Voodoo Practitioners Mark Day of the Dead With Rum, Loud Music, Lewd Behavior at Haiti Cemetery
The Associated Press

Passing under a crumbling archway that reads “Thou Art Dust,” voodoo practitioners flocked to Haiti’s largest cemetery Saturday to honor the guardian of the dead with rum, thunderous music and lewd behavior designed to awaken mischievous spirits.

Followers visit the tombstones of relatives and pay their respects to Baron Samedi, the god of the dead, and to his lascivious, sardonic offspring, Gede. To show they are “possessed,” followers often rub hot pepper juice on their bodies. Some hold swearing contests steps away from the gates of the capital’s sprawling municipal cemetery.

Two-thirds of Haiti’s 8 million people are said to practice voodoo. Earlier this year, Haiti’s government officially sanctioned the faith as a religion, allowing priests to legally perform baptisms and marriages.

“The Gedes helped us win our independence,” said voodoo priest Desaville Espady, 38, dressed in a white robe with a silver cross on a thick chain hanging from his neck. “We pay homage to our ancestors, and they cure us of our ills.”

Gede was the name of a West African tribe that disappeared during the slave trade.

Voodoo followers integrated some Christian rites into their practice before Haiti won independence from slave-holding France in 1804. The slaves, forbidden from practicing their African rites, disguised their gods in the trappings of Roman Catholic saints. The Catholic church frowns on voodoo and, in the 1940s, tried unsuccessfully to eradicate it.

Practitioners believe in a supreme god and spirits linking the human and the divine. Many believe their spirits will return to Africa when they die. The bodies of slaves were buried without ceremony.

Men and women say they are possessed by Gede. Dressed in mauve kerchiefs, white pants and white or violet dresses, they wander in a mystic trance through the cemetery, spouting obscenities and asking for money.

“The cult of the dead is one of the first steps of resistance against slavery and a foundation stone of voodoo,” Haitian sociologist Laennec Hurbon said.

Encumbered by political problems, Haiti’s economy has been in a slump since 1980. The poorest nation in the Americas, the Caribbean country’s population has declined for two years, and life expectancy dropped from about 53 years in 2002 to about 49 years in 2003. Most people survive on less than $1 per day.

Because of deepening poverty, voodoo which often requires pricey offerings of alcohol and food to the spirits has lost some followers. One-third of Haitians are Protestants.

Miami Herald’s Tropical Life Section
By Liz Balmeseda
Special to The Herald

Hialeah City Hall rises on the stormy side of Palm Avenue. From where Ernesto Pichardo stands across the street, it looks like a shrine, not your ordinary municipal building.

Pichardo knows shrines. But this shrine across the street, it’s a piece of work. Its deity can be harder to appease than the entire pantheon of African demigods in Santería. A goat, a chicken, a cigar won’t cut it. This feeds on votes and rezoning. Let’s put it this way: In Hialeah, not even Changó, the feared god of thunder, can rattle the big guy, Mayor Raul Martínez.

Pichardo is the city’s most famous ”little guy,” the santero who took Hialeah City Hall to the U.S. Supreme Court for the right to practice his religion. Ten years ago, his church won a landmark ruling when the high court threw out a 1987 city ban on animal sacrifices. That unanimous decision turned the lights on in Hialeah. The epic case, Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé Inc. vs. City of Hialeah, not only put Santería on the visible landscape, it put it on the curricula of law schools across the country.

So why is Pichardo still peering across the street a decade after he trounced City Hall? Good question. The answer, he suggests, is summarized on a bumper sticker: Pichardo, el pueblo te quiere. Pichardo, the people want you. It was a line that stuck with him as he talked to disgruntled citizens. He adopted it as his company slogan, but people took it as a campaign slogan. And they egged him on.

People still show up at his storefront office at Pichardo and Associates, the consulting firm he operates with his brother, Fernando. It’s a pretty colorless place for a mystical man. The only hint of the esoteric is the incense by the receptionist’s desk. Pichardo seems like any other Hialeah businessman in a sky blue shirt and print tie. His holy vestments are at home as are the cowry shells he uses for divination. He doesn’t need them here. People tell him what’s going on.


