Tue, 04 Jan 2011 11:57a.m.

A panel of Afro-Cuban Santeria priests have announced their predictions for the year 2011, which included social and political changes, wars, coups d’etat, and said the world would see the death a number of political and social leaders.

Speaking from the old crumbling Yoruba Temple on the outskirts of Havana, the Santeria priests – also known as “babalawos” – recommended older leaders make room for the young – a politically delicate statement in a country that has been led by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro for more than half a century.

“What this means is if we do not give young people the opportunity to develop and project themselves, the future, the future, is uncertain”, said Lazaro Cuesta, one of the island’s leading Santeria priests.

As the priests spoke, dozens of passers by came to the front porch to examine a sign posted outside that announced the forecast – known as the “Letter of the Year”.

The priests, practitioners of the ancient Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, announced their forecast following a secretive New Year’s Eve ritual in which they perform religious chants and sacrifice chickens, goats and other animals.

Santeria, which mixes Catholicism with the traditional African Yoruba faith, is followed by many people in Cuba, where about a third of the 11.2 million population is of African descent.

Cuba’s communist government tolerated Santeria and other religious practices for years, but denied religious leaders official recognition.

In the 1990s the government began to allow greater religious freedoms, and today even some members of the Communist Party are known to practice Santeria.

As in past years, Cuesta and the other spiritual leaders declined to say what their predictions meant for the Castro brothers specifically, but their 2011 forecast for “Cuba and the world” would seem ominous for any octogenarian leader.

Eighty-four-year-old Fidel Castro, stepped down as president in February 2008 amid failing health, handing power over to Raul Castro, aged 79.

The elder Castro remains head of the Communist Party, and often comments on current events in essays published in the state-run media.

The priests said 2011 would bring “commercial openings” and an increase in “exports and imports” to the island and “dangers of war and confrontations,” as well as death “of elderly people and renowned personalities”.

As in their predictions for 2010, they said this year could be summed up with the saying: “The King is dead, long live the King” the traditional shout announcing a monarchical succession.

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