Mon 21 Jan 2008, 20:24 GMT
HAVANA, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Yoruba gods protect ailing Fidel Castro from witchcraft and want to see him continue leading Cuba, the first priest of the Santeria religion to be elected to parliament said on Monday.
"Olodumare says he is the one that should be there and so he is untouchable," said Antonio Castaneda, a babalawo (priest) in the religion slaves brought to colonial Cuba from Nigeria.
Hurricanes may batter Cuba this year, but Castro's health will not break, according to the orishas (deities), he said.
The 614-seat National Assembly elected on Sunday must approve Cuba's top leadership at its first session on Feb. 24, when Cubans will learn whether Castro will retire as head of state.
Castro, 81, has not appeared in public since stomach surgery for an undisclosed illness forced him to hand over power temporarily to his brother almost 18 month ago.
Santeria followers have believed their gods were on Fidel Castro's side ever since a white dove landed on his shoulder during a victory speech in Havana after his 1959 revolution.
Castaneda, who played the sax at Havana's famed Tropicana cabaret for 30 years, never joined Cuba's Communist Party, but considers himself a "revolutionary." He praised Cuba's social safety net despite widespread economic hardships Cubans face.
He said 60 percent of Cubans believe in Santeria and he can give them a voice in the National Assembly. Castaneda won a seat as president of the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba, which is close to the government.
The orishas augur a good year for Cuba, the babalawo said. "If Cuba marches ahead, so too does the Comandante," he said. (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Eric Beech)