But why would they come to a santero/business consultant for a zoning hassle? Pichardo says it’s a matter of image. ”I’m the only person who has taken on Raúl and beat him,” he says.

So they come to complain about City Hall’s crackdown on illegal housing subdivisions. Many have been hit with fines, liens, even foreclosures. Either they bought the house that way, or they did what lots of proud Hialeah homeowners have always done — built a room for the in-laws, constructed a wing for the grown kids, rented it to the cousins from Havana. No biggie for a city of hardworking folk and pragmatistic architecture. It’s Hialeah. Everything is attached to everything else. The personal to the political. The inlaws to the outlaws. The cement to the saints. Hialeah is so tightly interwoven that what goes around comes around a lot faster than it does in most other places.

When Pichardo opened that door to the wilds of Hialeah code enforcement, he got a feeling of dejá v. The legalese brought him back to his 1987 fight for his church. Same mayor. Same kind of abrupt lawmaking. But more confounding than any of that was the sense that the so-called Ciudad Que Progresa, the City of Progress, was stuck in time. Of course, Pichardo wasn’t 32 years old anymore. He was 48. But in his eyes, the fact that he could slaughter a white pigeon for Obatala, god of wisdom and purity, didn’t amount to democratic progress. After all, two years ago the mayor and the entire council were re-elected without opposition for the first time in Hialeah’s 75-year history.

”The city is worse off now than it was in 1987,” says Pichardo. “Back then, we had two political camps, so there were checks and balances.”


Which is why he spent months toying with the idea of running for office. He was torn between running for city council in the Nov. 4 election, or waiting until 2005 and making a run at the mayor’s office. He relished the uncertainty, for it generated a nervous stir in the political establishment. He kept his cards close to his vest, answering simple questions with rhetorical ones.

Unlike the candidate who keeps his eye on his intended office, Pichardo embraced the process as the prize. He took delight in tangential observations, noting new faces entering the council race.

But when the filing deadline came Aug. 15, he let it pass. He concluded that one councilman would not amount to significant opposition. Does this mean he’ll run in 2005? You’ll have to toss the cowry shells to find out. He’s not saying. You can’t blame Pichardo for being protective. The City Hall he sees through his storefront pane is run by the same mayor who messed with his church. Back then, with Martínez’s backing, the council passed three laws banning animal sacrifices. City Hall crushed Pichardo in one legal blow after another. The late U.S. District Judge Eugene Spellman ruled against the church, citing public health concerns. Three federal appeals judges in Atlanta upheld that decision.

To be fair, the other side didn’t have an easy go, either. The mayor went to jail and the judge died. The mayor was convicted on federal charges of extortion, although his case was dropped in 1996, after a second and a third trial ended in hung juries.

But you have to wonder why Pichardo would even want to be a politician when he’s such an effective activist. He says even his barber wonders about that. ”He tells me fighting City Hall is making me bald,” says Pichardo.

His activism has cost him more than his hair. It cost him money and property. It was yet another jolt for the former Catholic altar boy whose mother had a vision that changed his family’s spiritual path. Since that adolescent initiation into Santería, Pichardo has come to find hints of the sacred in all he does. This is what keeps him going as an activist, the blessed candle and glass of water behind a believer’s door, the daily fusion of Santería into Hialeah life. Everything is attached to everything else. He didn’t think twice when he invited a couple of veteran political campaigners to the yearly reading of the santero forecast. And he didn’t flinch when a client told him he had asked Orula, the oracle god, if he ought to give his business to Pichardo and Orula said yes.

Such whispers drew Pichardo back into the fray. After the Supreme Court victory, Pichardo concentrated on his religious duties. His church certified more than 40 priests. And he presided over a santero wedding procession that moved to drumbeats along Palm Avenue and into Angelito Banquet Hall, where one member of the wedding party became possessed with Ochún, goddess of love.

