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28272: Hermantin(News)Former residents seek voting rights, dual citizenship (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Haitian expatriate forum set up

Former residents seek voting rights, dual citizenship

By Alva James-Johnson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

April 10, 2006

When Dumarsais Simeus tried to seek Haiti's presidency in a recent election, the country's officials barred him from the race because he was a U.S. citizen.

Now the Texas multimillionaire is inviting other expatriates to a forum in Haiti to give them more say in the country's economic and political affairs. He expects many South Florida residents to attend.

"My experience heightened my sense of urgency to get the diaspora involved," said the founder of Texas-based Simeus Foods International. "Part of my running had to do with me saying we're still Haitians and we can't be excluded."

The May 12 forum will take place only two days before the inauguration of President-elect René Préval.

Daniela Henry, a Haitian-American community organizer in Delray Beach, said she is coordinating the effort among expatriates in South Florida. She expects the conference to draw about 400 people who will push for dual citizenship, representation in parliament, and the right to vote and own multiple properties in Haiti.

"If we're contributing to the economy of Haiti, why can't we vote?" Henry asked Thursday. "Why can't we have people elected and have them in government positions?"

Haiti has seen its most recent spate of political upheaval since the 2004 ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Simeus launched a campaign for president leading up to the February elections. But the interim government, led by former Boca Raton retiree Gerard Latortue, disqualified him because the country doesn't allow dual citizenship.

Other expatriates weren't so optimistic about the conference.

"It's been done before," said Lesly Jacques, owner of Boca Raton's Radio Haiti-Amerique Internationale. "Under Aristide I remember quite well people coming from everywhere and coming to Haiti. They talk and that's it. Let's hope it's different this time."

Alva James-Johnson can be reached at ajjohnson@sun-sentinel.com or 954-572-2028.

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel