HAVANA (Reuters) - Priests from Cuba’s Afro-Cuban Santeria religion on Monday warned of a difficult year ahead and called on followers to guard against calamities and mounting social ills after a tough year in 2022 in which a record number of Cubans left the Communist-run island.
“Do not delay pending religious works and consecrations,” the priests, known as babalawos and grouped together in the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba, advised in their Letter of the Year published Sunday.
Roberto Padron Silva, president of the association, said at a press conference that the somber letter should not be misinterpreted because various signs for this year revealed with hope and hard work “this could be a better year.”
Millions of Cubans practice the ritual-filled religion, which fuses Catholicism with ancient African beliefs brought to Cuba by slaves.
The babalawos warned of an increase in infectious and stress related ills, a rise in alcoholism and crime.
“Natural disasters are forecast due to hurricanes, sea turmoil and river flooding with economic and human losses,” their Letter said.
Last year proved particularly tough for most Cubans living under comprehensive U.S. sanctions and who had already suffered as a result of two years of pandemic lockdowns, raging inflation and food, medicine and other shortages.
A record number of Cubans left, with some 250,000 entering the United States according to U.S. government statistics, the majority crossing over the Mexican border.
The Letter of the Year saw a “need for a change in mentality that facilitates development” in the state-dominated economy and to “legally promote internal economic possibilities in agro-industrial production.”
It expressed concern about the aging population due to a decrease “in the birth rate” and the youthful “exodus”.
Over the years a few groups have split from the association, and some now issue their own letters.
Babalawo Víctor Betancourt, of the independent Organizing Commision of the Letter of the Year Miguel Febles Padron, told Reuters at another press conference a few miles away that their Letter was much more upbeat.
“The signs signal the best year for Cuba since 1959 (Fidel Castro’s Revolution) is 2023,” he said.
“I am very hopeful that Cuba and the United States will reach an agreement.”
Reporting by Marc Frank; additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by David Gregorio