Reportage. Ex-Riace Mayor Mimmo Lucano: ‘We wanted dreams to come true, and we succeeded. But that bothered them, because it gave the lie to their toxic narrative about migration.’

Italian Council of State rules against Salvini in Riace, but no one celebrates

“They wanted to destroy Riace and the political-evangelical message of our administrative experience, and they succeeded. These rulings only increase my bitterness.” At Mimmo Lucano’s house, there are no celebrations over the news coming from Rome on the judicial front—even though others might take them as a reason for joy. But the emotion that prevails in the heart of the former mayor of Riace is anger.

The judges of the Council of State have confirmed that the Interior Ministry did not have the authority to close the SPRAR migrant reception projects in the Ionian town, rejecting the appeal lodged by the Ministry after the Territorial Administrative Court of Reggio Calabria had first pointed out in clear terms the unlawfulness of that decision last year.

First of all, the municipality was not even sent a proper warning, and the critical issues raised by the Ministry were not of a nature to prevent the extension of the project. The Viminale failed to specifically point out the irregularities it claimed to have found, nor did it set a time limit within which to resolve them. Despite this, in October 2018, a few days after the arrest of the then-mayor, the Ministry of the Interior, headed by Salvini, ordered the deportation of the migrants—plunging the district back into depopulation.

Now, Lucano and his faithful supporters are struggling to breathe life back into the town, despite the fact that they have been ostracized by the new mayor, who has been ruled ineligible for office but not yet removed, pending appeal.

“Everything had been planned out beforehand,” Lucano told il manifesto, ”a well-planned strategy aimed at destroying me and the utopian idea of Riace that was becoming reality. To get moving, to act, to be concrete—those had been our guidelines. We wanted dreams to come true, and we succeeded. But that bothered them, because it gave the lie to their toxic narrative about migration. They demonized the SPRAR project with absurd penalties, and then, after these weren’t paid, they went after me. The outcome today is just a small bureaucratic success that doesn’t compensate me for the humiliation I suffered. To use the words of a great worker priest, Monsignor Bregantini [the current bishop of Campobasso], in Riace there was an attempt at a process of evangelization of society.”

Lucano is finding it hard to let go of the tension. In a few weeks, the judges will decide his own fate. “On July 3, the judges in Locri will decide whether to convict or acquit me for that unbelievable affair with the identity cards.”

He has been indicted (by the same prosecutor who led the first investigation that put him in jail) and will have to defend himself against the crime of forgery before the first-instance judge. The affair arose from the investigation into the alleged falsification of the identity documents for two Eritrean immigrants, a mother and her child, guests of the reception program but without a residence permit. “The identity card was linked to healthcare needs,” Lucano tells us, getting more and more heated, “and for me it’s a priority to respect the human dignity of a child a few months old. It’s a very weak challenge from a legal point of view.”

If we go back to the ruling of the magistrates at the Palazzo Spada in Rome, the judges made poignant criticisms: the Interior Ministry limited itself to empty procedural formalisms, without respecting “the forms that it itself had adopted,” first extending the project and then deciding, for the same reasons, to end it. “Therefore, the authorization to continue the project could only be explained by the highest positive opinion of the administrative body, which also made human and financial resources available.” In short, according to the judges, “the acknowledged and undeniable merits of the ‘Riace system’ … played a decisive role in determining that the critical issues had been overcome (and were not of a nature to penalize the project).” The same critical issues could not be invoked afterwards “to justify the revocation, unless by repeating the entire procedure.”

In short, in light of the documentation available, “the project should have been closed only at its natural termination date.” And “the fact that the ‘Riace model’ was absolutely praiseworthy in its intentions and also in the results of the integration process is a circumstance that is also evident even from the most critical of the monitoring carried out.” In short, the decision to close it down had no motivation at all.

Lucano will never give up. “Salvini’s racial hatred is the same as that of the American white supremacists,” he concludes. “We must all learn a lesson from Black Lives Matter. And we must also react here in Italy.”

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