Thursday, July 28, 2005

Santeria used for travel license

The Miami Herald
Sun, Feb. 27, 2005


A Santeria group with a religious license to travel unimpeded to Cuba reports a boom in the size of its congregation, drawing criticism and scrutiny.


Despite the Bush administration's crackdown on exiles' trips back to Cuba, there are still ways to travel to the island without restriction.

One seems to be increasingly popular: Go as a Santero.

Religious groups can get licenses with little trouble. And the head of at least one group that says it practices the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria acknowledged that his congregation has exploded in size since the new travel restrictions kicked in.

Jose Montoya, head of the Sacerdocio Lucumi Shango Eyeife in Miami, said that between 1996 and July 2004, he took about 60 people to Cuba under his religious travel license. Since the restrictions took effect in July, he has taken about 2,500, he said.

''Before, people didn't have a necessity, and Afro Cubans who practice our religions could travel to Cuba without a license, but now they need a license,'' Montoya said. ``This is a ticking time bomb. They will give a religious license to anyone.''

Exiles who support the restrictions -- which cut exile trips to Cuba from once a year to once every three years -- say the Santeria groups are abusing their religious privilege.

The U.S. Treasury Department allows unimpeded travel to Cuba for legitimate religious reasons. The department has issued more than 200 licenses to religious groups for travel to Cuba, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, R-Miami.

Díaz-Balart, a supporter of the new limits, has called for an investigation, which he said is being conducted by the Treasury Department.

''There is abuse and it needs to stop,'' he said. ``It is wrong for someone to say that they are seeking a license for religious travel and then to use that license commercially to promote tourism, and I think it's happening.''

Treasury Department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise and other department officials could not be reached for comment.

Tom Cooper, CEO and chairman of Gulf Stream International Airlines, one of the biggest companies still operating flights to Cuba, said he has also noticed a recent increase in the number of people coming to his airline with religious licenses.


''I have my own questions about it,'' Cooper said. ``I think the Cuban people are very industrious and ingenious, and I think that they really will find a way to visit their relatives in Cuba.''

During a recent interview in his office at 4315 NW Seventh St., Montoya told The Herald that he has an established track record in Miami's Santeria community and is not abusing his travel license.

Montoya acknowledges that he has no church or temple, and his office is plainly decorated, with no evidence of Santeria. His church, the Sacerdocio Lucumi Shango Eyeife, is listed in Florida corporate records as a for-profit company. He brands himself ''Maximo Sacerdote General,'' or Maximum High Priest.

Montoya said the Treasury Department's religious license places no restrictions on the number of people allowed to travel to Cuba under that license, or the frequency of visits. He provided The Herald a copy of his license.

He also provided The Herald a copy of an application people must fill out if they want to travel to Cuba under his religious license. Applicants must swear that they are part of his religion and get the letter notarized. The application named Heidy Gonzalez as an applicant and showed a telephone number. When The Herald called the number, a man named Braulio Rodriguez said Heidy Gonzalez was a 1-year-old baby and that he was her grandfather.

Rodriguez said he had no idea how her name came to be on an application for travel to Cuba and that as far as he knew, she would not be traveling to Cuba as the application stated.

When quizzed about potential abuses, Montoya pointed to another supposed Santeria group that has a religious travel license, Santa Yemaya Ministries. Montoya said his own research shows that many of the people traveling to Cuba under religious licenses today travel through Santa Yemaya.

Florida corporate records show that Santa Yemaya Ministries was established in October 2003 by Fabio Galoppi. The principal place of business address, according to corporate records, is 9741 NW 31 St., a house in a gated community in Doral. It is listed as a nonprofit company.

The official explanation given by Fabio Galoppi to incorporate Santa Yemaya, according to corporate records, is ''to spread the word of God across the world.'' Santa Yemaya Ministries' website boasts a 15-day travel itinerary in Cuba filled with Santeria tourist stops at places such as Casa Templo and The Yoruba Center.

A woman who described herself as Fabio Galoppi's wife when phoned by The Herald declined to comment. She referred questions to a Pierre Galoppi.

Pierre Galoppi, who owns Estrella de Cuba Travel in West Miami-Dade and PWG Trading Corp., confirmed that Santa Yemaya has a religious travel license. He declined to describe his relationship to Fabio Galoppi.

''I can assure you that our agency and our ministry are in full compliance with all regulations,'' Pierre Galoppi said.


When asked how many people travel to Cuba under Santa Yemaya's license, or whether Fabio Galoppi is a Santero, Galoppi declined to comment.

''It's a very sensitive industry,'' he said. ``I have no idea how many people we're talking about.''

Pedro Gonzalez-Munne, owner of Cuba Promotions, an agency that promotes travel to Cuba, said he has done business with Pierre Galoppi and is familiar with his enterprise.

''Since the new restrictions kicked in in July to now, PWG Trading has 33 to 34 percent of the total market of people that travel to Cuba,'' Gonzalez-Munne said. ``Is this a situation of freedom of religions, or are they using their religion for travel and profit?''

The Santeria travel wars have spilled over into local media. Montoya said community leaders and radio commentators have singled him out for criticism on Miami's Spanish-language radio stations. That has prompted Montoya to buy four full-page ads in El Nuevo Herald since November, defending his travel practices.

''We continue to deny the disinformation campaign that some radio stations have established that intend, for politics, to violate our religious rights,'' said an open letter from Shango Eyeife published in El Nuevo Herald on Jan. 24. ``Our institution has nothing to do with other people who possess licenses for our religious practices issued by Treasury.''


Ernesto Pichardo, Miami-Dade's best known Santero, who once took a case about animal sacrifices to the U.S. Supreme Court, said the groups ``are not authorized, legitimate religious organizations in Cuba or here.''

''We've started doing homework,'' Pichardo said. ``I've gotten people from New York, D.C., all over. They have bought into this little deal of buying into [Montoya's] membership . . . to fly to Cuba on a religious visa.''

Cooper, the Gulf Stream CEO, said air travel to Cuba plunged after the restrictions kicked in. For example, his company used to fly five planes a week with 600 seats to the island. Now he flies only about 123 seats a week. However, in the past month, he said, business has picked up again, partly because of religious-license travel.

Pichardo said a signal that Shango Eyeife and Santa Yemaya may not be legitimate religious groups is that neither has a church or temple in Miami.

He said that he doubts they have churches in Cuba, because the Cuban government has never authorized Santeria.

Gonzalez-Munne said the trend shows that people will do whatever it takes to get to Cuba, and business people are thinking creatively to make it happen.

''People are not traveling because they are Babalaos, let's speak clearly,'' Gonzalez-Munne said, using a term meaning priest. ``They are traveling because they have no other way to get to Cuba.''

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Lengthy 1998 article on economics of Jineterismo

Previously published in Global Development Studies, I, 3-4 (Winter 1998-Spring 1999), 57-78


Elisa Facio


This article traces the emergence of jineterismo with the growth of the tourist industry and contrasts these developments in the 1990s to the forms of prostitution that existed in Cuba during the 1950s. The historical background reveals the terrible contradictions for the revolutionary socialist state and the feminist women who organized the elimination of prostitution by providing viable economic and educational alternatives for women from the 1960s to the early 1990s. Finally, the arguments raised here imply a certain optimism for turning one of the worst of all imagined developments into a practice with some redeeming value, by stating explicitly that the new form of sex work has provided at least some children of jineteras some badly needed food, clothing and medicine that can be bought almost exclusively at Cuba's "dollar stores."

1. Introduction

In the early 1990s, many observers spoke of the imminent collapse of the Cuban Revolution. With the breakdown of the Eastern Communist bloc, political and economic relations between Cuba and its former allies were abruptly and drastically reduced. Few foreign analysts argued that Cuba had the potential to survive. This notwithstanding, Cuba marked the 40th anniversary of its revolution in January 1999, which also marked the eighth year of the "Special Period in Time of Peace". The continuation of the "Special Period in Time of Peace" essentially signified that existing policies could no longer operate within a "business as usual' framework.

Amidst the unraveling of Cuba's relations with Eastern Europe, the overall realignment of the global economy, and the continuation by the United States of its aggressive attempts to destroy the Cuban state and economy, namely with the Torrecelli and the Helms-Burton bills. Only the visit of Pope John Paul II and some homegrown relief from the devastating food shortages of the first half of the decade seemed to offer hope and optimism. Throughout the 1990s, Cuba has sought to survive and adapt to the new international circumstances without losing sight of the revolution's past accomplishments and future goals for sustaining an adequate quality of life for its people.

One of the most controversial areas in Cuba's post-Soviet economic strategy has been the tourist industry. In urgent need of quick hard currency, the Cuban government turned to the island's greatest natural resource--its gorgeous beaches and glorious weather. Its campaign to attract Canadian, Latin American (particularly Mexicans), and European tourists (Spanish, Italians and Germans) led to a major leap in the number of foreign visitors from about 250,000 in 1988 to some 400,000 in 1991 (Dello Buono, 1992, pp. 4-5). Gross income earnings during these same three years doubled from $150 million to $300 million. The largest foreign investment in Cuban tourism was cemented during the summer of 1996. Canadian hotel mogul Walter Berukoff and Wilton Properties agreed to split the cost of a $400 million investment in eleven hotels and two golf courses with a Cuban partner, the state-run Gran Caribe. Tourist development at the white sand beaches of Varadero (80 miles east of Havana), Santiago de Cuba, and Holguin's Guardalavaca is still in demand. Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage reported that in the spring of 1996, tourist visits were up 45 percent over 1995. Cuban tourism official Eduardo Rodriquez de la Vega stated that tourism revenues In 1996 exceeded the previous year's $1 billion (Falk, 1996), and future prognoses predicted significant increases in tourism's earning for several years.

Extensive debates have taken place in Cuba over the relative social costs and benefits of developing tourism. The renewed emphasis on tourism has been accompanied by a host of problems. First, tourism has created a two-tiered society in Cuba--the privileged foreigners and the unprivileged locals. In an effort to absorb tourist dollars, the government created tourist stores, restaurants, nightclubs, hotels, even tourist taxis that are accessible only to foreigners with hard currency. Some Cubans feel that this 'tourism apartheid" subverted the whole purpose of the revolutionary state, which is to promote equality. Others counter that unlike other countries, tourist income in Cuba does not go into the hands of a few wealthy business tycoons but goes to keep up the health care system, the schools, and the food supply. But many Cubans who understand this argument are nevertheless highly bothered when they see the island's best resources going toward coddling foreigners while their own lives are plagued with serious daily difficulties. Second, with the inception of tourism there has been an increase in crime. Cuba was once known as one of the most crime-free societies in the world. While violent crime remains low, petty theft has increased dramatically.

Finally, and of particular interest to this discussion, tourism has led to a form of sex work called jineterismo. There is a new language to describe the range of behaviors ascribed to ""jineterismo" (literally translated as horseback riding or breaking in a horse, or *gold digging" in its colloquial form), and the attitudes by and toward the jineteras who engage in It. Jineterismo is a range of behaviors, not only a direct exchange of sexual relations for dollars (Diaz, 1996, p. 4). Additionally, Cuban sex workers or jineteras can include pubescent girls to professional women. Unlike prostitution in the U.S., Cuban sex workers are not organized or integrated into networks controlled by "pimps." Cuban jineterismo has been described has having "advantages" over other places such as Thailand or the Philippines. The country is relatively free of AIDS, it is inexpensive, and the women themselves have an "innocent quality* (Lane, 1994, pp. 15-18). When jineterismo initially surfaced in the latter part of 1991, a very financially hard-pressed Cuban government, facing an anticipated $4 billion trade deficit by the end of 1992, appeared to turn a blind eye in hopes the dollars jineteras earned would help overcome the Revolution's worst economic crisis.

