When I met them several years ago in our community of Alamar, I couldn’t quite figure them out.
In my mind -trained by the rigors of academia, contemplative art and traditional Party activism- they seemed half-crazy…these “black hippies” dressed in tunics, skirts and sometimes turbans or construction helmets. These were the folks who stopped traffic and pedestrians… with their irreverent performances…with their meditations inside that multicolored home-workshop…and their productions of creative chaos – in plain sight of everybody.
“They look strange,” said an old neighbor. “In fact they are strange,” added her niece, a community activist, “but they do things here for the youth…who don’t have anything to do – only sex, reggaeton and rum.” From that moment on, the OMNIs entered in my life like a steamroller of prejudice.
I will always thank a friend for having introduced us. Gradually we were building an intermittent friendship …together we shared the approaching New Year’s Day in a festival capable of eliminating -through poetry- the marginal circles in our neighborhood; with them, we “injected” a hip-hop symposia, perspective colloquies and literary workshops.
With them I came to understand -between watery soda and unidentifiable breads- those “other possible rhythms” of coordination and dialogue between different cultural initiatives…of alternative ways to develop consensus and alleviate conflict, sustained in a song of silent and intimate peace derived from a deep sense of commitment with their community and the entire earth.
I felt admiration for their “Cubaness,” without loyalty oaths or grandiloquent manifestos…
The OMNI-Zona Franca (the OMNI Duty-Free Zone) is an independent artistic group with a long and fruitful track record of community cultural work in the Alamar district of Havana and in other Cuban provinces.
They have organized (working with several communities and cultural institutions) the Festival Internacional Poesía Sin Fin (International Poetry Festival Without End), which is held every year during the second week of December. Their workshop was in a building that houses the Fayad Jamis Gallery, an annex to the Alamar Cultural Center.
This past December 11, as a result of a conflict with the Ministry of Culture, OMNI-Zona Franca lost its official institutional support. Police officers, ambulances and all kinds of excited people congregated in front of the group’s Workshop in the Alamar Gallery; they were convinced(?) or confused(?) that OMNI-Zona Franca is a “political” group.
The artists delivered a statement by telephone in which they emphasized that their only politics was poetry, friendship and love. Notwithstanding, confronted by the authorities, these heirs to the revolutionary Cubans martyred in 1953 declared, “That’s why they’re trying to kick us out of the workshop. They’ll have to kill us first.”
Under pressure, they were ordered to vacate the premises, but the members ultimately decided to leave voluntarily and to hold talks later with the authorities, without accepting to be demobilized or to suspend their festival.
This past Monday, December 14, 2009, poet Luis Eligio PM Cafria -one of the coordinators of the OMNI-Zona Franca project- confirmed by phone that the festival would open at 5:00 pm in private facilities (houses, garages) of members of the community. Poets will attend from Havana and other parts of Cuba.
According to reports, community residents do not understand the accusations leveled against the group, and they maintain their recognition of the collective. As always, the group’s activities are expected to culminate on December 30.
This message of greetings comes from those of us who remain in a solidarity vigil concerned about the fate of this beautiful experience.
What unites us is the fate of shared dreams around a better country and world, where we all fit in…hounded by perverse shadows and cowards, and only protected by our solidarity and the omnipotence of love.