South Florida Sun-Sentinel
January 4, 2005

Santeria priests in Cuba predict catastrophic year

By Vanessa Arrington
Associated Press Writer

HAVANA -- Revered priests of Cuba's Santeria religion warned of everything from environmental contamination to male impotence in 2005 as part of their annual New Year's predictions announced Tuesday.

Cuba and the world are also at risk of widespread disease, betrayal, and military interventions, according to the latest ``Letra del Ano,'' or Letter of the Year. Despite all the catastrophe, a well-known Santeria priest, or babalao, urged followers to not abandon hope.

``If mankind unites in faith, unites in prayer, unites in the constancy to work toward making things better, I think that these large-scale phenomena we've been able to predict will be less,'' Lazaro Cuesta, wearing a white cap and all-white outfit, told a news conference.

``Not less in quantity, but less in pain and suffering, because we would be prepared to confront the problems,'' he added.

Last year, Cuesta's group predicted ``elevation of the level of the sea'' for 2004. On Tuesday, the babalao lamented that the prediction came true with December's undersea earthquake and giant tsunami in Asia, and asked for a moment of silence for the tens of thousands of victims killed by the waves.

The world predictions issued by a handful of groups in the first days of January are watched closely by many Cubans, even those who do not follow Santeria, a syncretic mix of Yoruba spiritual traditions carried here by African slaves and Roman Catholicism brought by Spaniards.

Dozens of Cubans lined up Tuesday outside the ``Temple-House'' in Havana, where some of the 2005 predictions were posted on a board.

``It looks like it's going to be a pretty bad year,'' Osvaldo Cuesta, 33 and unemployed, said looking at the sign.

Cuesta, of no relation to the babalao, said he strongly believed the predictions because in the past ``they have spoken of things that then happen to me.''

Under the sign of ``Ofun Otura'' this year, the world will face increased contagious disease and neurological disorders, rifts with neighbors and the rupture of agreements between friendly countries caused by a third party, the Letter said.

The divinities for 2005 are Chango, powerful god of fire, lightning, justice and war, and Oya, goddess of storms and light winds. According to the Letter, Chango will protect soldiers and punish liars and those who have committed immoral acts, while Oya, Chango's first and favored wife, will be identified with the spirits of ancestors.

To help temper the negative aspects of the upcoming year, the 2005 Letter calls for improving hydraulic and agricultural systems, herbal baths, union in marriage and wariness with house guests.

``The more hygiene we have, from the home to the nation, the better chance we have of holding some infection at bay,'' said Cuesta, the babalao. ``Medicine is to cure sickness, but our advice serves to avoid it.''

The predictions, which are typically vague and can be interpreted many ways, were determined in a gathering of 860 Santeria priests at the Temple-House. The ceremony, including chants and animal sacrifices, began at noon Dec. 31 and lasted until the morning of Jan. 1, Cuesta said.

The most experienced babalao leads the ceremony, while the most recently inaugurated priest determines the Letter for the new year.

``The Letter is positive because it warns us of the danger that surrounds us, and it also provides a series of elements that permit us to confront these difficulties,'' Cuesta said.

The Yoruba Cultural Association, another Santeria group, made its own predictions last week, saying 2005 would fall under the sign of ``Iroso Meyi'' and would be a year of financial difficulties.

The association recommended patience and respect for family members, and urged people to take steps to avoid robbery and protect leaders from attack.

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