save Venice.  But nobody could save Venice from MOSE.

The first of the four gates breaks the surface.

A test of the four gates at the Lido/San Nicolo’. The first of the four breaks the surface.

 

A tes of the four gates that had been installed last October.  They rise up one by one, and bob gently with the motion of the water.  If they were rigidly fixed, or came up all at once, the force of the tide could damage (i.e.,  break) them, I was told.

They rise up one by one, and bob gently with the motion of the water. If they were rigidly fixed, or came up all at once, the force of the tide could damage (i.e., break) them, I was told. The gates at Malamocco are much longer because they are installed deeper below the surface.

 

A passerby stops to look at the political satire/cartoon that was taped on walls all around the neighborhood.  Good thing I took some pictures; a day later, it was gone.

A passerby stops to look at the political satire/cartoon that was taped on walls all around the neighborhood. Good thing I took some pictures; a day later, it was gone.

(L to R, translated by me, though the interpretation is hard to get into a small caption):  THE LAST SUPPER (Let's hope). Mazzacurati: Hey guys, how much are you eating? Spaziante: Chill, Bettin (ex-councilor for the environment), we've got a secret weapon. Baita: I only wanted to facilitate. Brunetta:  I declared the MOSE money I got for the election. Beppe Caccia: During the Paolo Costa government I and Paolo Cacciari were always sleeping. Costa: For me, the "No Big Ships" is enough. Massimo Cacciari (mayor before Costa and Orsoni) To deny is a categorical imperative. Orsoni: I never took one euro. Floating ballon, a riff on a Venetian song, "Georgie, get in my gondola and I'll take you to MOSE."  Falconi: I only did the Passante (Mestre bypass). Galan:  But if Minchillo did everything. Marchese: But if for two years I wasn't a member of the Partito Democratico anymore. Scola (ex-patriarch and founder of Marcianum, a cultural entity of the diocese using dicey contributions) But if Marcianum didn't work ("march") by itself.  Minchillo: I did everything Galan ordered me to do.  (Top right corner): C. Nordio : Zip it ("boca tasi" literally means "mouth keep quiet"). At the bottom, "And Venice wasn't aware of anything?" "No, the Consorzio told them "Stay serene" (a play on "Serenissima," the sobriquet of the Venetian Republic and also the name of the right-wing political faction that wants to secede from Italy).

(L to R, translated by me, though the interpretation is hard to get into a small caption. Parts are written in Venetian): THE LAST SUPPER (Let’s hope). Mazzacurati: Hey guys, how much are you eating? Spaziante: Chill, Bettin (ex-councilor for the environment), we’ve got a secret weapon. Bettin:  I didn’t give the 4,130,000 euros for reclamation of the Certosa (island). Baita: I only wanted to facilitate. Brunetta: I declared the MOSE money I got for the election. Beppe Caccia: During the Paolo Costa government I and Paolo Cacciari were always sleeping. Costa: For me, the “No Big Ships” is enough. Massimo Cacciari (mayor before Costa and Orsoni) To deny is a categorical imperative. Orsoni: I never took one euro. Floating balloon, a riff on a Venetian song, “Georgie, get in my gondola and I’ll take you to MOSE.” Falconi: I only did the Passante (Mestre bypass). Galan: But if Minchillo did everything. Marchese: But if for two years I wasn’t a member of the Partito Democratico anymore. Scola (ex-patriarch and founder of Marcianum, a cultural entity of the diocese created with dicey contributions) But if Marcianum didn’t work (“march”) by itself. Minchillo: I did everything Galan ordered me to do. (Top right corner): C. Nordio : Zip it (“boca tasi” literally means “mouth keep quiet”). At the bottom, “And Venice wasn’t aware of anything?” “No, the Consorzio told them “Stay serene” (a play on “Serenissima,” the sobriquet of the Venetian Republic and also the name of the right-wing political faction that wants to secede from Italy).

 

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Categories : MOSE

Comments

  1. Barbara Bonn says:

    I don’t know whether to cry or scream or shrug and say “Meh, what did you expect?” Maybe send a small check to Friends of Poveglia for whatever good it might do. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/12/world/europe/island-fixer-upper-near-the-madding-crowd.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&_r=0
    Thanks for this post, Erla, as sad and angering as it is.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      Probably all of those reactions would be appropriate. I don’t think sending a small check to Friends of Poveglia will make you feel much better; they seem to be in a permanent stall. A local businessman named Luigi Brugnaro made the highest bid (513,000 euros) which was more than the citizens’ committee had been able to raise. Talks began to form a sort of amalgamation with him (i.e., that he would be in tune with, responsive to, the committee’s original goal/spirit). Then the city rejected Brugnaro’s bid as being laughably low for a property of the magnitude/value of Poveglia. Poveglia is no longer the subject du jour; the committee says it’s trying to find a way to manage the island on behalf of the city. Sending a check to Doctors without Borders might be moderately more rewarding. At least they know what they’re doing.

  2. Mary Ann DeVlieg says:

    I want to say something, but what can one say. Either a lot of anger (that everyone is expressing, but resignedly), disgust (more appropriate perhaps because disgust has a finality to it whereas anger searches for action – and since we don’t hang people by the Doge’s Palace anymore and there are few guillotines around, there is little action we can do) and overwhelmingly, sadness. Sadness because it reinforces everything that’s a negative force in Italy and squeezes out even more the potential for positive energies, positive actions. Sadness because, really does it HAVE to be like this? Really? Forever? Always? Sadness because after all, anger can be a positive reaction if it energises people to stop tolerating this kind of behaviour once and for all. Sadness because the reaction will probably be the finality of disgust instead of the energy needed to change. What most upsets me is thinking of what that same money could have meant for Venice’s schools, hospitals, support to young families to stay in the city, normal urban upkeep. And I don’t meant the tangenti attached; I mean the investment in people and services.

  3. Mary Ann DeVlieg says:

    oops and I forgot to say, I DO hope the Poveglia project succeeds. A (rare) success can prove that things don’t always have to be bad. I also think a public-private management could work. Yeah, sure, full of traps, but if local associations all over Italy can manage youth clubs and community centres, summer festivals and rowing clubs (gotcha!) then why not an island? As my dear plain speaking mother always says, to get something done , “Ya gotta wanna”. (Uh, that’s dialect for ‘you’ve got to want to’ !)

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      Briefly, my personal answer to your question “why not an island?” is “Because an island is more complicated and valuable than all the other things you list.” Now that the city has a caretaker administrator till next spring, the subject of Poveglia will drop off everybody’s must-do list, possibly forever. Your mother’s catchy phrase exists in Italian, though with less charm: “Volere e’ potere.” To want is to be able. To which I say, it sounds good, but I’m dubious. I’ve wanted loads of things I wasn’t able to have, no matter how much I wanted them, and no matter how hard I worked to have them. Meanwhile, as you look around the city, I invite you to reflect on how many other problems require immediate attention and money. An island park, no matter who it belongs to, strikes me as frivolous. If people do turn out to have all that energy and good will ready to dedicate to something, I would earnestly hope that they’d find something better to devote it to.

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