But these days, Pichardo isn’t doing many spiritual readings. And when he does, he usually conducts them outside Hialeah city limits. He prefers the quiet of Goulds in South Dade, where he and his wife, Nydia Davila Pichardo, a priestess of the faith, attend to their select few. There, Pichardo slips into his priestly garments and takes inspiration from their lush herb garden and their ornate, white and red shrine to their ruling orisha, Changó. Thanks to Pichardo, the deity still works overtime. Even out in Goulds, Changó can’t hide from Hialeah.

From The Jersey Journal

PASSAIC (AP) – Making good on a vow to perform an animal sacrifice, a Santeria priest killed two red roosters last night at an altar behind his religious supply store on the city’s main street.

“This is a great moment for me,” said Felix Mota, after performing the two-hour ritual at Botanica St. Barbara on Main Avenue. “For the first time, I feel I can openly practice my religion without interference.”

Mota, 43, a santero, or priest of the Afro-Cuban religion, vowed last Wednesday to perform the sacrifice and advised city officials of his plans.

Mota’s lawyer, Jesus Pena, said the ritual was protected by a 1993 Supreme Court decision, Lukumi Babaluaye v. the City of Hialeah, Fla., in which the court ruled the sacrifice was a form of religious expression shielded by the First Amendment.

Last week, Mayor Sammy Rivera said that his administration has never interfered with an animal sacrifice if it involved a religious ritual. Police were posted outside the botanica last night for crowd control.

During a press briefing before the ceremony, Mota told reporters, most of them from Spanish speaking news media, that the ritual was not an act of cruelty but an homage to God.

“It’s very important for us to sacrifice animals because it’s part of our ritual and how we make our God happy,” Mota said.

The ceremony began with singing, chanting and drums and other percussion performed by a dozen participants dressed in white and red, evolving into a frenzied dance.

At one point, a white dove was produced from a back room and given to Mota, who held it aloft and recited a prayer in Spanish. He took the bird outside to a sidewalk where he freed it as a crowd of several dozen people, held back by police barricade, looked on.

Afterward, two red roosters were brought in to the altar.

Mota and other participants knelt on the floor and held the first bird firmly, as Mota appeared to bless the bird with wine poured into cups made from goat hooves. He then poured some wine into a porcelain dish.

The bird’s neck was then held over the dish as Mota unsheathed a dagger, raised it and, as drums and chanting continued, brought the blade down into the back of the bird’s neck.

Though he was unable to sever the rooster’s head, he held the blade down until the bird was dead. The bird’s carcass was then placed in a red silk scarf and tied in a bundle.

He repeated the ritual on the second bird, this time severing the head cleanly, allowing blood to pour from its neck. Mota drank some of the blood mixed with wine.

Lisa Lange, spokeswoman for Norfolk, Va.-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said that the organization opposes the killing of animals, whether for religious reasons or for food.
“Our feeling is this, that local authorities should prosecute based on cruelty statutes. Abuse is abuse, whether or not you’re doing it because you say God told you to,” Lange said.

El Nuevo Herald
Wilfredo Canico Isla

Associated Press
EL BABALAO nigeriano Wande Abimbola preside el octavo Congreso Mundial Yoruba en La Habana, donde participan 700 seguidores del culto a los “orishas”.

Al ritmo trepidante de los tambores africanos, Cuba celebra el VIII Congreso Mundial de Tradición y Cultura Orisha con la asistencia de unos 700 practicantes del culto yoruba en Brasil, Estados Unidos, Canadá, Nigeria, Trinidad Tobago, Francia y el país sede.

Pero la inconformidad de santeros cubanos de la isla y la diáspora por las restricciones organizativas del foro está ya sumando ruido al festín internacional de los orishas.

En Cuba, la Comisión Organizadora de la Letra del Año criticó las limitaciones impuestas a sus miembros para participar en el congreso, patrocinado por la Asociación Cultural Yoruba de Cuba (ACYC). Aunque la convocatoria al evento informaba que podían participar personas no asociadas si pagaban una inscripción de 250 pesos cubanos, las solicitudes de los principales directivos de la Comisión fueron rechazadas.