The government's initial acquiescence was at odds with one of the principal alms of the revolution: ridding the country of the vice that had turned Havana into the sin capital of the Western hemisphere at a time when casinos, cheap rum, and sex attracted thousands of North Americans to the Caribbean island. The revolutionaries aimed to free women from sexual exploitation in all sectors of society. Several older women recalled that during the early years of the revolution, the government did not use laws and punitive measures to sanction women in order to eliminate prostitution; rather, job training and a non-judgmental approach prevailed in contrast to the strong social taboos at that time from families, religious leaders, and the men who purchased sexual services. The new revolutionary leaders offered the compassionate combination of real economic opportunities and moral rehabilitation with the active mobilization of large numbers of female revolutionaries to assist less fortunate women in the transition from prostitution to gainful employment and social Integration. The Cuban government today--in what is known as "legalizing reality"--appears to be using dollars earned by jineteras and other illicit business to help overcome the economic catastrophe caused by its own mismanagement, the demise of the its Soviet ally, and the U.S. blockade. Given the existence of jineterismo, and the cultural images of Cuban women produced by the tourist industry, Cuba faces tremendous contradictions and complexities regarding women's lives.

Many social scientists argue that jineteras engage in sex work because of materialistic desire as opposed to any realistic economic necessity (Stout, 1995, pp. 13-18; Miranda, 1993, pp. 1-24). They propose that in a society where education and health care are free, and where people are supposedly secure with adequate foodstuffs and clothing through the libreta (ration book), women do not need to engage in sex work. However, since 1990 no Cuban household has been able to survive on the goods available through the libreta. The debatable question remains whether jineterismo is either a result of dire economic need or the desires for materialistic consumption, or both.

Generally, government officials voice the notion that the phenomenon is clearly related to the material shortages as well as the increasing presence of foreign consumerist values. Furthermore, social scientists argue that while traditional prostitution was eradicated in Cuba in the 1960s, sex work appears to be practiced as a personal decision by young people otherwise capable of engaging in more dignified and less risky activities. Thus, the Cuban government can conveniently label jineteras as social deviants while also maintaining a more lenient stance toward non-professional jineterismo.

The following discussion explores the phenomena jineterismo in the context of Cuba's current economic crisis. The first section of this paper focuses on some of the social realities for women in Cuba's declared wartime economy during peacetime. Second, Cuban tourism is highlighted, particularly how women's lives have been affected by both the inception of the tourist industry and the emergence of jineterismo. Finally, the article concludes on a speculative note suggesting that an analysis of jineterismo be placed in a context of patriarchy and international tourism.

2. Cuban Women During the Special Period

The shortfall in oil and other key inputs during this period began to have dramatic effects in Cuba's industrial sector, (these effects have been documented and discussed by Campbell's and Carranza's and other articles - editor's note). Comprehending the economic realities of daily life is important in order to discuss the conditions from which women, in particular, became vulnerable to various forms of sex work or jinetersmo. The curtailment of consumption and the implementation of a food self-sufficiency program provide a panoramic backdrop for viewing the daily struggles of Cuban life during the special period.

2. 1. Curtailment of Consumption

The drive towards rationing of food consumption was thrown into high gear with the failure of 100,000 tons of wheat to arrive from the Soviet Union in early 1990. Broad rations were initially cut in most provinces from 200 grams to 180 grams per person per day while the price of a 400 gram loaf of bread in Havana was raised from 30 to 35 cents. The price of eggs was nearly doubled, from 8 to 15 cents. Tens of thousands of tons of citrus fruits originally destined for export were poured into the domestic market, improving short-term availability, but at the expense of hard currency earnings (Dello Buono, 1995, p. 2). By mid-February 1992, the price of many food products including potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, beets and bananas had doubled, while increasing significantly for other fresh food products. Pressure mounted on the Cuban state to reduce its subsidies. Fuel saving measures within forty-five major industrial firms were likewise implemented beginning in 1990 with the aim to save at least 150,000 tons per year of oil (Dello Buono, 1995, p. 2).

Throughout 1992, more drastic measures of austerity became evident throughout the Cuban society, particularly in urban areas. Beginning in January 1992, work centers had begun to reduce their hours, street lighting was reduced, most regular taxis were taken off the road, television broadcasts were reduced to five hours on weekdays, night baseball games were suspended, and air conditioners in most government offices were ordered turned off. By September 1992, the nation's single biggest development project, a nuclear power plant being constructed near Cienfuegos, was ordered suspended. The project had employed some 10,000 workers and had cost more than $2.5 billion over its seven years of construction. Designed to significantly reduce Cuba's energy bill by cutting the island's oil needs by approximately 20 percent, the project was nearing completion. The abrupt cutoff of Soviet assistance meant that Cuba now would have to pay Russia in hard currency for completion of the plant.

2. 2. The Fight for Food Self-sufficiency

President Fidel Castro indicated on several occasions that the food crisis was Cuba's "Achilles heel, and that it could be overcome only with the massive participation of all Cubans in the drive to achieve food self-sufficiency (Deere, 1991). Beginning in 1989 and expanding rapidly by mid-1990, Cuba's emergency food program (Programa Alimentatio) was designed to rapidly increase domestic food production in the event of the continued disruption of food imports. Substantial effort was also placed on improving the yield of sugar cane fields to compensate for lower prices, a principal characteristic of the new reorientation of Cuban exports toward the capitalist world market. In addition, an increasing percentage of Cuba's sugar product was diverted to domestic import substitution via by-products that could be used for animal feed.

An important aspect of the emergency program was its sponsorship of labor mobilization to produce food. Particular attention was given to cultivating lands for food production in the Havana province, including in local communities and on lands pertaining to workplaces. One object was to lower transportation costs associated with the movement of foodstuffs from the provinces into the densely populated city of Havana. The program also sought in principle to divert workers who were idled in other sectors to the agricultural sector. Thousands of state employees in the construction and agricultural ministries were given leave of absence from their jobs and sent to new posts located primarily on state farms in 1992 and early 1993.

By March 1992 scant availability of vegetables and some fruits were reported in Havana, but the early successes with food production were insufficient to resolve the demand for food in the Cuban economy. By 1994, the state took even more radical measures to encourage production and increase the stock of food supplies by re-introducing private farmer's markets that would allow producers to sell their goods at whatever price the market would bear. By early 1995, food products in variety and high quality began to circulate on the now legal market as private producers responded to the growing stimulus, making products which had not been seen for almost a decade available for those who could afford to purchase them.

3. Tourist Industry: Un Mal Necesario

With the onset of the Special Period, Cuba also placed a high priority on foreign exchange earnings. Of the many concessions made to salvage the economy and the socialist project, the most controversial has been the inception of tourism to bring in freely convertible hard currency. The State invested in the physical infrastructure in order to expand tourism into untapped regions of the island. At the same time, Cuba diverted highly educated and underemployed labor to the tourism industry, established new training facilities in tourist services, and prepared to accommodate the anticipated influx of foreign investment capital.

In 1989 Cuba's 13,000 hotel rooms earned $200 million from 326,000 tourists. Key markets were located with Canada, West Germany, Spain, Mexico and Italy. In 1990 it increased its capacity to receive 334,000 customers largely from the German and Mexican markets. A target of 500,000 tourists was set for 1992 for a yield of over $400 million in revenues. By 1993, as the quality of services improved, the over 560,000 tourists visiting Cuba generated a gross income of $720 million dollars (Diaz, 1996). The most recent figures hover around one billion dollars, an impressive fivefold increase in less than one decade.

While the Cuban state strived to maintain control over the tourist industry, joint venture capital entering the Cuban tourist industry now included major investors from Spain and Germany. For example, the creation of Gaviota, a major state enterprise based in the Cuban military, combined private enterprise flexibility with strong state financing and high worker discipline as it entered the tourist arena. By mid-1994 Cuba's Minister of Tourism projected that the island was quickly regaining its status as a tourist competitor and indicated that Cuba would break the one million tourist mark by 1996 with an annual income of $1 billion. Although the net profits are still low compared to the gross receipts, nevertheless the importance of such a drastic change in the economy was accompanied by several social changes.

4. The Special Period and Women's Lives

Scholars have given tremendous attention to the strides women have made since the triumph of the Revolution of 1959. Women have made substantial achievements materially and culturally, especially in professional status and in the struggle to change sexual ideology in the family (Smith & Padula, 1996, chapters 1-3). This view is shared by scholars such as Max Azicri, Carolee Benglesdorf, Lourdes Casal and Margaret Randall. However, I would argue that these changes have not extended necessarily to larger political and economic policies nor to party practice. The overall quality of women's lives, which is in serious jeopardy, is overlooked by most revolutionary ideology. Thus, women's existence as women has gone largely ignored. The issue of patriarchy has not been adequately considered by the revolutionary leadership. Therefore, it is not surprising that jineterismo has surfaced with a great deal of confusion inside and outside the political circles.

In this context I am defining jineterismo as a new form of women's work, and, therefore, the daily struggles of women's lives during the special period must be highlighted. First and foremost, women have been active in all the strategic programs initiated during the economic crisis. In 1992 women constituted more than 61 percent of the middle and upper level technicians, half of the doctors and 40 percent of all executives in the health and education areas. There has not been a reduction in female participation in the economy, but a reorganization of job sites. Women who worked in light industries which were subsequently closed were transferred to local industries closer to their homes. In addition to transportation problems, brown-outs (apagones) and the lack of kerosene and spare parts greatly affected women and families. There were difficulties in producing and procuring milk, meat, chicken and eggs, and even soap and detergent. The availability of rice, frozen fish and canned meat was reduced to a minimum. Cuba even experienced a total lack of sanitary napkins.

Overall, women have felt the difficulties of daily life more harshly than men during this period. While women had achieved professional advancements, traditional roles in the home persisted with women shouldering the burden of the double day. Even though some women's jobs were geographically relocated closer to their homes due to transportation shortages, many were given the option of taking a 30 percent cut in salaries and reducing their work days by one-third. Women spent the majority of their time creating and "inventing" ways in which to obtain food. In the early years of the Special Period, the black market was in full force. The exchange rate plunged from 8 to 10 pesos per dollar in 1988 to 100 to 120 pesos for $1.00 in 1994. Those fortunate enough to access dollars either through relatives in Miami, jobs in tourism, or state jobs (where goods could be easily stolen and sold on the black market) did not always experience the general hunger that the majority of Cubans confronted. Transportation shortages led to bicycle use, thus contributing to exhaustion and tremendous weight loss among the Cuban population.

Women, in particular, began to devise ways in which to earn hard currency, illegally. Many women would bake, sew, clean, cook, create small craft items in exchange for pesos, which eventually were converted into dollars, or better yet, dollars so that they could have a foreigner with access to a tourist store buy soap, cooking oil and detergent for them, as these items were not available on the ration nor in the black market. With electrical brown-outs, many food items for daily meals were acquired and consumed the same day in order to prevent spoilage. The daily preoccupation and challenge was to obtain food with dollars because dollars had greater purchasing power. However, the possession and use of dollars was considered counterrevolutionary and thus illegal.

People were expected to depend on a ration system that did not meet the daily nor monthly needs of the population, a black market which quite often was unattainable because of the extraordinary exchange rate (pesos and dollars), and to maintain hope that the tourist industry would bring about economic recovery, namely more food. The black market began to undermine the national economy, forcing President Fidel Castro to legalize the use of dollars in July, 1993 (Figueros & Plasencia Vidal, 1994).

The stories that follow of three women and one unnamed fifteen year-old who decided to become involved in jineterismo provide us with a brief glimpse at women who resort to activities that the revolutionaries had proudly eliminated from Cuba in the early 1960s.

5. Women, Sex, and Tourism

Angeles agrees to meet with me late one summer evening in 1996. She appears nervous, embarrassed, but anxious to talk with someone about the anguish she experiences daily. She is a petite 22 year-old university student anxious to leave Cuba. She lives with her parents who are unaware of her desires to marry a foreigner and leave the island. Angeles sadly states that the future of Cuba's youth is extremely unpredictable. She no longer feels secure as she did in her early teens. "I'm a university student, but I don't feel I'll benefit from my education. My parents work so hard to maintain our home. As you know, we lack everything, especially food. And without dollars, there's nothing for young people to do in this country. It's really hard to make sense of our lives during this time." Attending the university, worrying about her livelihood, and dealing with the lack of entertainment, Angeles desperately struggles to make sense of her life. Economic and social uncertainty led her to sex work in 1993. In September of 1997, Angeles married and now resides in Spain.

