HAVANA — A body of top Afro-Cuban priests recommended today that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez seek their help as he recovers from his fourth recent cancer-related surgery.
In their annual New Year's forecast known as the "Letter of the Year," the Santeria priests, or "babalawo," expressed hope that Chavez would ask for their assistance in getting well.
"I hope, God willing, that he decides to knock on the door of a Cuban priest and that God will allow for the possibility of this individual to do something for him," said Lazaro Cuesta, one of the "babalawo."
"Whichever house he knocks upon, I expect he will receive the help he requires," Cuesta said.
He said priests had not performed a ceremony in Chavez's name, because they only do so if asked.
Chavez has been convalescing in Cuba since his operation last month for an undisclosed cancer. The secrecy surrounding the precise nature of his ailment and treatment has led to speculation about his health, which Venezuelan officials characterize as "delicate."
Santeria, a blend of Roman Catholicism and the African Yoruba faith, is followed by many in Cuba, where about a third of the island's 11.2 million people are of African descent. Each year thousands look for the priests' "Letter," which is obtained in a ceremony in October and released around the new year.
In their message for 2013, the priests predicted mass discontent and social uprisings if nations do not "change their ways" and help those less fortunate.
"If the different governments of the world … do not seek an equilibrium and some comprehension in terms of this subject, it is possible that things could end in a strong conflict," Cuesta said.
The priests have a mixed track record despite keeping their predictions vague.
Last year they warned that the world could see more earthquakes. But after devastating temblors in 2010 (Haiti) and 2011 (Japan), the Earth's tectonic faults were relatively gentle to humankind in 2012, killing just 768 people around the globe — far below the 342,000 quake deaths during the previous two years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
However, the priests did predict correctly that the world would not end in apocalypse upon the conclusion of a Mayan calendar cycle on Dec. 21, 2012.