Los organizadores dijeron que se presentaron más de 800 solicitudes de Cuba, y que la capacidad de admisión de nacionales –unos 300– se fijó a partir de la confirmación de visitantes extranjeros.

Desde Miami viajaron a La Habana unos 20 santeros, pero en la delegación del exilio no hay figuras reconocidas de la comunidad religiosa afrocubana como Rigoberto Zamora, presidente de International Union Yoruba Rights; José Montoya, presidente de la Asociación Lucumí Shangó Eyeífe; o Ernesto Pichardo, líder de la Iglesia Babalú Ayé.

”Este congreso es un conciliábulo armado por el señor Antonio Castañeda [presidente de la ACYC], que no muestra verdadero respeto para los cubanos practicantes de la santería fuera de Cuba ni se inscribe en un espíritu de unidad mundial de las religiones”, opinó Montoya, quien promueve el viaje de un crucero a Cuba con unos 700 santeros y feligreses de los ritos afrocubanos en EEUU.

Para la especialista en asuntos afrocubanos, Natividad Torres, el congreso no resolverá ningún asunto esencial para los santeros, porque ”sus bases están minadas por la hipocresía y la comercialización”. ”Aunque practicamos la misma religión, hay un problema de reconciliación que no está resuelto entre los feligreses cubanos de la isla y del exilio”, explicó Torres. “Pedimos a los orishas por un cambio, porque no estamos de acuerdo en que el gobierno actual siga manejando las riendas del país después de 40 años de traiciones a nuestro pueblo”.

Montoya reafirmó que el crucero viajará a la isla a fines de mes, y aclaró que la iniciativa ”no está vinculada ni amerita el respaldo” de la ACYC.

La pasada semana Castañeda desvinculó públicamente a su organización con el viaje del crucero, y acusó a Montoya de tratar de politizar una anunciada ceremonia religiosa (ebó) a la entrada de La Habana.

Los viajeros planean realizar un ebó en la bahía habanera para pedir una solución a los problemas de Cuba.

”Es muy mediocre determinar desde Cuba lo que los santeros cubanos de afuera debemos hacer o no en nuestra patria”, señaló Montoya.

Sun Sentinnel
By Diana Marrero
Miami Bureau

Among the newcomers to Hialeah politics: a schoolteacher, a real estate attorney, a business owner and a Santeria priest.

As founder of a prominent Santeria church in Hialeah, Ernesto Pichardo’s first brush with City Hall came in the 1980s when the city banned animal sacrifices.
Pichardo took his battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 and won. The decision is often cited as a landmark case that protects religious freedom.

Now, the Santeria priest wants to take on the city’s establishment again — this time from the inside.

Pichardo, who is considering a run for a seat on the City Council, says Hialeah has been operating like a dictatorship for much too long.

The city was forced to cancel its 2001 election when Mayor Raul Martinez and four incumbents ran unopposed.

Martinez has been in power since 1981, with only a brief hiatus in the mid-1980s when he was forced to step down amid federal extortion and racketeering charges. The case was dropped after two hung juries. Martinez coasted back into office — then collected $1.2 million in back pay.

“The political culture here is intimidating,” says Pichardo, a business consultant who runs a Web site dedicated to the Afro-Cuban faith. “We’ve gotten to the point where this undermines democracy.”

In a city where car caravans and AM radio rants usually signal the beginning of campaign season, things haven’t been as interesting since the grandson of Cuban singer Beny Moré ran for City Council and wanted to include a reference to the legendary crooner on the 1999 ballot. Roly Moré was defeated.

Already, the political field has become crowded with nine candidates, four of whom are incumbents and fiercely loyal to Martinez.

The city’s election had already drawn attention when three young women with no political experience decided to run for office. The women, all in their 20s, have earned local interest for their idealistic far-flung challenge to well-connected incumbents.

