It’s a safe bet to say that not many people had heard about Messina before Italy became the flashpoint of the coronavirus pandemic with a death toll of over 15,000 and counting—the highest in the world.
However, the mayor of the city of 232,000 people on the island of Sicily has put Messina on the map with his impassioned and expletive-filled rants aimed at keeping citizens locked down to prevent further spread of the virus.
Cateno De Luca, who began his political career at the age of 18 and was elected Messina mayor in 2018, has taken drastic measures to enforce the country’s strict social distancing measures.
De Luca won unexpected celebrity status after videos of him furiously yelling at quarantine breakers began circulating on social media.
The Italian government has banned any travel inside the country and all non-essential businesses have been ordered closed.
The majority of Italy’s population of 60 million are complying with the regulations, but, according to official statistics cited by Guardian, over 90,000 citizens have been fined so far for defying the lockdown.
In one viral video, Messina mayor is heard saying that he wants to “personally interview” the travelers to know why they are entering Sicily.
Another video shows him gesticulating his hands wildly and threatening to “order more arrests” if people continue to flout the law.
He has also lashed out at government officials for the delays in implementing emergency measures, saying on TV: “At a moment when we have to deal with life-and-death situations, we still have to deal with bureaucracy combined with taxes.”
It seems his messages have resonated with Italians as posts featuring him have been shared thousands of times on different platforms.
He is also being showered with praise from social media users who are calling him a “brave” politician that is “standing by” citizens.
“An extraordinary person,” reads a comment posted in Italian by a user named Santino on De Luca’s Facebook page.
“I’m proud to have you in charge of our city. Thanks for existing,” another user called Giuseppe wrote under a post featuring a video of the mayor.
Use of Drones
In late March, the 48-year-old mayor took things a step further after Italy approved the use of drones to monitor the movements of citizens during the unprecedented health crisis.
Spain and China have already used drones to keep people inside their homes as authorities are fighting the coronavirus outbreak.
As Euronews reports, Italians are somewhat divided over the use of drones. Some people had long called for a relaxation of drone rules, while a group of citizens considers them tools that violate their privacy.
According to the Independent, De Luca shared a video on Facebook of drones flying around the city screaming messages in his voice.
“Where the f*** are you going? Go back home,” he shouts as a drone chases people in woodland.
The mayor of Messina is not a stranger to controversy. In 2017, he was placed under house arrest just days after being elected councilor.
AFP wrote at the time that he and the president of a federation of small businesses in Sicily had been accused of developing a tax-dodging system based on fake invoices. He was already being prosecuted for tender rigging.
In a Facebook post after his tax fraud arrest, De Luca wrote, “I say that this case will end like the other 14—with an acquittal,” La Gazzetta Italiana reported in 2017.
According to the il Giornale newspaper, the tax evasion conviction against him was later revoked and replaced by a measure banning him from holding top positions in the bodies involved in the investigation.
Only time will tell whether De Luca will be remembered as a controversial figure or the international face of Italy’s long fight against the deadly coronavirus.