A pretty, fifteen year-old bleached blond, personifies Havana's return to the decadence that Fidel Castro's revolution was supposed to eliminate nearly four decades ago. She is barely five feet tall, weighs about 100 pounds, and is dressed in lemon hot pants and a black halter top. Her eyes are rimmed with thick mascara. "What country are you from?" she asks my colleague, blocking his way to the car door. Flirting in her childlike way, she tells my friend he is handsome, intelligent. She was not an aberration in the early phase of the Special Period. She was an important "handmaiden" in the service of attracting desperately needed currency (Enloe, 1990, chapter 2). She is one of the many young Cuban girls and women who have turned Havana into an attractive "fleshpot" for foreign tourists. Every day, dozens of men arrive at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport to begin their vacations with young women like Ana. She had a carefree attitude about what she was doing. She was driven partly by the desire to obtain cash, and also a desire just to have fun in a country that offers little entertainment outside places that are closed to her unless she is on the arm of a foreigner. Maria, a twenty year-old University of Havana student, comes to the illicit arrangement with an astonishing air of practicality. One night, as the young woman awaits her "date"--a paunchy Spanish executive in his 60s who has promised to take her to the Havana Club disco--she calculates her advantages. "I can earn more in one night than my mother can in five months," she says smoothing her sequined mini-dress that the Spanish executive paid for. "If it wasn't for the dollars I earn this way, I couldn't afford to continue my studies," she said. "I can make about $35 a night, eat a good meal and have a swell time." What does her Cuban boyfriend think? "He knows what I am doing. But we look upon this as an opportunity to get ahead, as a phase in our lives. It's no big deal."

These women are confronted with a choice between the glittery world of hard currency full of materialism and food against the difficult world of the average Cuban who has very little of either. The hard-currency world of cars, tourist shops, restaurants, discos and resorts is off-limits to the vast majority of the Cuban population-even though Article 42 of the Constitution specifically forbids such a segregated arrangement. But most Cuban women can break the barrier with a foreign tourist and briefly escape the harsh living conditions of most Cubans, who earn practically nothing and endure a monotonous diet of beans and rice. Practically anything worth buying-from jeans to shampoo--can be found only in stores once reserved for documented foreigners (who had to show passport, a visa or letter of affiliation or invitation from some institution) but now open to anyone with dollars to spend.

With respect to the Cuban male's reaction, not all Cuban men are as tolerant as Maria's boyfriend. It is a source of resentment among Cuban males, who cannot compete for attention without dollars, which were forbidden until 1993. Other men like Rosa's ex-husband will not tolerate the stigma of being associated with a jinetera either past or present. Rosa is a twenty-six year-old single mother living with her parents. I arrive at her two-bedroom apartment late afternoon in the summer of 1996. She is mopping the floors preparing for my arrival, warmly greets me, and offers me a glass of water. Rosa states, "I became involved in jineterismo because of my family's economic situation and especially for my child. Without the dollars, I can barely clothe and feed my child." Rosa continues, saying that she was fortunate enough to meet a Cuban man and marry. However, once her husband learned she had worked as a jinetera, they divorced. Rosa showed me a set of beautiful wedding pictures; we both sobbed not so much over the dissolvement of her marriage, but more so because of the contradictions and predicaments of life for so many Cuban women during the Special Period.

Later that evening, as I take another walk around the Hotel Riviera nightclub, the conflict is put into perspective. I notice a young couple dancing in front of a table of foreign tourists. Their rhythmic and synchronized moves are tantalizing and seductive. Shortly, they are invited by the foreign visitors to share a table. By the end of the evening, the young man is offering the sexual services of his female friend. During the ride home we ask the taxi driver, a young veteran of the Cuban forces who fought in Angola, about what we had just observed. He angrily stated that he did not fight in Angola to be banned from some lousy disco, so that Cubans could be treated like second-class citizens and Cuban women reduced to prostitutas.

In 1993, even though housing remained free or low-rent, food rations generally ran out by the middle of the month, forcing families to barter on the black market where stolen supplies and foodstuffs were sold. Educated Cubans scrambled for jobs they would have scorned before: tending bar or waiting tables for dollar tips in luxury hotels, where most Cubans were barred from entering. At the Capri Hotel which is centrally located in downtown Havana, my friend tells a familiar story. "I was a professor for five years at the University of Havana. Now I work 12-14 hours a day as a hotel porter. I get good tips in dollars, of course. Here, this is called progress." Indeed, the inequity between the dollar and peso has created an inverted economy in which bellhops at resorts make more money in tips than doctors and college professors do in salary. Another friend who was an elementary school teacher left his job to work as a waiter in one of Havana's finest hotels. He tells me he can now walk with me comfortably and without embarrassment as he can afford to buy me a Coca-Cola. Another friend, one of Havana's pool of young and gifted medical specialists, apologizes for not being able to spend a Friday evening with me because she has no divisa, meaning dollars.

By 1994 more than 160,000 Cubans had applied for licenses to set up their own businesses. Many others are simply going it alone without bothering with the legalities. Lacking capital and resources, most businesses depend wholly on ingenuity. An older man who lives next door to my friend refills butane cigarette lighters that in other countries would be disposable. He pays the government 50 pesos a month for his license, and another 24 pesos for every day he sets up shop in a nearby plaza with dozens of other artisans. Arts and crafts markets lined the streets of downtown Havana with artisans selling their works for dollars.

By 1995 food consumption had increased with the establishment of farmers markets, home restaurants (paladares), food stands (particulares), and the re-opening of a few state restaurants that accepted pesos. The famous Coppelia ice cream park now accepted both dollars and pesos. However, for many, especially young Cubans, tourists with dollars continued to provide the only access to certain goods and entertainment. In and around the clubs and hotels, particularly in Havana, cash exchanges for sex have become common practice. Additionally, women offer their company, their conversation, their charm in return for an expensive meal, a night of drinks and dancing or a chance to shop at the dollar stores. Beyond the hotels, on the streets and plazas, young men work in the underground economy, selling illegally obtained cigars and other goods and changing pesos for dollars at many times the official rate. Recent observations in 1996 and 1997 suggest that a small number of young men are also engaging in forms of sex work. (They are referred to as "jineteros" or the more vulgar street term, 'pingeros").

Many now depend on the black market for goods that are virtually impossible to get otherwise, for instance, cigarettes. This inevitably affects the social conscience and consciousness of Cubans. The boom in black market activity has prompted police crackdowns. Cubans are being armed to protect "important economic sites" from burglary, and street thefts are rising. These developments could threaten to undercut Cuba's ability to offer tourists a safe and secure Caribbean vacation, one of the greatest advantages Cuba has over the other Caribbean islands.

The two-tiered system of currency created during the Special Period, not only contributes to a socially stratified Cuba but has also resulted in a "tourist apartheid." Many Cubans called for the elimination of the dual currencies to counter this trend, A single currency would allow Cubans to buy any goods or enter any establishment if they had enough money; to some extent, there would still be a division between foreign and domestic tourist activity, but it would be based on purchasing power and not on discrimination against Cuba's own people.

The government is uncomfortable with market mechanisms to curtail or increase domestic demands for foreign and luxury goods. Although it has taken a definitive stand on the currency issue, the government has essentially abdicated all other key tourist development questions to its semi-autonomous enterprises. These in turn proceed without any overall strategy. Yet, the form of tourism that the government endorses--one that will benefit all Cubans by providing collective goods-presupposes a guiding political force and a plan. Yet, as the government loses its vanguard role in this now vital sector of the economy, it is relegated to acting as a kind of police force maintaining a favorable investment climate. Cubans thus enjoy neither the accumulative benefits of capitalism nor the input into the social process characteristic of the best aspects of Cuban socialism. By not permitting market activity within the domestic economy, while selling off chunks of the island to foreign investors, the government has taken a path that benefits those who least support the revolution. Everyone else suffers with the hope that the sacrifices will help them get through the crisis with health care, education and other services kept intact for their families.

Despite the economic gains made by tourism and other economic strategies of the special period, many Cubans must struggle to obtain food. No doubt, overall food consumption has increased; however, monthly incomes remain insufficient for meeting the basic needs of the population. Thus, jineterismo continues to flourish in the tourist areas. In addition to exchanging sex for food, clothes, entertainment, and other necessities, women are now looking to various forms of jineterismo as a way of leaving Cuba; that is, to find potential foreign marriage partners.

6. The Politics of Sexuality and Cuba's Economic Crisis

The return of sex work has caught the attention of both the Cuban government and the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). The official position on sex work argues that unlike women who worked to survive or were deceived into prostitution during the period of economic destitution before the Revolution, these modern-day sex workers are trading their bodies for consumer goods and recreational opportunities otherwise unavailable to them (Diaz, 1996, pp. 1-33). Because many of these young women are well-educated--some are even university graduates--their turning to sex work puzzles and dismays many Cubans, whether or not they support the policies of the revolutionary state. Researchers from the FMC and MAGIN (organization of prominent women from the National Women's Press Association) report that the circumstances for prostitution in today's Cuba are vastly changed from the period leading up to the Revolution in 1959.

A more critical gendered analysis brings new interpretations. Jineteras are seeking power in the new tourist marketplace, the power of access to consumer goods and otherwise unobtainable amusements and diversions that are associated with the privileges of tourists and foreign businessmen. Some of the important differences between present-day jineterismo and pre-revolutionary prostitution are in the type of clients, educational access, family and social reactions, and levels of self-esteem. These changes are linked to the rapid development of tourism and increased opportunity for contact with foreign men.

Prostitution's customers used to be primarily Cuban men; today's clients are tourists from all over the world. Most young women today have the benefit of extensive educational opportunity in Cuban society compared to opportunities for most women before the revolution. Based on research conducted by the FMC, many jineteras are not rejected by their families or by most of society. In fact, few have low self-esteem compared to women stigmatized prior to 1959 as putas or whores (Weisman, 1995, pp. 24-27). What has remained the same is in the social definition of illegality; yet, today's government prosecutes and offers treatment (especially in the case of related drug addiction) to jineteras.

Mirta Rodríquez Calderón, a leading journalist and co-founder of MAGIN, who has written and published extensively on gender and sexual politics in Cuba (including Digame, Usted!, a collection of thought-provoking columns in Granma), has interviewed women who have relations with tourists. She characterizes jineteras as young women who, with very few exceptions, do not have to practice commercial sexual relations to survive. Instead, she believes, what motivates most of these young, mainly dark-skinned, Afro-Cuban, women to practice jineterismo is the desire to go out, to enjoy themselves, go places where Cubans cannot afford to go and have fancy clothes. Other women, a minority, she estimates, may be engaging in jineterismo because they have families and truly need the money and goods. Rodríguez Calderón further describes the differences between modern-day jineteras and pre-revolutionary prostitutes in terms of power. Today's young women practice jineterismo for the "freedom" to go out-dancing, dining, to concerts, to visit Varadero Beach or other resorts, and to shop in dollar stores. Some of these young women are looking for potential spouses in foreign men in order to leave Cuba for a more stable and consumer-oriented life. Others look at current options in Cuba to earn a living and make money. A secretary, for example, currently earns 190 pesos a month (roughly $9.50--given the current exchange rate of roughly 20 pesos to $1), while a family doctor (the majority of whom are women) earns 250 pesos or about $12.50 practicing medicine, compared to $35 to $50 for one evening for a woman who is practicing jineterismo.

Calderón also theorizes the interaction of racism and prostitution. Many of the people who left Cuba since 1959 are light-skinned and living primarily in the United States; they are sending money to their relatives still living in Cuba to lessen the economic hardships. Young women without access to family resources in the U.S. have a greater need for the economic assistance of this kind of work, adding to increased racial segmentation in both class and gender status. Racism and the double sexual standard also create the market among European businessmen for the exotic/erotic "other." The combination of foreign men seeking sexual partners who are racially and culturally different, coupled with the sexual double standard's separation of women into "good" versus "bad" ones, reinforces the desirability of darker-skinned Cuban women as sex objects.

