Cuba's Santeria Priests Predict Economic Gains In 2015 After Detente

Afro-Cuban Santeria priest Lazaro Cuesta reads predictions for 2015 in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015. Cuesta, one of the founders of the Commission of the Letter of the Year, said the planned restoration of ties, announced on Dec. 17, with the U.S. opens a period "of hope for all the world." The annual Letter is released each year around New Year's Day. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
Afro-Cuban Santeria priest Lazaro Cuesta reads predictions for 2015 in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015. Cuesta, one of the founders of the Commission of the Letter of the Year, said the planned restoration of ties, announced on Dec. 17, with the U.S. opens a period "of hope for all the world." The annual Letter is released each year around New Year's Day. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

HAVANA, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Priests offering New Year's prophecies from Cuba's Afro-Cuban religion urged old Cold War foes Havana and Washington to continue rebuilding relations, and forecast that detente would bring economic benefits in 2015.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced last month they would move to renew diplomatic ties, potentially paving a way to end decades of hostility.

Many on the Caribbean island eagerly await the annual forecast from the Santeria religion, which is practiced by 3 million Cubans and uses animal sacrifices to contact Yoruba deities originally worshiped by slaves brought over from Africa.

This year the priests, known as babalawos, predicted more conflicts between nations worldwide, the deaths of religious and political leaders, ecological strife and storm surges, as well as fatalities from inter-generational struggles.

One of the priests, Lazaro Cuesta, said building bridges for dialogue was key for the coming 12 months.

"All those who are involved in that, in all aspects of life, are called to victory," Cuesta told a news conference in Havana. "Those who put up walls and break down bridges are doomed."

The priest said the ruling deity, Baba Eyiobe, is applauding the rapprochement announced on Dec. 17 by the U.S. and Cuban governments.

Cuesta said Baba Eyiobe was telling world leaders, particularly those in Washington and Havana, "to use their heads as a fundamental basis for relations, their own intelligence, and not to be influenced by the past, nor by circumstances created by some ill-intentioned people."

He added: "God wants the dialog to continue for everyone's benefit."

The Santeria priests said one of the slogans for 2015 chosen by the faith was: "Wisdom is the force that moves the Earth."

They also prophesied that 2015 would offer economic benefits thanks to the Cuba-U.S. talks, but gave no other details. Cuba said in December that it expects GDP growth of 4 percent in 2015, following years of economic slowdown. (Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by David Adams and Gunna Dickson)

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1950 - Cars are parked along a narrow street as pedestrians walk in the shade in Havana, Cuba. At the time, the cars were considered new models. Now the same cars are still being driven.
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Circa 1950 - Children play outside their shanty homes in Oriente Province, Cuba.
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Circa 1960 - Workers at a sugar factory in Cuba. Once one of the top sugar exporters in the world, Cuba's global share in the sugar industry has fallen from 12 percent in the 1960s to just 1 percent today, The Wall Street Journal reports.
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Circa 1969 - Fishermen in Manzanillo. In recent years, Cuba's fishing industry has been negatively affected by overfishing, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
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1980 - A 1950s model Chevrolet is parked on the street in Havana.
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1988 - Men sort empty bottles on a street in Havana.
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1988 - Bodeguita del Medio, the most famous bar of Havana, frequented by Ernest Hemingway. The lifting of the trade embargo could stir a renaissance in Cuban-made spirits, specifically rum, The New York Post reports.
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1993 - A fisherman and his wife sell their latest catch of fish. Previously, the pair had only fished for pleasure but an economic crisis forced them to begin selling their catch.
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1994 - Farmer with an ox team in the Vinales Valley, Cuba. Cuban farming has struggled in recent years due to the lack of availability of modern farm equipment, The Telegraph reports.
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1994 - Two people on a bicycle in rural Cuba.
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1994 - Farm workers loading bananas.
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Circa 1995 - In the company of her daughter, a worker at a tobacco leaf cleaning station gets leaves ready for shipping to a tobacco manufacturer in San Juan y Matinez, site of one of the most important tobacco plantations in Cuba.
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1997 - A steam train outside Havana.
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Date unknown - An old woman smokes an oversize cigar while working cigar maker Partagas in the Cuban capital Havana.
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1999 - Cubans shop in one of Havana's main pesos food market Quatro Caminos in Havana. The Cuban economy was on the verge of collapsing at the time after the former Soviet Union ended its aid and the US imposed an embargo on Cuba.
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1999 - Hundreds of Cubans are gathered on the waterfront of Havana during a school break. A majority of Havana residents opt for the polluted waters of the capital given the fact that they cannot reach other beaches due to the lack of transportation and the shortage of gasoline in general.
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1999 - Cubans stand on the balcony of their apartment in Havana, Cuba.
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2001 - Street scene in the old part of town of the Cuban capital Havana.
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2001 - A man reads as he sits in a plaza surrounded by pigeons in Havana.
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2003 - A young Cuban plays baseball in the streets of Havana. The normalization of relations with Cuba could eventually cause an influx of Cuban athletes into American sports leagues, according to Vice.
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2003 - Several earlier model American-made cars wait to be rented in Havana. New car imports have been allowed in Cuba since last year, but due to high prices, the island still largely relies on the classic cars for the time being, The Telegraph reports.
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2006 - A cigar roller smokes a cigar while she prepares tobacco leaves at Cuban cigar manufacturer Cohiba's factory.
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2008 - A young Cuban woman distributes a limited amount of bread to her fellow citizens according to quotas of the Cuban rationing system, Santiago de Cuba.
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2009 - A Cuban schoolgirl sits at the foot of the entrance stairways in Havana.
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2010 - A woman waits for a bus in front of the Capitol building in Havana.
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2011 - A man checks the engine of his water cistern truck in Old Havana.
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2011 - Cigar rollers work as they listen to a reader on at H. Upmann Cigar Factory in Havana. The tradition of cigar factory readers -people that read newspapers, magazines and novels to cigar rollers- has 150 years in Cuba and there are almost 300 of them in the country.
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2011 - Two men drive down the highway in a classic car in Soroa.
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2012 - People fill the street in a busy downtown neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba.
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2012 - Cars drive down a street in Havana.
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2012 - Men change the tire on an old Chevrolet in Havana.
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2013 - A fruits and vegetables retailer leaves a wholesale market in Havana.
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2013 - A food vendor spreads out bananas. Cuba is the only country in the world that mints two national currencies, a bizarre system that even President Raul Castro acknowledges harms the island's socialist economy.
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2013 - A man drives a horse drawn carriage past a port under construction in Mariel Bay.
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2014 - Horse drawn carriage continues to be a regular form of transportation in Cuba.
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2014 - A pregnant woman holds her belly while she talks on a public phone at a special maternity unit for high-risk pregnancies in Havana. The country's low birth rate problem is a result of some of the most notable successes of its 55-year-old socialist revolution.