They say they decided to run after the non-election of 2001, the first time in the city’s 75-year history that voters could not go to the polls because no one ran for office.

“Last election, there was not much of a democratic election,” said 28-year-old real estate attorney Vanessa Bravo-Garcia, who is challenging incumbent Willie Zuñiga.

That was also a motivating factor for Pichardo.

“This is not Raul’s farm,” says Pichardo. “Raul is our employee, and I think he forgot that a long time ago.”

But City Council members point to the city’s freshly paved streets and well-run parks as a testament that Hialeah government does right by its residents.

The fact that there is little acrimony on the council should be viewed in a positive light, said Julio Ponce Jr., who has been in office since 1999.

“I really don’t understand why they’re saying we need to fight,” he said. “… All we do is work together.”

Pichardo calls it rubber-stamping. Perhaps because he’s got orishas, or Santeria deities, on his side, Pichardo says he’s not intimidated by Martinez’s well-oiled machine.

“I don’t fear the system,” he says.

Diana Marrero can be reached at dmarrero@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5005.

Miami Herald
By Michael Vasquez

Because of his religious beliefs, he was almost outlawed in Hialeah. Now, he is almost a City Council candidate.

Ernesto Pichardo — the president of a prominent Santería church that took the city of Hialeah to the Supreme Court over laws passed in the late 1980s — says he is considering a run in Hialeah’s Nov. 4 elections. Pichardo has not decided which of the four incumbent council members he will challenge if he enters the race.

On Tuesday, Pichardo held a press conference to announce he has formed an ”exploratory committee” that will look into whether he should run this year, wait until 2005 and challenge incumbent Mayor Raul Martinez or simply not run at all.

A final decision should come within a month or so, he said. Pichardo became a well-known — and somewhat controversial — religious figure after winning a landmark 1993 Supreme Court case against Hialeah, which had passed laws banning animal sacrifice. Pichardo said those laws prevented his Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye from functioning in the city. The Supreme Court agreed, finding animal sacrifice to be a protected form of religious expression.

Pichardo’s lawsuit endeared him to some Santería practitioners but irritated others. Some still object to Pichardo’s attempts at institutionalizing Santería — a religion historically practiced in private — by forming a church.

Pichardo counters that the need for a church was demonstrated by his lawsuit: In his mind there has to be an entity that can stand up and defend the religion’s practices.

”The fact is this institution is not invasive to the home worship,” Pichardo said Monday. “It reinforces it and actually preserves it and protects it.”

Late last year, Pichardo’s name was submitted by the union representing city employees for a place on Hialeah’s Personnel Board. The City Council took no action on the nomination, saying additional nominees were needed so the city would have a field to choose from.

Pichardo accused city officials of deliberately stalling his appointment because he represented potential opposition and he ultimately withdrew his name from the list.

The nomination dispute served as a reminder of what was wrong with Hialeah city government, Pichardo said.

”We saw the council did not act in good faith, the mayor did not act in good faith,” he said. “I requested meetings to discuss my appointment that were rejected.”

Hialeah City Council President Julio Robaina on Monday defended the council’s actions, adding that he had worried at the time Pichardo was nominated that the church president would use the board appointment for ”political purposes.” Robaina felt that would have been inappropriate. ”Maybe I was right,” Robaina said, referring to Pichardo’s potential candidacy.

El Nuevo Herald, May 16, 2003
Alexandra Olson
Associated Press

Traduzido perto Ricardo Ferreira do Amaral, advogado, artista plástico e filho de Airá.

CARACAS – Os venezuelanos que praticam a santeria, uma religião de origem afro-antilhana que mistura ritos africanos e cristãos, veneram, entre ouras divindades, o prócer da independência sul-americana, o Libertador Simón Bolívar.

Porém, nunca antes houve algo semelhante aos novos ídolos da santeria local: trata-se de delinqüentes ou “malandros” que têm assumido caráter mitológico nas “barriadas” pobres de Caracas.