The government's inconsistent response to the rapid rise of sex work reflects the double gender standard. The major focus is on changing the behavior of women, not the behavior of male prostitutes (jineteros), foreign businessmen or tourists. A number of feminists have called for a shift in emphasis. Instead of attacking the supply, attack the demand. What is most frightening about this unexpected result of tourism is the illusion of "freedom." Although jineteras do not appear trapped now, the practice of jineterismo may bring harm to young women in more serious and limiting ways. Celia Berger of the FMC states that if a young woman manages to marry and leave the country, she faces the possibility of being sold into sexual slavery (Weisman, 1995, pp. 24-27).

Therefore, the FMC is urging women in grassroots organizations to target schools through the leadership of the UJC (Union of Communist Youth) and encouraging the 50,000 social workers (mainly volunteers) associated with the FMC to conduct studies on the images of Cuban women portrayed abroad to promote tourism. The MAGIN is conducting the educational and training programs for tourism planners and economic decision-makers. The MAGIN further advocates a major shift in tourism's focus, emphasizing the wealth of health and medical, ecological, family/recreation and historic/cultural resources--instead of selling implied sexual adventure (Diaz, 1996).

While the current methods to reduce and ultimately to prevent the practice of prostitution are significant and timely, there is a need for fundamental economic, social and political responses to jineterismo. Given the underlying cause of economic scarcity, the extreme difficulties of solving the economic crisis, and its further exacerbation by the U.S. government's foreign policy, can (or how can) the Cuban government overcome these structural barriers? The problem requires a gendered analysis of the construction of sexuality. For example, which women are jineteras and who decides what behavior is prostitution? Given the still unequal sexual division of labor in Cuban society and the relatively traditional socialization of men and women and their sexuality, how does "the Revolution" change the culture that creates the desire for prostitution by men and the perception of economic powerby women who practice jineterismo? Only a social and political revolution of feminist values can provide a decisive analysis and vision for new constructions of gender, sexuality and power relationships, Until women become more than a sector for development and accomplishments, power arrangements will continue to perpetuate models of domination. For many women inside and outside Cuba, it is a great shame that the Cuban Revolution can no longer claim to have eliminated both illiteracy and sex work.

7. Sexism, Tourism and International Politics

Further probing into the tourist industry from a critical, global, feminist perspective can shed light on international politics and longstanding political relationships between local residents and tourists. For example, Enloe (1990, chapter 2) argues that women in many countries are being drawn into unequal relationships with each other as a result of government sponsorship of the international tourist industry, some because they have no choice, but others because they are making their own decisions about how to improve their lives. Many women are playing active roles in expanding and shaping the tourist industry, as travel agents, travel writers, flight attendants, crafts women, maids, sex workers--even if they do not control it. Despite the good intentions of the feminist tourist/researcher, the relationship between the privileged tourist/researcher and jinetera, for example, fall short of any imagined international sisterhood (Enloe, 1990, p. 20).

Cuba, Tanzania, North Korea, Vietnam and Nicaragua are being governed today by officials who have adopted a friendlier attitude toward tourism. Indebted governments that have begun to rely on tourism include those that previously were most dubious about the tourism route to genuine development, especially if "development" is to include preservation and national sovereignty. Cuba and the other mentioned countries are being complimented and called "pragmatic" by mainstream international observers because they are putting the reduction of international debt and the earning of foreign currency at the top of their political agenda. Many of the advertisements luring travelers to sunny beaches and romantic encounters are designed and paid for by government tourist offices. Most of those bureaucratic agencies rely on femininity, masculinity and heterosexuality to make their appeals and achieve their goals. Local men in police or military uniforms and local women in colorful dresses-or in the case of Cuba, very little dress at all--are the preferred images. The local men are militarized in their manliness; the local women are welcoming and available in their femininity.

Sex tourism is not an anomaly; it is one strand of the gendered tourism industry. While economists in industrialized societies presume that the "service economy," with its explosion of feminized job categories, follows a decline in manufacturing, policy-makers in many Third World countries have been encouraged by international advisers to develop service sectors before manufacturing industries have the chance to mature (Enloe, 1990, chapter 2).

To succeed, sex tourism requires Third World women to be economically desperate enough to enter prostitution; having done so, it is difficult to leave. The other side of the equation requires men from affluent societies to imagine certain women, usually women of color, to be more available and submissive than the women in their own countries. Finally, the industry depends on an alliance between local governments in search of foreign currency and local and foreign businessmen willing to purchase sexualized travel (Enloe, 1990, chapter 2).

The hushed and serious tones typically reserved for discussions of nuclear escalation or spiraling international debt are rarely used in discussions of tourism. Tourism does not fit neatly into public preoccupations with post-Cold War conflict and high finance. Although it is infused with masculine ideas about adventure, pleasure and the exotic, sexual relations are deemed "private" and thus kept off stage in debates about international politics. Yet, since World War II, planners, investors and workers in the tourist industry, and tourists themselves, have been weaving unequal patterns that are restructuring international politics. And they depend on women for their success (Enloe, 1990, chapter 2).

Cuban tourism might be providing much-needed liquidity, but it is not a solid foundation on which to build an economic recovery, especially as it relies on foreign investment to trickle down to the population. An alternative strategy would instead increase participation of the Cuban people in economic planning and implementation. Here the government could begin by engaging a public debate on how to develop a form of tourism that does not come at the expense and exclusion of Cubans. This debate could then extend to the larger issue of how to integrate market activity into a socialist country in a way that preserves the gains of the revolution. The absence of such an internal discussion will not forestall difficult choices but would mean simply that such choices will be made for Cuba by the more powerful forces of international capital.

8. Conclusion

On a global scale, government and corporate officials have come to depend on international tourist travel for pleasure in several ways. First, over the last decade they have come to see tourism as an industry that can help diversify local economies suffering from reliance on one or two products for export. Tourism is embedded in the inequalities of international trade, but is often tied to the politics of particular products such as sugar, bananas, tea or copper. Second, officials have looked to tourism to provide them with foreign currency, a necessity in the increasingly unequal economic relations between poor and rich countries. Third, tourism has been looked upon as a spur to more general social development; the "trickle down" of modern skills, new technology and improved public services is imagined to follow in the wake of foreign tourists. Fourth, many government officials have used the expansion of tourism to secure the political loyalty of local elites. Finally, many officials have hoped that tourism would raise their nations' international visibility and even prestige; tourism continues to be promoted by bankers and development planners, the majority of whom happen to be men, as a means of making the international system more financially sound and more politically stable.

Without ideas about masculinity and femininity&endash;and the enforcement of both&endash;in the societies of departure and the societies of destination, it would be impossible to sustain the tourism industry in its current form. It is not simply that ideas about pleasure, travel, escape, and sexuality have affected women in rich and poor countries. I am suggesting that the very structure of contemporary international tourism needs patriarchy to survive. Men's capacity to control women's sense of security and self-worth has been central to the continuation of tourism.

Feminist organizations concerned with jineterismo, both inside and outside Cuba, must seriously examine the larger question of patriarchy and international tourism in relationship to Cuba's current economic crisis. Movements that upset any of the patterns in today's international tourist industry are likely to upset one of the principal pillars of contemporary world power. Such a realization allows us to take a more optimistic second look at the young women who seductively entice men along Cuba's Malecon for a fistful of dollars. They could have, with a certain combination of socio-economic conditions, the potential for reshaping the international political order, thus placing Cubans at the forefront of dismantling patriarchy and serving as a beacon of hope, justice, and democracy.


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------- - (1996) "Cuban Socialism: Adjustments and Paradoxes," Working Paper Series, FLACSO. Havana. Cuba, pp. 1-20.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Cuban Troupe Granted Asylum

Miami Herald
Posted on Fri, Jul. 22, 2005


Cuban Vegas troupe granted asylum
Members of the Havana Night Club show defected to Las Vegas from Cuba in November. Now, the U.S. government has granted them asylum.


Members of Havana Night Club, the show that drew headlines when its members defected en masse last year from Cuba and settled in Las Vegas, will walk into a government office today to apply for something many Americans take for granted:

Social Security cards.

''Then, a new life starts,'' said Nicole Durr, the show's director.

The 49 dancers, singers and musicians this week received letters in the mail at their Las Vegas apartments with the word: They had finally been granted U.S. asylum.

Said Puro Hernández, the show's musical director: ``Now comes the responsibility that comes with credit cards and bills. You have it all -- now you have to know how to manage it.''

The troupe defected in November and began an extended run at the Wayne Newton Theater at the Stardust Resort & Casino.

The show spans the history of Cuban music, starting from deep drums entrenched in the island's African roots, to the Spanish colonial era, the Tropicana cha-cha-cha pre-Castro days and the infectious reggaeton of today.

''This is great news and I'm glad they've been received as openly and generously as they have,'' said Joe Garcia, the former executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, who lobbied for their visas.

Havana Night Club had performed across Europe and Asia and was invited to play in Las Vegas by entertainers Siegfried & Roy.

But troupe members couldn't obtain visas because of the chill in relations between Cuba and the United States.

After Durr proved to the U.S. State Department that the troupe operated independently of the Cuban government, visas were granted.

Cuba balked at letting them come, but amid international pressure -- from exile groups and even protests by cast members -- the Castro government relented.

Saying they would never be able to return to Cuba and perform, 51 of 53 members defected. Two of the defectors eventually went back to the island.

Gloria Estefan performed with the troupe in Las Vegas in December.

Later, professional baseball pitcher Orlando ''El Duque'' Hernandez, who had defected with the help of the same immigration attorney as theirs, also visited the show. He teared up after seeing the performance.

The troupe has since done two stints at the University of Miami's Convocation Center.

The group also made headlines in June when producers pulled from the market a CD that featured a music video that critics said promoted travel to Cuba. The show said the CD was produced well before the defections.

Havana Night Club's run has been extended at the Stardust until Sept. 4.

Big plans are in the works, said show director Durr, who promised the performance is being made even grander.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Ocha history in NYC

The Yoruba Orisha tradition comes to New York City
African American Review, Summer, 1995 by Marta Moreno Vega

The work of Katherine Dunham, Zora Neale Hurston, and Pearl Primus - building on the research of Melville Herskovits and W. E. B. Du Bois - introduced an intellectual perspective of the African Diaspora into the arts. These artists worked studiously to incorporate an international racial and cultural legacy into an African-based aesthetic which could serve as a unifying link for Africans in the Diaspora. Dunham, for example, insisted that the members of her dance company understand the cultural traditions of creative expression in their respective countries, and her school at 43rd and Broadway nurtured developing and accomplished artists who embraced the African Diaspora in their creative expression. "Our school," writes Dunham in an unpublished autobiography,

became the popular meeting place of Caribbean, Central and South American diplomats, painters, musicians, poets and the like. At our monthly "Boule Blanches" we usually presented new and untried Cuban orchestras such as Perez Prado, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria and Bobby Capo. Cuban Julio Iglesias toured with us for a couple of seasons. Celia Cruz came to these affairs both as a guest and entertainer. Among our regular participants and followers were Helen Hayes and her daughter, Lena Home, Xavier Cougat and many others. (2)

Dunham's work with the Maroons of Jamaica and with traditional African communities in Haiti, along with research in Cuba, Martinique, and Senegal - among other locations - filled the productions she staged for international audiences with images, symbols, music, dance, instruments, and ritual practice of the African Diaspora. But Cuba held a special attraction for her.

