Cubans celebrate their saints despite outbreak of COVID-19

HAVANA, Sept. 9th (AP) Hundreds of Cubans took to the streets of Havana on Monday and Tuesday despite an outbreak of the new coronavirus to ask the virgins of Regla and de la Caridad, who also represent powerful Afro-Cuban deities, for health and prosperity.

Although the processions were suspended and there is no public transport, people arrived the day before to the coastal town of Regla, on the outskirts of the city, to greet the patron saint of the place and, in the case of the Santeria believers, pay tribute to Yamanyá with offerings thrown into the sea.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, many worshipers gathered at the Church of Charity, where Ochún is entertained in the Yoruba tradition, a series of spiritual beliefs and traditions originating in West Africa.

In both cases, the images were taken to the door of their respective temples to receive their devotees, who were not allowed to enter the buildings.

According to experts, 70% of the Cuban population carries out some type of Afro-Cuban religious practice -a syncretism between the religion of the conquering whites and the black slaves- in its different variants such as Santeria or Abakuas.

“There are many separated families, may the Virgin unite them and cure all ills,” José Joaquín Rondón, a 23-year-old mechanical engineer who walked to the Iglesia de la Caridad from Santos Suárez, a popular neighbourhood, told The Associated Press. about 10 kilometres.

« In the Yoruba religion, Ochún is celebrated, in the Catholic one, Caridad, » added Rondón, dressed in a yellow sweatshirt, the colour that identifies the devotees of this deity. « It is the same (holy) and it is the foundation of Cuban culture, of the (mestizo) tradition of our country. »

In the wrought iron fence of the Church of Charity, worshipers with sunflowers in their hands and necklaces of beads or crosses – in the case of Catholics – crowded. All wore face masks, mandatory in Cuba, while some called on people to keep their distance. Local government officials approached the temple to urge people to take care of themselves.

From the street, prayers and sacred music from the temple could be heard, which will keep activities until four in the afternoon. In Havana, where the epidemic situation is complex, there is a curfew starting at seven in the afternoon.

The authorities allowed the mass of the Iglesia de la Caridad del Cobre in Santiago, about 1,000 kilometers from Havana and where the original image of the Virgin is located, to be broadcast on television.

Those who could not go to the temple, especially the believers in Santeria, installed altars in their homes.

“I have crowned Ochún in the Yoruba religion for four years. And I always put it together with Yemanyá because yesterday was her day, ”Ariadna Arregoitía, 34, explained to the AP, showing the altar with the images of both saints placed on what was the counter of her restaurant and which has been closed since March for the pandemic. « I hope this is over … you want everything to return to normal and move forward. »

At the arrival of COVID-19 there were some 600,000 entrepreneurs – a record number since President Raúl Castro approved some timid reforms in 2010 – of which in April, according to the latest official figures available, at least 139,000 had temporarily delivered or permanently their licenses and thousands more had closed.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) the island’s economy could fall by 8% this year due to the cessation of tourism and the loss of remittances.

In addition, Cuba must deal with US sanctions that were dramatically increased under the administration of President Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, the director of Epidemiology, Francisco Durán, reported 25 cases of the new coronavirus for a cumulative total of 4,377 infections and 104 deaths.

Cuba managed to control the virus relatively in July and some provinces have not reported cases for more than a quarter, but since restrictions were relaxed, there was a re-outbreak in Havana and its surrounding areas.