Miami Herald
BY Anita Snow
Associated Press

HAVANA – With 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 deaths of prominent personalities and marital infidelity for the world in the coming year.

Known as the Letra del Ano — the Letter of the Year — the predictions issued in the first days of January are watched closely by many Cubans, even if they are not adherents of Santeria.

More than 800 Santeria priests, known as babalawos, compiled the predictions during a Dec. 31 meeting in Havana held by the Miguel Febles Padron Letter of the Year Organizing Committee. The group is named for the late priest whose aged black and white photograph chanting dancers paid homage to on Friday.

Among the slogans for the year is: “The king turns in his crown before dying.”

Santeria priest Victor Betancourt, one of those who announced the Letter of the Year to international reporters, insisted the slogan did not refer to 76-year-old Cuban President Fidel Castro, who has been in power 44 years. ”This letter is for all of humanity,” he said.

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

The babalawos said that 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 will continue.

Santeria is a mix of Roman Catholic beliefs brought to Cuba by the Spaniards and Yoruba spiritual traditions brought to the island by African slaves.

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