The Miami Herald
Mon, Mar. 07, 2005

U.S. citizen's goal: to be leader of Haiti

A Miami Lakes businessman who helped organize protests against ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide plans to run for president of Haiti, despite his U.S. citizenship.


He is a Miami Lakes businessman with no political experience, but that isn't stopping Haitian-born Samir Mourra from believing he is the right man to replace Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president of Haiti.

For months, Mourra, who helped organize protests against Aristide in South Florida, has been crisscrossing the Haitian countryside, traveling into rebel-held villages, calling for an end to government corruption and insecurity, while advocating the reestablishment of the Haitian army.

His goal: to win an uphill battle to be on Haiti's presidential ballot in November.

The biggest hurdle may be the fact that he's a U.S. citizen, because a new electoral law bars anyone who renounced Haitian citizenship from running for office in the elections.

Nevertheless, Mourra believes he has a chance.

''The people of Haiti are ready for a change,'' said Mourra, 49, sitting in the living room of his gated Miami Lakes home. A day earlier he had arrived from Haiti, where he is leading a grass-roots effort to get himself and members of his newly formed political party Mobilization for the Progress of Haiti, MPH, elected.

The party was launched in Cap-Haitien on Nov. 16, and is among 91 registered political parties in Haiti. It plans to declare candidates for every available post in Haiti's October and November parliamentary and presidential elections. There are 30 openings for senate, 90 for congress, 133 for mayors and two vice mayor positions for every mayor, Mourra said.

Mourra owns a mortgage lending business but is best known in the Haitian community as the ex-brother-in-law of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude ''Baby Doc'' Duvalier.

''The country has had 200 years of suffering,'' said Mourra, whose political platform calls for promoting foreign investments by implementing e-government and a national social security number system to end corruption and improve government accountability.

But before he can even test his platform, Mourra, a Haitian of Arab descent, will first have to get on the ballot.

Even though there has been no official call for candidates, Mourra's interest in becoming president is already raising eyebrows here and in Haiti, where Haitians are debating whether the world's first black republic is ready to elect a white Haitian of Arab descent as president.

Color and class are old demons that have been recurring issues in Haitian politics since Haiti gained independence from France in 1804.

Even Aristide played the race card during his presidential tenure, stating that light skinned Haitians should not rule the country because they had not done right by the poor black masses.

''Haiti is a black country and should be led by a black person,'' said Herntz Phanord, a Miami-based Creole-language radio personality who has been raising the issue of race on his popular call-in show on WLQY-AM (1320).

Like many Haitians, Phanord has strong views about Haitian Arabs, believing they have not done enough for Haiti. He said he respects Mourra's right as a Haitian to run for president but hopes ``he doesn't make it.''

Mourra said such opinions are divisive and hamper Haiti's progress. Not only does he believe the country is ready for a nonblack leader, but he believes he has the support of public opinion behind him.

But the issue of race and his Arab background may be the least of Mourra's problems. Equally challenging are his status as a naturalized U.S. citizen, and his former marriage to Duvalier's sister-in-law. He came to the United States in the mid-1980s after Duvalier fled into exile, and he and others were targeted because of their ties to the family, he said. Unable to return to Haiti because he could not get his Haitian passport renewed, he became a U.S. citizen.

His U.S. citizenship may prevent him from getting on the ballot altogether.

The Haitian electoral law recently published by Haiti's electoral council provides no provisions for Haitian Americans to vote and echoes the Haitian Constitution in that it does not acknowledge dual citizenship.

Under the Haitian Constitution, a person loses Haitian citizenship once he or she becomes a naturalized citizen of another country and cannot hold office as either president or prime minister.

Despite a growing chorus of Haitian Americans and others who object to the viewpoint, and point out that a number of U.S. citizens held offices during Aristide's administration, there appears to be no movement toward acknowledging dual nationality in the October and November elections.

As recent as last month, the issue came to a head when interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue tried to name a prominent Haitian American living in Haiti to a cabinet post but was rebuffed by some Haitian political insiders.

Acknowledging that his status as a U.S. citizen will be among his biggest challenges, Mourra said that is why he has invested the time and his own money drumming up support among the masses.

He is hoping in the end, their voices will speak louder than that of the politicians.

''We have to go to the masses to get the support, we don't feel we can make the change if we don't have the support of the people,'' said Mourra, who won't disclose how much he's spent. 'Some who don't know think I am an American and are very happy. Most of them know I am Haitian born in Haiti and they say `we are going with you.' ''