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practice Santeria, Marxist ideology, social sanctions, African religions, revolutionary government

It is difficult to accurately assess religious affiliation and political ideology in Cuba. Before the revolution, Cuba was a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, although a fairly sizeable proportion were Roman Catholic in name alone and no longer practiced their religion regularly. The revolutionary government has vacillated on religionís official position in Cuba. Beginning in the 1960s, the government harshly condemned and deported many Catholic officials. The government rarely gave attractive career appointments or promotions to Catholics who continued attending church. In addition, the government often imprisoned and imposed social sanctions on those Catholics who actively opposed government policy on religious matters.

During the 1980s, however, the governmentís position changed somewhat, allowing the faithful to worship without penalty. In 1998, at the invitation of Castro, Pope John Paul II paid a four-day visit to Cuba. During his trip, the Pope encouraged the spread of Christianity. He challenged Marxist ideology as the dominant belief system in Cuba by encouraging people to put their faith in Catholicism and not in secular ideology.

A significant portion of the population, including some who profess Catholicism and others who are high officials of the government, practice Santeria, a mixture of Catholicism and African religions. The Castro government has attempted to accommodate this religion, allowing Santeria priests, known as babalaos, to hold parades and sell their predictions to foreigners in designated temples. Many Cubans see no conflict in being a Catholic, a believer in Santeria, and a Marxist. About 40 percent of the population professes no religious faith, officially classifying themselves as Marxists.



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