Estatuetas de 30 centímetros de altura, que exibem em suas calças jeans armas de fogo e facas, representam espíritos que – segundo os “santeros” — buscam o perdão de seus pecados advertindo aos jovens que devem evitar o crime, ajudando réus a sair do cárcere e curando a adição às drogas.

Entre eles está o “Niño (Menino) Ismael”, um ladrão de bancos que alguns dizem ter matado dezenas de pessoas na década de 1970 antes de morrer em um enfrentamento com a polícia. Sua imagem usa boné de baseball ladeado na cabeça, fuma um charuto e tem uma pistola calibre 38 nas suas calças jeans.

Outro ícone é a “Niña (Menina) Isabel”, uma prostituta e ladra que afirmam ter morrido de uma doença venérea na década de 1920. É representada vestida com uma camiseta rosa que deixa descoberto o ventre, com um gorro de esquiar, óculos escuros e uma faca ajustada ao tornozelo.

Estes espíritos formam parte do culto a María Lionza, a pedra angular da variante venezuelana da santeria, uma religião sincrética surgida em Cuba, que mistura o catolicismo trazido pelos espanhóis e as tradições espiritualistas ioruba dos escravos importados da África.

María Lionza, que alguns representam como uma formosa indígena e outros com uma imagem muito semelhante à Virgem Maria, preside sobre outras “cortes” ou conjuntos de espíritos.

As divindades originais da santeria como Eleguá, que se associa com Santo Antônio, pertencem à corte africana. Uma corte venezuelana inclui a Simón Bolivar, herói da independência da Venezuela, da Colômbia, do Equador, do Peru, da Bolívia e do Panamá.

O Niño Ismael e a Niña Isabel são membros da corte malandra ou criminal.

A Igreja Católica objeta o culto a María Lionza, mas faz tempo que abandonou seus intentos de eliminá-lo. Seus devotos pertencem a todas as classes sociais, mas, sobretudo às que possuem menos recursos. Centos de milhares de seguidores viajam a cada ano até o lugar que, segundo a tradição, foi o lar de María Lionza na montanha de Sorte, localizada no estado de Yaracuy, a uns 300 quilômetros a oeste de Caracas.

Os lojistas dizem que as estatuetas dos malandros começaram a aparecer nas suas estantes há dois anos. Mas o culto aos espíritos criminais surgiu nos começos da década de 1990, junto ao auge da delinqüência, disse ala antropóloga Patricia Márquez, diretora acadêmica do Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración de Caracas.

Para as classes altas, o malandro personifica a ameaça crescente da violência urbana. Em contraste, nos bairros pobres, sua figura oscila entre o herói comunitário e o valentão, assinalou Márquez num capítulo do livro “Venezuela Siglo XX: Visiones y testimonios”, publicado pela Fundación Polar.

Segundo cálculos oficiais, durante 2002 houve 9.000 homicídios no país. Vulneráveis à violência da rua e desconfiados diante da freqüente brutalidade policial, muitos moradores das “barriadas” pobres buscam a proteção do malandro espiritual.

Muitas das divindades da corte malandra são delinqüentes que faleceram em mãos da polícia ou em enfrentamentos com quadrilhas rivais entre os anos 50 e 70. Hoje em dia são considerados heróis folclóricos ao estilo de Robin Hood, que roubava para dar o botim aos pobres e proteger às “barriadas”.

“Ismael roubou, mas para ajudar aos mais necessitados”, disse Juan, um mecânico que comprava velas numa loja de santeria do centro da cidade.

Juan diz que comprou uma imagem de Ismael, o mais popular dos malandros, depois que o espírito persuadiu seu filho para que se “afastasse dos maus caminhos”.

No entanto, Márquez disse que diante do auge da criminalidade, são poucos os que vêem os delinqüentes de hoje com o mesmo halo romântico de outras épocas.

“Entre outras coisas, a corte malandra reflete nostalgia pelo presumido malandro do passado, dedicado a proteger o bairro”, acrescentou.