On Dunham's first trip there, in 1938, she met the families of the drummers Julio and LaRosa, and performed rituals that they had been unable to accomplish in New York City. And to maintain an African Diaspora focus in her dance company, she incorporated the expertise of researchers like Fernando Ortiz and Lydia Cabrera; the writing of Afro-Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen; and the music of the composer Lecona in her productions. "Cuban music and ritual," she writes, "were inextricably interwoven into my life - both personal and professional."(1)

When Dunham could not find drummers for her company in 1952, she returned to Cuba and recruited Julito Collazo and Francisco Aguabella, renowned percussionists in the Latino, jazz, and popular music communities who had been trained in the Orisha tradition.(2) Julito Collazo would become one of the pioneer members of a small group of Yoruba traditional practitioners who were instrumental in establishing Orisha worship in New York City. He settled in New York in 1955 when Dunham's touring company ran out of engagements,(3) and along with Francisco Aguabella, he performed the songs, dances, and music of Afro-Cuban traditions and spread these traditions to international audiences.

In 1955, there were approximately twenty-five people in New York City who were believers in the Orisha tradition (Collazo interview). The founding member of the Orisha tradition in New York City was Babalawo Pancho Mora (Yoruba name, Ifa Morote), who arrived in New York in 1946 and, soon after, established the "first ile, or house of the orishas" there (Murphy 50). Mora had been initiated as a high priest of Ifa in Cuba on January 27, 1944, by Babalawo Quintin Lecon, a renowned Cuban Ifa priest, and was the first babalawo in New York to practice Ifa divination (Murphy 49-50).

Mora's belief in this ancient tradition and his desire to maintain his belief system motivated him to found the first Orisha community in the city. From his pioneering work, the tradition has grown to include thousands of initiates from all walks of life and ethnic groups. He has initiated several thousand godchildren from varied professions and international backgrounds, and has traveled extensively to Latin America and nationally to perform rituals and spread the practice of Santeria (Mora interview).

On December 4, 1955, Francisco Aguabella and Julito Collazo attended their first Santeria ritual in New York, a celebration to Chango (Santa Barbara) by santero Willie, also known as "El Bolitero" ('the numbers runner'), an Afro-Puerto Rican initiated in Cuba by Pancho Mora's sister. Aguabella and Collazo found out about the ceremony, which took place at 111th Street and St. Nicolas Avenue in Harlem, at the world-famous Palladium night club, where many Latin musicians gathered and played.(4)

After observing for a time the ceremony at the home of Willie "El Bolitero," Collazo and Aguabella joined in the singing. They attracted much attention, since few people at the time knew the Yoruba chants to the orishas. As the son of the renowned santera Ebelia Collazo del barrio San Miguel in Cuba, Julito Collazo had grown up in the Orisha religion and learned the intricacies of this African-based tradition (Collazo interview).(5) At the age of fifteen, he was accepted into a neighborhood bata drum group and began his professional career. Simultaneously, Julito became more involved with other Afro-Cuban religions and increased his knowledge of the philosophies and rituals of each sect. Under the guidance of the renowned traditional bata drummer Pablo Roche of Cuba(6) and of master traditional drummers Raul Diaz, Trinidad Torregrosa, Nicholas Angarica, and Miguel Somodeville, Julito Collazo became omo Anya, initiated in the secret knowledge of the Orisha Anya, owner of the drum.

The Yoruba community between 1955 and 1959 included important figures in the entertainment field who helped promote the songs and music of the Santeria tradition. The presence of Cuban musicians like Frank "Machito" Grillo and Mario Bauza, founder of the Afro-Cubans Orchestra, influenced Afro-American jazz as well as Latin music. Bauza's introduction of master Afro-Cuban drummer Chano Pozo to Dizzy Gillespie, and the incorporation of Chano Pozo - an initiate of Afro-Cuban religions - into Dizzy's orchestra, opened new musical horizons in African American jazz.

The continued collaboration among Chano Pozo, Mario Bauza, and Dizzy Gillespie further served to popularize traditional Afro-Cuban music. Gillespie continued throughout his career to incorporate the music of Santeria, the rhythms of Abakua rituals (nanigos), Kongo music, and others, because of his close association with these Cuban musicians. Together, they developed "Cubop," the integration of two African-based musical styles:

Chano taught us all multirhythm; we learned from the master . . . . He'd teach us some of those Cuban chants and things like that . . . . You have different ones, the Nanigo, the Arrara, the Santo (music to the Yoruba Orisha) and several others, and they each have their own rhythm . . . . They're all of African derivation. (Gillespie 319)

The percussionists Patato Valdez, Candido, and Mongo Santamaria were also very influential, and the affinity of the Puerto Rican musicians culturally and musically with Afro-Cuban music and musicians established a strong bridge of exchange. Tito Puente, the internationally known Puerto Rican musician, left the Afro-Cubans Orchestra during this period to establish the Tito Puente Orchestra. The circle of musicians that were part of his group included Puerto Ricans Willie Bobo and Ray Barretto, and Cuban Vincentico Valdez. Although few of the Cuban musicians were initiated (Collazo interview), they were surrounded by Santeria practice in Cuba, and so they brought the philosophy, belief system, and rituals with them to New York City. The passing on of these traditions to Puerto Ricans during the early days of Santeria practice in New York City was critical to its growth. In fact, the first initiates in New York City were Puerto Ricans. The similarity of languages, histories, geographic location in the Caribbean, and racial and cultural expressions provided the basis for easy communication and exchange.

The center of Orisha activity was located on the Upper West Side, where most of the Afro-Cuban and Afro-Puerto Rican community resided. The Rendezvous Bar at Lenox Avenue between 113th and 114th Street, where stowaways from Cuba "hung out," and the beauty parlor of Illuminada at 110th Street and Madison were popular meeting places among Orisha believers. The concentration of Latinos in these areas enhanced the familiarity between the two cultural groups and nurtured the growth of the Orisha belief system.(7)

In 1956, the Afro-Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria organized the first public performance of Orisha music and dance at the Palladium night club, in tribute to the Yoruba Orisha Chango. Julito Collazo performed songs and dances for the Orisha Chango and made a broad audience aware of this ancient African belief system.(8)

The music of Santeria continued to receive popular exposure when Tito Puente asked Julito Collazo to participate in recordings of his orchestra. These recordings introduced Yoruba chants for the first time in contemporary commercial recordings in New York City. Latin Percussions, one of Tito Puente's classic albums is considered the first commercial recording of Santeria music (Collazo interview).

Another traditional leader who advanced Yoruba tradition in New York City was Cuban-born Mercedes Nobles (Yoruba name, Oban Yoko), who traveled to New York in 1952. Yoko's mother was eight years old when her Afro-American grandparents moved to Cuba during World War I. In 1958, Yoko returned to Cuba and was initiated into the Yoruba tradition on March 9 as a priestess of Chango. Julito Collazo played for her first cumpleano de Santo, her Orisha birthday celebration, on March 9, 1959 (Collazo interview).

During the late '50s, as the Orisha community expanded in New York City, believers would return to Cuba to perform initiations. In 1961, Oban Yoko, with the consent of her Orisha, performed the first initiation of Orisha ('mounting of the Orisha,' or hacer Santo) on the head of Julia Franco, at 610 W. 136th Street in Manhattan. Yoko went on to establish a casa de Santo ('House of Orisha') in New York City. When I interviewed her in 1981, she had initiated thirty-two people into the Orisha tradition, and as the first santera to initiate a recognized Orisha godchild in New York City, she established precedents for performing initiation ceremonies there. The reaction to this pioneering move was much criticized (Collazo, Scull). However, Oban Yoko's pioneering spirit gave Orisha a permanent home in New York, and the presence of Babalowos Pancho Mora and Bebo sanctioned this first step in initiating devotees in New York City. Not only did Yoko's courageous and pioneering action validate New York City initiations, but local initiation allowed people who could not afford to travel to Cuba to become recognized members of the Orisha community.

The influx of Cubans escaping the Cuban Revolution of 1959 further accelerated the belief in the Orisha tradition in New York City, as Joseph Murphy points out:

Since the Cuban revolution of their 1959, the United States has seen a reinfusion of Africanity into its melting pot. Thousands of santeros have come as exiles, bringing the orishas to America again. This has meant a second, if less brutal, transplantation and a second acculturation of Yoruba religion. This time an entirely new set of ethnohistorical factors has come into play as santeros acquire North American culture and Americans feel the impact of santeria. (115)

The growing community of Latinos, the establishment of botanicas, where ritual products could be sold, and the creation of Latino neighborhoods served to facilitate the practice of the religion, and as a consequence the presence of Orisha became increasingly public in the Latino community. The handful of practitioners in New York City in the early 1950s were joined by several thousand others by 1964, the year Pancho Mora held a public drum ceremony that attracted three thousand people, including Latin music stars Julio Collazo and Machito (Murphy 50). During the 1960s, Mongo Santamaria also held public celebrations to the Orisha Chango in Latino teatros.

During this period, re-creations of Cuban bata and conga drums were used. The first bata de fundamento was brought to New York City from Cuba in 1979.(10) These drums were ritually prepared, given voice (dar le voz al tambor) by Papo Angarica in Cuba, a babalawo, omo Anya, musician, son of a famous santero, oriyate, and historian. Sacred drums receive the same ritual birth as people: Just as initiates are born from believers - thus maintaining and extending ritual family ties through the community - the drum is born from another sacred drum, thus establishing historical and traditional linkages.

Since there were no sacred drums in the U.S. before Ornelio Scull acquired his, it was not possible to "give birth" to sacred drums developed in New York City. Now various sets of sacred bata drums exist outside Cuba. One set belongs to Orlando "Puntilla Rios," omo Chango, omo Anya, who came to the United States during the Mariel Boatlift in 1981. He is one of the most influential ritual drummers and performers of the Afro-Cuban Yoruba tradition in New York City. Once he established himself in the Orisha community, he had a set of sacred bata drums consecrated. Another set belongs to Puerto Rican percussionist and omo Anya, Louis Bauzo, who, as a traditional musician and leader of a traditional dance company, has helped promulgate the Orisha tradition.

The first African Americans to initiate into the Yoruba belief system were Oba Sergiman and Christopher Oliana in 1959. Already versed and initiated into the Haitian system of Vodun, they sought to expand their spiritual knowledge and cultural centeredness. Pursuing Black Power strategies to empower the African American community, Oba Sergiman opened the first African American temple in West Harlem devoted to the loas (divinities of Dahomey) of West Africa and Haiti and the orishas of Cuba (originally of Yorubaland West Africa).(11) He notes that his pride in the reclamation of Africa as part of the African American experience came with much struggle.

African Americans and Cuban Americans had to confront cultural barriers and racist attitudes before the orishas could encompass both communities. The participation of the African American community in Yoruba traditions increased Orisha exposure, but publicity made the Cuban traditional community uneasy, since many of its members were illegal aliens trying to maintain a low profile. The images of Catholic saints in Cuban/Puerto Rican Yoruba practice created another point of conflict between Latinos and African Americans, who wished to remove all images of Western European oppression from the tradition. These issues motivated African Americans to look increasingly towards Nigeria for their development in the Orisha traditional belief system.

African Americans actively sought to incorporate the orishas of Cuba and 1oas of Haiti into the Black Power Revolution as a means of confronting the division between the African American and Latino communities. The inclusive vision of santeras Asunta Serrano, Mercedes Nobels, Juana Manrique, along with Babalawo Pancho Mora, helped embrace African American initiates. In the Harlem community, African Americans discovered the gods of Africa at their back doors. The Cuban and Puerto Rican communities had brought and preserved the orishas and made them available to the African American community. The work of anthropologists and artists like Zora Neale Hurston, Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, Percival Borde, W. E. B. Du Bois, and others had provided culturally grounded principles which guided the thinking, work, and practice of cultural activities of the late sixties and seventies. And Black Arts activists, in turn, incorporated the symbols, languages, images, rhythms, songs, and dress that connected our Diaspora experiences to our root cultures. The work of Puerto Rican visual artist Jorge Soto incorporated the symbols of Orisha Chango, the thunder-god. The work of African American artists Amiri Baraka, Larry Neal, and Barbara Ann Teer reflected the understanding of Yoruba philosophy and practice. The works of cultural nationalists connected political struggle to cultural expansion, providing creative expressions directly connected to our historical legacies and continuity.


