Associated Press
January 3, 2003

Cuba's Santeria Leaders Predict War, Government Collapse, Marital Infidelity in New Year

                                   By Anita Snow
                                   Associated Press Writer
                                   Havana

                                   To the sound of African chants and drumbeats, practitioners of the Afro-Cuban
                                   Santeria religion honored a long-dead high priest Friday after their leaders predicted
                                   war, government collapse, the death of high-ranking personalities and marital
                                   infidelity for the world in the coming year.

                                   Known as the "Letra del Año" Letter of the Year the world predictions issued
                                   in the first days of January are watched closely by many Cubans, even those who
                                   are not Santeria followers.

                                   The group making the predictions Friday is the largest of at least three Santeria
                                   groups that issue a Letter of the Year each January.

                                   More than 800 Santeria priests, known as babalawos, put the predictions together
                                   during a Dec. 31 meeting in Havana held by the Miguel Febles Padron Letter of the
                                   Year Organizing Committee, named after a late priest.

                                   The Santeria leaders said that the ruling divinity for 2003 will be Eleggua, the god of
                                   destiny, which is associated with St. Anthony of Roman Catholicism.

                                   Accompanying Eleggua over the next 12 months will be Ochun, the powerful
                                   goddess of love and rivers that is associated with Cuba's patron saint, the Virgin of
                                   Charity of Cobre. But "a sacrifice is capable of changing the future," said Santeria
                                   priest Victor Betancourt, referring to the sacrifices of goats and other animals he
                                   and other babalawos regularly practice to please the Santeria divinities.

                                   Among the slogans for the year that raised some eyebrows was: "The king turns in
                                   his crown before dying."

                                   Betancourt insisted the slogan did not refer to 76-year-old President Fidel Castro
                                   now 44 years in power. "This letter is for all of humanity," he added.

                                   Among the Santeria priests' other predictions for 2003 were grave neurological and
                                   psychiatric illnesses, infectious disease, liver ailments, as well as food poisoning
                                   and other sicknesses caused by improperly prepared food.

                                   The babalawos said along with the collapse of a government somewhere in the
                                   world, the people of some nations will be enslaved because of war, commercial
                                   accords will be broken, corruption will increase, economic markets will have
                                   troubles and irregular weather patterns will continue.

                                   Santeria is a syncretic mix of Roman Catholicism brought to Cuba by the
                                   Spaniards and Yoruba spiritual traditions carried here by African slaves.