El Nuevo Herald
Alexandra Olson
Associated Press

CARACAS – Los venezolanos que practican la santería, una religión de origen afroantillano que mezcla ritos africanos y cristianos, veneran entre otras deidades al prócer de la independencia sudamericana, el Libertador Simón Bolívar.

Pero nunca antes hubo algo semejante a los nuevos ídolos de la santería local: se trata de delincuentes o “malandros” que han asumido caracteres mitológicos en las barriadas pobres de Caracas.

Estatuillas de 30 centímetros de alto, que exhiben en sus pantalones vaqueros armas de fuego y cuchillos, representan a espíritus que — según los santeros — buscan el perdón de sus pecados advirtiendo a los jóvenes que deben evitar el crimen, ayudando a reos a salir de la cárcel y curando la adicción a las drogas.

Entre ellos está el “Niño Ismael”, un atracador de bancos que algunos dicen que mató a decenas de personas en la década de 1970 antes de morir en un enfrentamiento con la policía. Su imagen lleva gorra de béisbol de medio lado, se ve fumando un cigarro y lleva una pistola calibre 38 entre sus pantalones vaqueros.

Otro ícono es la “Niña Isabel”, una prostituta y ladrona que según se afirma murió de una enfermedad venérea en la década de 1920. Se la representa vestida con una camiseta rosa que deja al descubierto su vientre, con un gorro de esquí, lentes oscuros y un cuchillo ajustado al tobillo.

Estos espíritus son parte del culto de María Lionza, la piedra angular de la variante venezolana de la santería, una religión sincrética surgida en Cuba que mezcla el catolicismo traído por los españoles y las tradiciones espiritualistas yoruba de los esclavos que importaron desde el Africa.

María Lionza, que unos representan como una hermosa indígena y otros con una imagen muy semejante a la Virgen María, preside sobre otras “cortes” o conjuntos de espíritus.

Las deidades originales de la santería como Eleguá, que se asocia con San Antonio, pertenecen a la corte africana. Una corte venezolana incluye a Simón Bolivar, héroe de la independencia de Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, Bolivia y Panamá.

El Niño Ismael y la Niña Isabel son miembros de la corte malandra o criminal.

La Iglesia Católica objeta el culto a María Lionza, pero hace tiempo que abandonó sus intentos de eliminarlo. Sus devotos pertencen a todas las clases sociales, pero sobre todo a las que poseen menos recursos. Cientos de miles de seguidores viajan cada año al lugar que, según la tradición, fue hogar de María Lionza en la montaña de Sorte, ubicada en el estado Yaracuy, a unos 300 kilómetros al oeste de Caracas.

Los tenderos dicen que las estatuillas de los malandros comenzaron a aparecer en sus estantes hace dos años. Pero el culto a los espíritus criminales apareció a comienzos de la década de 1990, junto con el auge de la delincuencia, dijo la antropóloga Patricia Márquez, directora académica del Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración de Caracas.

Para las clases altas, el malandro personifica la amenaza creciente de la violencia urbana. En contraste, en los barrios pobres, su figura oscila entre el héroe comunal y el bribón, señaló Márquez en un capítulo del libro “Venezuela Siglo XX: Visiones y testimonios”, publicado por la Fundación Polar.

Según cálculos oficiales, durante el 2002 se cometieron 9.000 homicidios en el país. Vulnerables a la violencia callejera y desconfiados ante la frecuente brutalidad policial, muchos residentes de las barriadas pobres buscan la protección del malandro espiritual.

Muchas de las deidades de la corte malandra son delincuentes que perecieron a manos de la policía o en enfrentamientos con pandilleros rivales entre los años 50 y 70. Hoy día son considerados héreos folklóricos al estilo de Robin Hood, que robaba para dar el botín a los pobres y proteger a las barriadas.

“Ismael robó, pero para ayudar a los más necesitados”, dijo Juan, un mecánico que compraba velas en una tienda de santería del centro de la ciudad.

Juan dice que compró una imagen de Ismael, el más popular de los maladros, después que el espíritu persuadió a su hijo para que se “apartara de los malos caminos”.

