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WITCHES SEEK TO FORM OWN LABOR UNION IN NICARAGUA

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Vexed by taxes, doctors, and fly-by-night impostors, the witches of Nicaragua are hoping to conjure up some political clout with protest marches and a union of their own.

A labor union for witches?"People hardly come to me now because there are new so-called witches popping up everywhere," said Andrea Pena, the unofficial queen of witches in Diriomo, a witchcraft center of Nicaragua.

"And now I have to pay 60 cordobas a month ($12) in taxes for my business," she said. "I'm four months behind on my taxes."

Pena led a coven Wednesday in a discussion of the plight of Nicaraguan witches, bedeviled by rising taxes and unfair competition from greedy newcomers and physicians.

The witches, who use mostly herbs, lotions and other natural recipes for their spells and cures, considered holding a protest march against high taxes, as well as forming a witches' labor union, but no definite plans were made.

The practice of using unconventional healing methods is popular throughout Latin American. People often look to witches to cast spells or conjure up a potion that will bring them love, money, or better relations with their relatives.

Pena, 42, said doctors have begun a campaign against witchcraft.

"It's because we take business away from them," she said. "The people I get here already have gone to many doctors who don't do anything for them. I cure them and I'm cheaper."

Pena - who cooks her family's meals and magic potions in an open hearth in her home - said she starting her apprenticeship at age 12.