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CATEGORY: Santeria Sacrifice


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Kill a Bird for Castro

Fri Aug 4, 2006 11:03 AM ET

MIAMI (Reuters) - The white dove looks warily at shopkeeper Oscar Osorio as he pulls it from a cage and holds it in his hands.

"I don't think he trusts me," Osorio says while he gently rubs the dove's feathers and spreads its wings for a visitor to admire. "I think he knows what's coming."

The bird has reason to be nervous, because the illness of Cuban leader Fidel Castro has moved adherents of Santeria to appeal for divine help in hastening either Castro's demise or his recovery, depending on which side of the Florida Straits they live.

Santeria is the voodooish Afro-Cuban religion that uses animal sacrifice to communicate with the gods, which makes these tough times for favorite sacrificial creatures such as chickens, goats and, in this case, doves.

As many as 3 million people in Cuba and 60,000 people in Florida are believed to be involved in Santeria, according to religious experts.

Osorio said about 20 people a day are coming into his "botanica" in Miami's Little Havana section to buy birds, powders and jewelry for rituals in which they ask the gods to please finish off Castro so they can return home.

The white doves are most popular at the moment because, as traditional symbols of peace, their significance is as much political as religious.

"People want peace for Cuba," he said.

Unfortunately for the birds, which sell for $15 each, the price of peace includes their blood and feathers.

Sometimes, said Osorio, a genial man with a round belly, his customers prefer to just clean the birds and let them fly away. "Those are the lucky ones," he said.

While Osorio disagrees with the concept of asking gods to kill someone, even if it is the hated Castro, from whom he fled a year ago, he does not question his customers' motivations.

"I need the money. I need the money," he shouted.

After Cuba announced on Monday that Castro had stomach surgery and put brother Raul in charge, Rigoberto Zamora, a babalawo, or priest, of what he calls Yoruba, the African name for Santeria, performed a fact-finding ritual.

After sacrificing a couple of black hens and a rooster to satisfy the hunger of the gods, he got the word from them: Castro is already dead; he died on Monday.

"We were astonished by such good news. It made us happy because politically we are against Fidel," said Zamora, who left Cuba in 1980 and lives in the Miami neighborhood known as Little Havana.

The news from the gods was not all good. It turns out that Castro's demise will be followed by three months of intense fighting before peace is restored, he said.

While Cuban-Americans in Florida beseeched the gods to kill Castro, in Cuba the same gods were asked to make him well.

"We are praying for him because it's a very painful situation for everyone," said babalawo Guillermo Diago in Havana.

Members of the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba said they were collecting money to buy animals to sacrifice for Castro's health.

"Our position is to follow the plans of the gods, which are to understand and support the decisions taken by our maximum leader," the group said.

Santeristas are not the only religious types preoccupied with Castro's future.

In Miami's Roman Catholic churches with heavily Cuban congregations, priests spoke about the events in Cuba and urged patience.

But Little Havana shopkeeper Maria Vazquez, who sells toilet paper imprinted with Castro's image and T-shirts with anti-Castro messages, said, "We are praying every night that he is dead."

"It's probably not the Christian thing to do, but it is very human," said Vazquez, who fled Cuba with her family when Castro took power 47 years ago and longs to return.

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