1. Dunham adds, "I am definitely Yemanja. She is my guide and my mother, unless I happen to be involved in Buddhist research. Fortunately, there is not conflict between Yemanja sent out to sea in her gift-laden barque on the shores of Corcavado in Brazil, or a river whose name I do not know in Ibadan, Nigeria, or a leaky, Haitian boat sent out to sea, hardly seaworthy, with a time-worn Yemanja lying on the prow on her sequine-covered bedspread, or on my balcony at Leclerc in Haiti, or right here on my small altar in East St. Louis, Illinois. Frankly, I feel as much Cuban as anything else" (Durham 3).

2. All of the leading performers who have been instrumental in the promulgation of Orisha tradition were part of the cultural aesthetic movement nurtured by Katherine Dunham. Before they became major performing artists in the Latino community, Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Perez Prado, Julito Collazo, and Francisco Aguabella all exchanged information and ideas in the nurturing environment Dunham established. The interrelationship of the cultural experiences of the African American and African Latino communities dates to the mid-thirties, and the music of Tito Puente, Celia Cruz with La Sonora Matancera, and Celina would educate New York audiences in the songs and celebratory messages and practices of the Orisha tradition of Cuba.

3. In Cuba, December 4 is the feast date of Chano, and of Santa Barbara, the catholic saint, who is used as a camouflage for the African Orisha Shango.

4. Conga drums were played at the ceremony in 1955 by the Afro-Cuban musician Arsenio Rodriquez, who came to New York City around 1949, and his brother Kiki, who was initiated with the Orisha Ogun in Cuba, before coming to New York City (Collazo interview). During this period, the sacred bata drums used in Yoruba ceremonies had not been introduced to New York City. The toques (drum ceremonies) were played with conga drums solely. Collazo's account differs from Robert Farris Thompson's statement: "Julito Collazo and Francisco Aguabella brought bata to the United States in 1955" (170). Actually they brought their skill in playing the bata drums and their knowledge of toques. Omelio Scull introduced the first set of Cuban fundamento drums to New York City. The first set of sacred bata drums arrived in New York City in 1979 (Scull interview). When Collazo first started playing toques, he played solo with conga drums and sang simple Yoruba chants, so that people could follow the call and response necessary in ceremonies that provide the energy to call the orishas to earth to manifest themselves.

5. Collazo's mother had been initiated in Cuba by an African named Dominga Latuan.

6. Pablo Roche was a major informant for anthropologist Fernando Ortiz in his research documenting African traditions in Cuba.

7. In the early sixties, the courts became aware of the practice of Orisha: A santero accused of manslaughter killed a chicken in court before the judge who was to decide his sentence, and the judge became so irate that he had the santero deported to Cuba. In Cuba, the santero was freed, since the laws of the United States did not apply to Cuba. The man is still living there (Collazo interview).

8. Robert Farris Thompson says that the first time he saw Julito Collazo perform for the orishas was at the Palladium night club during the Chango presentation. They were formally introduced by the orchestra leader of the Afro-Cubans, Frank "Machito" Grillo, child of the Orisha Chango.

9. Ornelio Scull also participated in this first initiation lavando Elegua and Obatala ('washing the Orishas Elogua and Obatala'). This is part of the Orisha ritual of initiation and rebirth into the Yoruba belief system.

10. According to Ornelia Scull, Olu Anya de Oba De'e (a Yoruba name indicating ownership and name of the sacred bata drum set), a master traditional drummer, bought the drum to New York City.

11. In a presentation to the Caribbean Cultural Center in New York City, Oba Sergiman recognized the need to connect the Black activist movement to a culturally grounded philosophy and lifestyle. He identified a division within the Black Power Movement between political activists and cultural activists. Sergiman's cultural activism led him to develop the first temple in West Harlem and later to establish Oyotungi Village, a Yoruba community in South Carolina.

Works Cited

Gillespie, Dizzy, with Al Fraser. To Be, or Not . . . to Bop. Garden City: Doubleday, 1979.

Dunham, Katherine. Autobiography-in-progress.

Murphy, Joseph M. Santeria: An African Religion in America. Boston: Beacon, 1988.

Thompson, Robert Farris. Faces of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas. New York: Museum for American Art, 1993.

Collazo, Julito. Telephone interview. Feb. 1995.

Mora, Pancho. Personal interview. New York, May 1981.

Scull, Ornelio. Personal interview. Puerto Rico, Mar. 1994.

Sergiman, Oba. "History of the Orisha Tradition in New York City." Caribbean Cultural Center, New York, Feb. 1994.

Yoko, Oban. Personal interview. New York, May 1981.

Marta Moreno Vega directs the Caribbean Cultural Center in New York City. She recently received her Ph.D. from Temple University in Philadelphia and developed this article from her dissertation on Yoruba philosophy.

COPYRIGHT 1995 African American Review

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Santeria vs. Catholicism in Cuba (1998)

Afro-Cubans say Catholics have slighted their religions

In Cuba, a clash between religions Afro-Cuban creeds, Catholics at odds

January 12, 1998, in the Miami Herald
Herald Staff Writer

In a clash over Cuba's religious image, leaders of Afro-Cuban creeds are complaining the Roman Catholic Church has launched an offensive against them on the eve of Pope John Paul II's visit.

Catholics have branded them "pseudo religions,'' the Afro-Cuban leaders say, excluded them from meetings with the pope and rejected their offer of a drumming rite of welcome for the pontiff in Havana's cathedral.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega has denied attacking the religions and said he's only criticizing efforts, by the communist government, to promote Afro-Cuban rites as an alternative to Catholicism and a tourism draw.

"It gives me great pain that for propaganda and business reasons . . . there are attempts to split'' Afro-Cuban believers away from Catholicism, Ortega told the church magazine Truth and Hope in a recent interview.

"These brothers know . . . the church has always welcomed them with Christian Love,'' he added. "The offensive, if there is one, is not against those brothers but against those who aim to split them away.''

Such words have not soothed leaders of the religions brought to Cuba by African slaves—Santeria, Palo Monte and Abakua—who complain that Cuba's Catholic hierarchy is out to attack and marginalize them.

"As far back as October, the church has been more publicly verbal in its anti-Santeria positions,'' said Ricardo Guerra, a Havana Santeria babalawo, or priest, who talked to Ortega after a Mass last Tuesday.

Catholics claim to be the largest religion in Cuba, with 4.2 million baptized members. Afro-Cuban rites have a strong following, but one harder to quantify because they lack institutional organization.

"I told Ortega we simply wanted to know why they excluded us'' from the pontiff's Jan. 25 meeting with leaders of Cuba's Protestant, Jewish and Catholic faiths, Guerra said in a phone conversation.

"The cardinal said the meeting is for Christians only, but that he would try to meet us after the pope's trip,'' Guerra said. Told that Jews are not Christians, he seemed surprised. "You see? It's just us.''

Not taken seriously

Afro-Cuban religious leaders also pointed to past comments by Ortega, who has referred to the faiths as "pseudo religions,'' and Havana Msgr. Jaime Gaitan, who has said that Santeria "lowers man to mediocrity.''

"There are academics who believe Santeria is an official religion. It would seem that our culture was African . . . and that this would be the only way to express religiosity,'' Gaitan said in a homily in September.

Behind such comments is the belief by Cuban Catholics that the communist government has long favored Afro-Cuban religions as a political counterweight to Catholicism and a lucrative tourist attraction.

Although President Fidel Castro favored Santeria in his first years in power as the religion of Cuba's black and poor, his government began stifling all religions when it declared itself communist and atheist in 1962.

But in 1978, the government began promoting several Afro-Cuban babalawos, friendly to the regime, as folkloric attractions for foreigners who paid in hard currency, said Havana Santeria expert Natalia Bolivar.

They were the so-called "diplo-babalawos,'' who charged for their services in U.S. dollars, just like the government "diplo-stores'' that sell imported goods to foreign diplomats in dollars.

The government kept most of the dollars, Bolivar said, from the $15,000 that a Spanish TV station once paid to film a half-hour ceremony to the $1,000 that babalawos charged to initiate visiting foreigners into the secrets of their religions.

Those babalawos also put on special "ceremonies'' for foreigners, including some with bare-breasted women dancers who went into "trances,'' and eventually drew strong protests from serious believers.

Government tourism offices, meanwhile, promoted the Afro-Cuban religions in their advertising abroad, giving the impression that Santeria and not Catholicism was the island's dominant religion,

"For years this government has promoted Santeria as a virtual official religion, giving oxygen to friendly babalawos to earn tourist dollars while trying to asphyxiate the church,'' said one Havana priest.

A more defined faith

But with Catholics growing in strength as Castro eased restrictions in advance of the pope's visit, the priest added, church leaders decided it was time to push their own dogma, embracing all Afro-Cuban believers who accept Catholic leadership while distancing the rest.

"It seems to me the church has decided that it wants people to be more defined in their faith, less willing to mix their Catholicism with Santeria,'' said Ernesto Pichardo, president of Hialeah's Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye.

"They are pushing for the people to be fully converted to Catholicism, and not be mixing religions,'' added Natalia Bolivar, both an academic expert and believer in Afro-Cuban religions.

Catholic relations with the Afro-Cuban religions have always been uneasy because of their tenuous common ground—Catholic practices adopted by the Afro-Cubans long ago to hide their African roots from slave masters.

Ortega has recently sidelined the Rev. Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, a former Havana vicar and liberal who long advocated Catholic tolerance of Afro-Cuban religions and followers.

But even the leaders of Afro-Cuban religions themselves do not agree on their relationship with Catholicism.

Many babalawos insist that theirs is a "syncretic'' religion, a mixture of African and Catholic beliefs. That is why some of the Afro-Cuban gods known as Orishas also have Catholic equivalents such as the Virgin Mary.

"I have been Catholic since birth, and I demand that all my followers are baptized in the church before I initiate them,'' said Miguel Angel Plasencia, a 47-year-old Santeria priest in Havana.

But some purists argue that Afro-Cuban rites should be considered independent, fully formed religions that only took on some of the trappings of Catholicism to protect themselves.

"These are not syncretic religions,'' said Bolivar. "They are separate religions, but they make use of Catholicism and send their people to fill Catholic churches.''

Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald

accessed from:

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Holy Wars, Inc. (1998 article on Santeria in Miami)

Originally published by Miami New Times 1998-04-09
©2005 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.

Holy Wars, Inc.
A vicious fight is raging among the high priests of newly fashionable Santeria, where Websites beckon and the gods are far from crazy
By John Lantigua

White-haired Gerardo Lastra is behind the counter at his business, the raucous Riviera Botanica in the Allapattah section of Miami, when an unusual pair of customers cruises in. One is a portly Santeria priest in a flowered shirt, an elderly man Lastra knows as Vicente. The client with the santero, however, is a stranger: middle-aged, dressed in a beautifully tailored suit, designer tie, and what appear to be Gucci pumps. He is impeccably groomed, the picture of modern success as he stands next to a life-size statue that represents the ancient African deity Chango, god of thunder, lightning, royalty, and virility.

Vicente places their order: a rooster, two hens, a peahen, seven plants that have special powers, and two different kinds of flowers. While the order is being filled, the second man's cell phone sounds. He steps outside to escape the cacophony of the disconsolate sacrificial fowl caged at the rear of the store.

Lastra asks Vicente who the new customer is. "Oh, he's a politician, a Republican," the santero replies. "We're going to ask Eleggua to open the way for him and his candidates." Eleggua is an oricha, a Santeria deity.

Lastra smiles. "Well, that's good. I'm a Republican too." The younger man returns and pays the bill of $62.74 after complaining about the rise in prices. He and Vicente walk out, their birds inside brown paper bags punched with air holes, to face the 1998 elections.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of a unanimous Supreme Court decision that, in effect, legalized Santeria. The ruling struck down laws on the books in the City of Hialeah that prohibited animal sacrifice and that had been used to curtail the free practice of the religion. Since that ruling, Santeria, though still misunderstood and maligned, has grown in numbers of followers and in the diversity of people who practice it, says Lastra.

