Cuba's Santería priests, known as "babalawos," said Monday that 2012 will be a year of disturbances, clashes and great social, political and economic changes, which could lead to our present world dying and another being born.

According to prophecies released by the organizing commission of the "Letter of the Year," 2012 will be governed by the sign of Baba Ireti Meyi (The Shadow of the Short-Lived Child), which speaks of wars, transition and change, along with losses from old age, earthquakes, soaring temperatures and lethal matrimonial conflicts.

The ruling deity during the year will be Oya - related in the Yoruba cult with storms, soft breezes and deceased ancestors - and will be accompanied by Oggun, known as the patron of the military and blacksmiths.

In Santería, a synthesis of Christianity with the beliefs and traditions of African slaves, every letter and sign is linked to a story of the deities or "orishas" of the Yoruba pantheon, who speak through it to communicate a teaching or recommendation.

The recommendations include taking care of locomotor and digestive ailments and slipped discs, while women are warned of menstrual irregularities and spontaneous abortions.

The sign refers in particular to problems of infertility, increased infant mortality and a lower birth rate, which babalawos link to an aging population.

Among the recommendations are improved hygiene in hospitals, cleanup campaigns to prevent epidemics and environmental pollution, avoiding promiscuity and slander, as well as taking special care of one's children.

Other recommendations implicit in the letter refer to some very current matters for Cuban society such as housing construction, learning a trade, attention to agriculture and a revision of criminal law.

Asked how many believers and practicing members the Yoruba cult has in today's Cuba, babalawo Lazaro Cuesta said that no one counts those numbers, but he has the "conviction" that Yoruba priests serve about 80 percent of the Cuban population.

He also noted the "before and after" for believers in Cuba in the early 1990s, when the constitution changed the country from an atheist state to a secular one that banned religious discrimination.

"From then until now the faith that was hidden has been revealed," he said.

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