Celebrating Democracy Week’ gets personal, modern

Few people in this country appreciate democracy as much as Rafael Saumell-Munoz, who has seen its other side from the wrong side of the bars in a Cuban prison.

Saumell, who will be the American Democracy Project’s featured speaker for its April 2-5 Celebrating Democracy Week observance, is a professor of Spanish and coordinator of foreign languages at Sam Houston State University.

From 1975 to 1981, Saumell was a radio and television producer and scriptwriter in his native Cuba, eventually becoming the assistant to the president of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television. In 1980, he received an award as a scriptwriter for Best Musical and Variety show, “Todo el Mundo Canta,” and was also a member of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba.

He seemed to be a promising Cuban literary star, except that Fidel Castro, or one of Fidel’s censors, found something he didn’t like in his writings.

After the publication of a collection of his short stories, he was detained by Cuban security forces on the charge of spreading “enemy propoganda.” This is a term used to control, harass and incarcerate pro-democracy Cubans, and he was sentenced to five years in prison.

When he was released, he was prevented from working in radio and television in Cuba. He emigrated to the Unived states in 1988, came to SHSU to teach in 1992, and completed doctoral studies at Washington University in St. Louis in 1994.

His Celebrating Democracy Week presentation is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Tuesday, April 3, and will be given in a tent set up near the fountain.

On Wednesday, April 4, the acclaimed documentary Addicted to Oil will be shown in the Lowman Student Center Theater beginning at 3:30 p.m. A panel discussion on the film will follow, featuring faculty members Tom Chasteen from the Chemistry department, Tamara Waggener from the Political Science department, and Ed Blackburne from the Economics and International Business department.

The one-hour film by Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman explores his ideas for a “geo-green alternative,” a multilayered strategy for attacking a host of problems, from the funding of terrorist supporters through our gasoline purchases, to strengthening our ecomony through innovative technology.

Addicted to Oil examines a wide variety of developments taking place across the energy spectrum, from hybrid car enthusiast who are converting their autos into “plug-ins” and getting 300 miles to a gallon of gas, to the current state of hydrogen fuel cell.

Other areas explored include “flex-fuel” vehicles that can run on an assortment of biofuels such as ethanol, which emits virtually no greenhouse gases and can be made from almost any biomass – like sugar cane, corn and even certain types of grass. (For example, in Brazil, 40 percent of all fuel used by drivers is ethanol.)

Solar and especially wind power have made great advances in practical technologies that are increasingly being used throughout the world. A look at new “clean and green” coal plants that are being designed to sequester all carbon dioxide emissions is included.

“Global warning is no longer a matter of debate, but a proven problem of potentially catastrophic proportions, and there is much we could do immediately, with technology at hand, to break our addiction to oil,” Friedman said. “Developing technologies promise a future free of a sole dependence on fossil fuels, a truly post-oil era. It can be done, if we have the will and leadership to do it.”

The final event of the week will be an American Democracy Project recognition ceremony at 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 5. Students, faculty and staff will be given group and individual recognition.

SHSU’s American Democracy Project is part of a larger nationwide effort by members of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“The project grew out of a concern about decreasing rates of participation in the civic life of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities,” Joyce McCauley, SHSU chair for the effort, said.

The SHSU group has focused on such areas as voter registration and promotion of the service-learning concept in classes, and is considered one of the most active nationally.

For more information, see the SHSU American Democracy Project webpage, http://www.shsu.edu/~org_adpuc.about.html.

John Newbold, professor of Management, is coordinating the events.

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