"We get everybody in here -- doctors, lawyers, prosecutors, you name it," he explains. It amuses him that while prosecutors once visited wanting to close him down, he has since had them in his shop as customers. Visits to local santeros reveal the pace at which Santeria, essentially nature worship, is adapting to the modern world. But those contacts also expose bitter and vituperative divisions among some high-profile practitioners, rifts that have emerged since they all celebrated the Supreme Court decision. It is a power struggle that appears to be tied to the process of modernization and institutionalization of a religion said to be 5000 years old. But there are also accusations that behind the bad blood is competition for the money spent on rituals -- millions of dollars each year in Dade County.

On Palm Avenue in Hialeah, in the midst of a major commercial strip, Fernando Pichardo, age 48, sits in the office of his storefront temple, the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye. Fernando is a santero but performs no religious rites. Instead, he handles the business and legal issues for the church. At the moment, he is expanding his Website ( Nearby hang the church's framed papers of incorporation in the State of Florida. It was Pichardo's 43-year-old brother Ernesto -- the oba, or master of rites, of their church -- who took the groundbreaking case to the Supreme Court and won. At the moment, Ernesto is performing private consultations in an adjoining office. The throwing of sacred cowrie prophecy shells, sixteen miniature conches, can be heard through the closed door.

The homepage of the Website carries this slogan: "Progress is our religious mission." Traditional Santeria drumming and lyrics, sung in the Yoruba language of Nigeria, accompany the text, which explains that Babalu Aye was the first Santeria temple in the nation to certify clergy, 80 of whom have been issued documents of authenticity since 1995.

The site also lists courses, Ernesto Pichardo's clerical and academic history, and the names of the temple's board of directors. "We believe that maintaining a professional organization and good character can sustain our religious and cultural prestige. Prestige in the long run will provide a longstanding, powerful institutional foundation." One of the church's goals: "To establish affiliations and support with other corporations and legal entitiy [sic]."

For a religion identified in many people's minds with the sacrifice of goats and chickens, this is surprisingly legalistic language. But Santeria is much more than bloodletting, the Pichardos insist, and since their court victory, modernization and expansion of their religion have been their principal goals.

Today Lukumi Babalu Aye lists people of seventeen nationalities in its congregation, which is mostly Latin but includes Italian, British, and Russian immigrants as well. It offers for the first time ever in the United States Santeria baptism, marriage ceremonies, and funerals in an institutional setting; burial plots were recently contracted for at Woodlawn West Cemetery in West Dade. The Pichardos also visit inmates in local prisons for religious ceremonies and counseling.

But the degree to which the brothers are trying to institutionalize Santeria may best be illustrated by the latest addition to their Website. It is a feature that will allow priests and priestesses to buy at wholesale prices many items used in rituals for the deities. The name of the service is Orisha Depot. Among those items are sacred oils, cowrie shells, necklaces made of coconut shells and other natural fibers, and clothing (almost always white, the color favored by practitioners). Orisha Depot also offers items used in rituals for specific orichas, such as beaded axes, and the occasional animal -- bats, for example. Finally, the list includes "user-friendly, preformatted consultation forms for ifa and merindilogun," the records that must be completed after a divination session when the shells are thrown.

There are different fees established for "sponsors" of the church, who pay twenty-dollar monthly dues, and for "associates," for whom contributions are voluntary; there is also a column marked "clearance sale."

Fernando Pichardo compares the service to that available to the Catholic Church, which buys candles and wine wholesale. It's all part of the modernization, he says. "It makes good common sense."

Miles away in the middle-class Miami neighborhood of Belle Meade, a phone rings. The occupant of this comfortable house, a large, middle-aged black man in a shirt of African design, answers. "ASi?"

He listens a moment. "Yes, this is the santero Rigoberto Zamora," he answers in Spanish.

As he listens, his eyes travel around his consulting room, which is crowded with statues -- an Egyptian priestess, an American Indian chief, the Virgin Mary, African figurines representing spirits. Other decorations include peacock feathers, a real lion's head, a grass skirt, and an Encyclopedia Americana, although Zamora reads little English.

"Where are you calling from long-distance? Ah, Santo Domingo, very good."
He plays with the buckle on the black leather briefcase next to his cell phone. "No, I can't do that kind of consultation just like that over the phone. Yes, we can do the consultation by fax." The fax machine sits in view, just beyond a bowl filled with bones.

"No, the fax number isn't in the ad in your newspaper." (Newspapers from the Dominican Republic and Miami lie on the desk, all containing his ad: "Consultations Babalawo [high priest], Rigoberto Zamora.") "But first you have to send me a money order for $25. That's right. Of course, if you need a treatment, that will cost more. Yes, okay, I will wait to hear from you." He hangs up.

Like the Pichardo brothers, Zamora is moving into the modern age. In the next room is a computer on which he says are the names of his many clients and the histories of his consultations with them. Santeria clergy have always kept such records; each one is called a libreta de ita -- the "book of life," the adherent's life.

But despite the fact that they are both using technology in the service of their ancient religion, Ernesto Pichardo and Rigoberto Zamora are sworn enemies. Zamora, age 59, is best known in South Florida for his arrest for sacrificing goats and fowl in front of television cameras on June 27, 1993, days after Pichardo's Supreme Court victory.

The cameras recorded what Zamora said was a Santeria ritual. They showed Zamora and a helper, Pedro Flores, in white caps, sacrificing goats and a lamb by sawing across the animals' necks with knives. They killed chickens in a similar fashion, though they ripped the heads off some of the birds and dashed others against the ground. Altogether about twenty animals were killed in an apartment on Miami Beach. The cameras caught blood gushing into buckets on the floor and piles of carcasses. Zamora claimed to be exercising his newly validated rights, but neighbors were outraged. The police claimed his knives were dull enough to have caused unnecessary suffering. They eventually charged him with cruelty to animals.

For Ernesto Pichardo, who for years had fought to have his religion recognized and legalized, exorcised of its negative connotations and embraced by more believers in the United States, Zamora's videotaped carnage was a disaster. Within weeks a group of more than 350 babalawos from the United States and the Caribbean Basin, with Ernesto Pichardo as their spokesman, went public with a petition condemning Zamora. Such sacrifices were not to be performed for television cameras, the clergy said, but only in limited religious situations. They labeled Zamora a charlatan and a notoriety-seeker.

His knifework that day made him famous outside the Santeria community. "I am extremely well-known," Zamora says. "People stop me at gas stations and stores. I have been on all the big local shows -- Ocurrio Asi, Pedro Sevsec, Cristina -- and I've been interviewed by journalists from all over the world."

But as his notoriety has grown, so has the feud with the Pichardo brothers and their allies, who claim Zamora is not a babalawo at all and that his claims to the title of santero are fabricated.

"Babalawos who have spoken with him, questioned him, say he is a complete impostor," says Ernesto Pichardo. "People get off the plane from Cuba, set up in an apartment somewhere, and claim they are babalawos. They cheat people. This is why we need certification, why we need an institution -- to weed these people out."

Zamora spits back: "Pichardo, he wants to monopolize this religion. He wants to be the Pope, and in Santeria, there is no Pope. All santeros are independent. Anyway, the only people who really understand this religion are black people like me. It comes from Africa. It is in my blood. Pichardo is white. It isn't in his blood. The whites are trying to steal our religion because of the money in it."

Santeria is said to have tens of thousands of followers and hundreds of clergy in South Florida, with some 50 botanicas in Dade County alone to supply its believers. Initiation as a santero, involving a multifaceted series of ceremonies that takes weeks or months, costs from $7000 to $8000 at the low end and up to $15,000 or more, Ernesto Pichardo explains, depending on which oricha sect the person is joining (The oricha will serve as a believer's guardian and be accorded special homage. Which oricha protects a believer is determined by the throwing of cowrie shells). Just how many people are being initiated is not clear, but everyone agrees the religion is growing.

As the church's two best-known figures in South Florida, Ernesto Pichardo and Rigoberto Zamora represent starkly different images of Santeria and visions for its future. Pichardo, a former freelance advertising and marketing consultant, has designed and taught courses on Afro-Cuban religions at Miami-Dade Community College and instructed law-enforcement, hospital, and mental-health personnel in the same subject. He wears suits and ties on occasion, speaks and writes English, and discusses his beliefs in academic tones. Like many well-to-do white Cubans, Pichardo came to the United States early in the Cuban exile, in 1961.

Zamora, by contrast, was a foot soldier in the Cuban army that fought against Fidel Castro and is descended from slaves who worked on the sugar-cane plantations of Havana province. He speaks almost no English, wears dashikis, and expresses himself in bursts, his arms slashing through the air like machetes. He didn't leave the island until the Mariel boatlift of 1980, when many less affluent Cubans arrived in Florida. "You have to understand that many people who came during the Eighties spent their whole lives until then in neighborhoods where our religion was practiced in Cuba," cautions Picardo. "They know enough to put on very interesting facades. They can fake it."

The Eighties also brought serious image problems for Santeria. It was embraced publicly by certain gaudy cocaine dealers who asked the deities to protect them from police and rival dealers. Some santeros embraced the drug traffickers, taking hefty fees from them, says Pichardo. "Our religion was almost bankrupted by that kind of person," he adds. "The problem we had in the Eighties was, we weren't institutionalized. We couldn't police ourselves."

Pichardo says today there is a great deal of fraud being perpetrated on believers by santeros with no training or verifiable "godparents" in the religion. Entrance into the clergy is a matter of apprenticeship and of participating in certain rituals. Since many practicing santeros emigrated from Cuba, checking on "lineage" is complicated. There is no licensing except through Pichardo's church, so anyone, he says, can set up as a santero and begin taking believers. Besides the regular fee for shell readings, the clergy charges for "treatments," which run from cleansings with branches and herbal drinks and baths to performing prescribed good deeds or collecting natural objects, like sticks or feathers, for offerings to the gods. Such treatments can cost hundreds of dollars.

Pichardo accuses Zamora of being one of those impostors. "We have been told by representatives of the religion in Cuba that Zamora was never initiated. Even his family says it isn't so."

Zamora is incensed at the charges. "I was initiated," he insists. "I was dipped in the river. My head was painted. They put saints on my head. I slept on the floor for seven days. I went to drummings. I can tell you my godmother and godfather and the witnesses.

"But more than that," he continues, growing irate. "I was persecuted in this country for practicing my religion. I had to move six or seven times over the years. One time the police came to my apartment in Little Havana. I had blood all over me. I had to hide the carcasses of the animals under a bed. The police told me to open up. I said, 'Only if you have a warrant.' They went away, and the people in the ceremony finally left.

"Pichardo didn't suffer that, because this society is racist," says Zamora. "I have suffered for my religion. And in that religion, power does not come from any institution. It comes from my own power of prophecy, like santeros all through the ages."

Many people wrongly believe Santeria is some kind of devil worship fueled by animal sacrifice. Why would anyone believe in it? Why would it be growing, and why would anyone argue over its future? The answer lies largely in hundreds of Santeria consultation parlors spread all over South Florida.

In a consulting room in the neighborhood of Allapattah, a santero is peering into the future. The room around him is decorated with unsettling figurines, including the Grim Reaper. He pours his cowrie shells into his hands and shakes them with a clicking sound that is millennia old. He mumbles an incantation in Yoruba mixed with Spanish, draws a cross pattern with the shells, then lets them fall into a wicker tray.

The santero is Rene Martinez, a 39-year-old goateed man with a ready smile and a gentle manner that belies his background, which he says includes stints as a Navy SEAL and undercover agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Over his short-cropped black hair, he wears a purple silk cap with gold trim, donned especially for the reading.

Several days before, Martinez celebrated the seventh anniversary of his initiation as a santero. Under a tent in his back yard, surrounded by believers and accompanied by drummers, he fell into a trance, "possessed" by the deity who is his guardian. He kissed the ground, then rose and began to twirl madly. His gaze became wild, and he broke out in a sweat. Finally, using only hand signals because he could not speak, he chose individuals from the crowd and conveyed messages of counsel to them from the oricha. About a half-hour later, exhausted, he emerged from his trance, once again calm and soft-spoken.