En cambio, Márquez dijo que ante el auge de la criminalidad, son pocos los que ven a los delincuentes de hoy con el mismo halo romántico de otras épocas.

“Entre otras cosas, la corte malandra refleja nostalgia por el presunto malandro del pasado, dedicado a proteger el barrio”, agregó.

El Nuevo Herald,
Associated Press

Sacerdotes de una religión afrocubana entregaron ofrendas y elevaron sus ruegos a una de sus deidades más poderosas por la paz en el mundo.

Con sus trajes impecablemente blancos, los babalaos (sacerdotes yorubas) invocaron a Obatalá, patrona de la pureza y le hicieron un homenaje con cantos, frutas y danzas.

”Esto que estamos haciendo es un tambor a Obatalá”, dijo a la AP Mercedes Armenteros, de la Asociación Yoruba, los organizadores del evento.

Instalado el martes en el Parque Villalón de la capital, el altar debajo de un toldo para proteger del sol, constaba de una figura antropomorfa de casi dos metros de altura adornada con telas y encajes blancos y rodeada de cestos con frutas y dulces.

Inicialmente mujeres y hombres se inclinaban sobre un tapete en el piso delante de la imagen y tocaban una campana para saludar.

”Salud y fuerza”, decían algunos. ”Aché”, contestaban los asistentes.

Tras los saludos iniciales tres hombres tocaron tambores durante 30 minutos.

”Están anunciando al orisha (deidad) mediante el sonido que habrá un wemilere (fiesta) en su honor”, explicó Armenteros.

Las autoridades cubanas denunciaron en reiteradas ocasiones que Estados Unidos no detendrá la actitud agresiva que lo llevó a la guerra en Irak y advirtieron a sus ciudadanos sobre una posible invasión a la isla.

”Obatalá controla las cabezas (de los hombres) por eso estamos pidiéndole la paz… incluso para Cuba”, comentó Armenteros.

A su lado una balalocha (sacerdotisa) llamada Asela replicó: “Es que el mundo está revuelto”.

Unos minutos después otros percusionistas se sumaron y comenzaron los cantos y el baile de los religiosos en círculos. Agua especialmente bendecida se regó en el piso.

Entre los asistentes estuvo el músico Lázaro Ross, uno de los cantantes más famosos de las tradiciones africanas en la isla y ganador de Premios Grammys por algunos de sus discos.

Para realizar esta ceremonia los sacerdotes yorubas hicieron antes otra de carácter privado en la cual preguntaron a la orisha si quería o no ser homenajeada.

Estimados Abures,

Somos un grupo de ciudadanos que apoyamos la candidatura de Pichardo para concejal de Hialeah en noviembre 2003. Ahora mas que nunca Pichardo esta considerando seriamente postularse.

Todos conocemos la integridad y trayectoria pública de Pichardo por más de 25 años.

  • Precurso de estudios Afro-Cubanos en las universidades de Miami.
  • Uno de los fundadores de la primera iglesia Lukumí.
  • Triunfador en la Corte Suprema logrando la legalización de practicas religiosas.
  • Estableció el primer curso de religión Lukumí en el Miami-Dade.
  • Estableció las primeras clases religiosas para los hospitales y policía.
  • Estableció programas radiales Lukumí transmitidos a Europa y Cuba.
  • Precursor de las exhibiciones Lukumí en los museos de Miami.
  • Precursor del tema religioso en prensa local, nacional e internacional.
  • Es el arquitecto de la legalización sacerdotal de los oloshas.
  • Estableció el puente entre la Fiscalía local, el Senado Estatal y Cámara de Representantes.

Se necesita cooperación en lo siguiente:

  • Voluntarios para trabajar la campaña.
  • Direcciones en Hialeah para poner carteles del candidato.
  • Direcciones y teléfonos para enviar invitaciones de la campaña

Con su cooperación podemos elegir un candidato que es verdaderamente nuestro. Con la victoria de Pichardo ganamos todos.

¡Muchas Gracias por su cooperación!

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