He stares now at the small shells. There are sixteen of them, as always, each with a puckered opening on one side that looks like a mouth -- an old mouth, hopefully, a wise mouth. He counts how many of the shells land mouth up, notes the number in the "book of life," and throws twice more. The two numbers that emerge are nine and five.

"Osa-oche," he says, using the Yoruba words for this combination of numbers. "That means wind and blood." He is doing the reading in English, a language that gives him a professional advantage, since many santeros speak only Spanish. He has given his client a ball of crumpled white eggshells to hold in one hand, symbolizing good. A small conch shell is held in the other; it bodes trouble, he explains. He taps one fist, takes the fetishes back, and starts again. He will throw the cowrie shells a total of twenty times, sometimes combining numbers, sometimes not. He provides a running commentary on the cyphers and their general connotations, finding some positive, others not so propitious.

In the middle of the reading, the santero's beeper goes off. He checks, but it's not an emergency. He finally embarks on his interpretation of the shells, guided by the numbers but applying his own powers of prophecy. If there is a pressing issue, he will deal with that; if not, the reading takes a look at the near future. There are changes coming, he tells his client, "money sitting outside your door," if the client will only stick to his projects. A relative is sapping strength. Make that person be more independent. Be circumspect with ideas; someone close may stab you in the back. You are divorced, aren't you? Sexually active, so watch for sexually transmitted diseases. He frowns at one particular set of numbers and taps them with a wary finger. "And definitely watch your prostate."

"My prostate?" the client asks.
"Yes. Your kidneys, too. But definitely your prostate. I'm not saying there's anything wrong or anything will happen, but go to your checkups regularly."

"I'll do that," the client promises.
Instructions follow, which Martinez says will drive off negative forces: Go to the botanica and buy special beans called miniestra. Put them in a plastic bag and wipe them over the body three times. He also wants a small amount of smoked fish, some corn, and several pennies placed in a gourd and left in some bushes. The client puts $21 in the wicker tray, 21 being a significant number in Santeria and the traditional payment for the basic service. The reading is over. Martinez smiles warmly and says goodbye. He has a perfect bedside manner.

According to Santeria practitioners, the growing numbers of people who consult them don't do so simply to have their futures deciphered, but rather to confront specific crises in their lives. "Lots of people with stress, ya know?" says Martinez. "Lots of stomach problems, lots of nerves, and lots of depression." Clients arrive with all the dilemmas of modern life: pressures pertaining to money and love, to workplace and legal issues and illness. Those conditions are often exacerbated by the complex emotional history of exile and forced migration shared by many South Floridians. And $21 is nothing compared to the $150 or more psychiatrists charge per hour.

A woman and her sixteen-year-old son arrive together for a consultation in a sparkling new four-wheel-drive vehicle. "They're from Nicaragua," Martinez explains. "The boy has big problems. At one point he came up behind his mother with a knife as if he was going to stab her. She had to have him put away. The mother is bringing him to me now. I try to calm him down."

In visiting the waiting rooms of santeros, one gets the impression that the majority of the clients are women, middle class, and under various degrees of duress. Santero Jose Montoya works out of his large new home in Country Walk in Kendall. An ally of Zamora in the conflict with the Pichardos, Montoya has been supporting himself as a santero in Dade County since 1984, a few years after he arrived from Cuba. He says that more than 90 percent of his clients are women. "Most of them want help with affairs of the heart -- infidelity, loneliness, separation, divorce, broken families."

Ernesto Pichardo also says that women tend to seek his help more than men, though the gender gap at his church is not so wide and his adherents' issues are more varied. "Women always seem to be more concerned with the sanity of their families," says Pichardo. "And they have more spiritual concerns."

He thinks Santeria is embraced by Hispanics, in particular, not just as a way to confront common ills, but also as an antidote to Catholicism. "Catholicism's bottom line and emphasis is the afterlife, and it causes a lot of alienation in this life," he says. "Catholics don't know their here-and-now. How can anyone keep those Ten Commandments all through life? How can you not fail? There are future lives in our religion, but it focuses primarily on this life. It is concerned with good health, tranquillity, and prosperity in this life right now. There are no evil forces in it, only positive. We try to keep people balanced."

Besides individual readings, the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye offers ceremonies called "spiritual masses" conducted by the Pichardos' mother, Carmen Pla Rodriguez, who is recognized by her followers as a medium. Ostensibly a ritual to make contact with the dead, one recent spiritual mass attended by twelve people turned into something more like a group therapy session. The group focused on a man in his twenties who said he worked for a car dealership; he was having problems with his nerves. The participants -- who included an airplane mechanic, a factory manager, and two hospital workers -- all wore the traditional white. They sat in a circle in the main room of the church, which was filled with incense, glasses of water, burning candles, and a shrine to the dead. With Rodriguez leading them in communion with the dead, they said they were being contacted by spirits giving them information about the young man. Based on those contacts, they had recommendations to help him alleviate his tensions.

"That is how our religion is," says the 68-year-old Pla Rodriguez. "We turn to the human being next to us and try and see how we can help him."

Still, her son Ernesto rejects the depiction of santeros and santeras as inexpensive psychiatrists. "What distinguishes us from psychiatrists -- and from Catholic priests, who also counsel people -- is our power of divination."

For a moment, Pichardo sounds like his enemy Zamora, who opposes centralization of the religion and says each practitioner's power is based on an innate ability to see the future. But Pichardo hastens to explain: "That power [of divination] must be developed through training and study. Certification of priests will assure that. We need to return the religion finally to the institution it was and is in Africa."

The history and nature of that institution, the model Pichardo wants to invoke, is debated not just by Zamora, but by others, as well. Santeria was born in what is now Nigeria as early as 3000 years before Christianity, scholars say. Its true name is ayoba -- Santeria, or "the way of the saints," being a derogatory term originated by the Catholic Church in Cuba, according to Pichardo. Ayoba, which is essentially a form of animism, recognizes the life force in all of nature. It identifies deities who personify those forces, according to Pichardo: Chango for thunder, lightning, and virility; Yemaya for the sea; Olokun for the dark and secret bottom of the sea; Ochon for love; Obatala for creativity; Osain for healing. Through a holy person and rituals of divination, contact is made with those gods, and their forces are tapped.

"In Nigeria each deity in a community has a temple," says Pichardo. "Apart from home worship, you have these centers. Ordination to the priesthood there is a community event. When slaves were brought to Cuba, their religion was outlawed by the Catholic Church. It had to be practiced clandestinely, and, yes, it became a way to deal with crisis." Not only for the Afro-Cubans but, beginning in the Spanish colonial era, for the white Cubans who turned to the gods of their slaves when they despaired of getting help from their own Catholic saints.

"With Catholicism you are told to pray and then wait. We, on the other hand, confront the crisis," says Pichardo. "We give people tools to fight these negative events in their lives." Those tools are the rituals and other acts designed to bring back a stray spouse, for example, or save a dying relative. "What we do is demonstrable," he continues. "It is not based on faith."

Constitutional changes in Cuba in the Forties assured freedom of religion, but ayoba was not recognized as a religion and still had to be practiced in the shadows. Castro's government, in contrast, has nurtured it, though the reasons for that are perhaps Machiavellian. Some say government support is a way of undercutting the influence of Catholicism. Others claim Castro has used the religion as a tourist attraction. (Some practitioners in Cuba charge tourists in dollars and are called diplobabalawos, as in diplotiendas, the stores that accept only U.S. currency.) Still others note that a religion employing herbal remedies helps alleviate the drastic scarcity of Western medicine on the economically ravaged island. The Cuban government has formed an association of Santeria practitioners, but there are no temples in Cuba.

What Pichardo envisions is radically different. "After failed attempts in Cuba," he says, "what we are trying to do here is bring back that sense of community that existed and exists in Africa, and not depend on the individual so much. This society demands it."

But Miami-Dade Community College anthropologist Mercedes Sandoval sees the heritage of Santeria differently. She has been a student of the religion in South Florida for years and understands its attractions in the modern world, especially for women. Women can reach positions of influence as santeras through its apprenticeship system and without long, formal study. They cannot be babalawos, but their prospects are better in Santeria than in Catholicism, says Sandoval. "It serves as a family support system for many people," she says. "It gives people a way to deal with matters they can't control in their lives. And it gives them direct contact with the supernatural."

She has also been studying the ongoing struggle for influence among the locals. "Ernesto Pichardo is a precocious individual. He is man who knows a lot about this country, a lot about public relations, how to beat the system. That is to his credit." But she believes his attempt to institutionalize Santeria and certify santeros is ill-founded and ill-fated. "Santeros have always been independent," she says. "The allegiance of the santero or santera is to his or her own lineage, his own teachers. That is the way it works."

Sandoval believes there are other reasons Santeria has not been centralized. "In Nigeria the names of deities, and sometimes the beliefs, change from one area to another. In Cuba it's the same. There were no missionaries who came to convert them. The priests were slaves. There is no bible. They don't have one leader. In Havana some babalawos used to come together, but many others were very isolated.... Just look at the Christians in the beginning. It took a long time to establish what we know as the Catholic Church. They borrowed the structure of the Roman empire, the Pope as emperor. We come from that experience of centralization. In Nigeria they came from separate kingdoms. What he's talking about will be very different and difficult."

And then there are the differences in personalities involved. Zamora ally Jose Montoya, who organized a conference in 1996 to try to establish ethical controls on the church, says he has since given up any attempt to bring Santeria clergy together -- and he doesn't want to be organized by anyone either. "Babalawos are very egocentric people," says Montoya. "I'm tired of trying to organize them. I won't do it again."

Sandoval uses a different word to describe them: "Santeras and santeros are the most jealous people in the world. My God, how they go at each other."

In Miami backbiting has become vicious. After Pichardo's outspoken attack on Zamora after the Miami Beach slaughter, the venom escalated. "Pichardo is an enemy of the religion," Zamora fumes. "He joined the police in attacking me." Zamora is standing on the patio at his house. On the ground around him are chicken feathers; next to them is a blue plastic bucket with water bloody from the latest sacrifice. "These are people who have no authority. Neither of the Pichardo brothers can be head of ayoba. They can't even be babalawos because they are both gay."

Pichardo confirms that in Africa homosexuals cannot become babalawos, but he points to his two children and two marriages. "I don't think Zamora knows much about my relations with women," he says. "But I also think that kind of attack on anyone is not very priestly."

At the moment Pichardo may have the upper hand. Over the past two years, his enemies have closed Santeria operations they tried to run outside their homes. Zamora shuttered a storefront consulting room on SW Eighth Street in Little Havana, and his ally Montoya folded his Church of Chango Eyife down the street from the Pichardos' church. They both say the locations were bad, and each says he does very good business in private practice at home.

Montoya has retired from the public spotlight in the past year, but he remains angry at the Pichardos. He calls them "my enemies, 100 percent" and says he isn't finished with them. "I haven't said much lately. But I'm biding my time," Montoya warns. "I'm like the cabaria, a bird that waits and then strikes the fatal blow in the chest with its beak."

Back at the Riviera Botanica, Gerardo Lastra is still doing dynamite business. Behind the counter are signs announcing that he accepts MasterCard and Visa. You can put your goats on American Express. He owns a house in Miami Lakes, as well as the large jungle-lush lot across the street from his store on Seventeenth Avenue in the middle of the city. There he grows medicinal plants of all kinds. People troop in with crumpled pieces of paper bearing instructions from their priests.

A Venezuelan santera arrives, accompanied by a very beautiful young woman of Greek descent who speaks only English. Her boyfriend is apparently straying. The piece of paper the santera holds says, "When the Flame of Love Has Gone Out." It contains a recipe for baths and teas and offerings to the gods. Lastra, the Republican, is not worried about the ecumenical struggle going on around him. "All I know is that this is growing. The orichas are here to stay.