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#4889: Former head of Haitian bank now ready to run the country (fwd)
Published Tuesday, August 15, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Former head of Haitian bank now ready to run the country BY YVES COLON
Bonivert Claude has heard the jokes before. One goes this way: In the
heart of every Haitian sleeps a president waiting to be awakened.
Another one: In Haiti, politics is a blood sport. So when Claude told
friends he was considering a campaign to become Haiti's next president,
they told him he was crazy. Family members said it was risky. Claude had
already made up his mind. ``It takes someone of vision to change things,
whatever risks are involved,'' said Claude, who ran Haiti's Central Bank
under the military dictatorship that ousted former President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He now lives in Aventura. With Aristide's
Lavalas party in power, Claude worries about his safety if he were
to return home. So he is running a low-key, American-style presidential
campaign out of South Florida, and he doesn't plan on stumping in Haiti
anytime soon, although the election is four months away. Claude said
he'll make his candidacy official if the international community gives
its blessing to legislative elections held in May and July, and if it
sanctions the presidential vote scheduled for November. Opposition
parties in Haiti, charging that Lavalas cheated in the legislative
elections, are threatening to boycott the presidential ballot.
Meanwhile, Claude is sharing his vision with small groups of Haitians in
this country, quoting John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela. He wants to
embrace all Haitians, he said, even those who supported the Duvalier
dictatorships, many of whom had to flee in exile in 1986 and were
barred by the Haitian constitution from participating in politics for 10
years. ``Yes, I will be their candidate,'' Claude said. ``When you want
to unify the country, you have to be the candidate of the Duvalierists.
They have the right to participate in the country's affairs.'' A
political analyst in Haiti said Claude's strategy may be to group
everyone who's against Aristide. ``What other support he has behind him
is a mystery,'' Frantz Voltaire said.
An office in a Plantation business park serves as campaign headquarters
for Haiti Union 2000, Claude's party. A West Palm Beach firm, Patriot
Games, handles his public relations. Claude delivers his message in
English, Creole and French.``We live in a changing world,'' Claude said.
``We cannot do politics the way we used to do politics.'' Aventura has
been Claude's home for the past five years, since he left Haiti.
Change can come to Haiti only through a shift in leadership, he said.
He says the five years of President Rene Preval have been a failure.
``Let's come with something new,'' he said. ``We need to launch Haiti
in the path of progress.'' It would be easy to dismiss Claude as the
Haitian version of Don Quixote. If he decides to run, he will likely
face Aristide, unarguably the most popular politician now in Haiti.
But Claude warns skeptics not to rush to judgment.
WON'T BE INTIMATED
``Lavalas is strong, but we believe in our message and we're going to
keep spreading it,'' he said. Back home, the 55-year-old Claude lacks
name recognition. Although his signature figures prominently on some
Haitian currency as the former head of Haiti's central bank, his face
remains largely unknown, except among some businessmen and bankers.
After leaving the central bank, Claude opened a private bank. His
departure and the fact that he has not returned to Haiti in five years
have led to some speculation that he may have been forced to flee the
country. Claude said he has done nothing wrong. Claude would not say
much about his family, except that he is the father of three
sons, one living in Haiti, another in Europe and the youngest with him
in Aventura. During a recent interview at his Plantation offices, he was
surrounded by his advisor and two losing candidates in the recent
elections who are now supporting him. ``Our vision is the same,'' said
Thevenot Toussaint, who lost the mayoral race for Limonade, a small town
in northern Haiti. The man who may be closest to Claude is Fort
Lauderdale shipping executive Christopher M. Sheehan. He has done
business with Haiti and other Caribbean countries for decades.
``I'm giving of myself like our forefathers gave of themselves to this
country,'' Sheehan said, adding that he doesn't feel comfortable doing
business with the Lavalas government of Haiti. Sheehan calls people
willing to do business in Haiti ``renegades.'' ``Unless you're attuned
to corruption or are part of it, then you're at risk in Haiti,'' Sheehan
Why Haiti and not other Caribbean countries? ``Because they're not
starving to death,'' he said. ``To have the resources and not
put out our hands to people in need, that's a sin. Now is the time to
put our hand out to Haiti.'' He says he's tapping ``friends of Haiti''
in the United States and Europe to help Claude and Haiti Union 2000. He
would not reveal the names of those supporters. Neither would Claude
divulge names of his backers in Haiti. ``If I give any names, those
persons will be persecuted; they'll lose their jobs,'' he said. ``We
know how the situation is. We have people who are spreading the
message. We're here and we're waiting.'' Nor would he say how much
money he has raised so far or how he has earned a living for the past
five years. ``Time will come when everyone will see what we have,'' he
said. So far, he has been taking his message of unity to small groups,
either in Hallandale, Kendall, Washington or New York City, wherever
there are Haitians who are willing to listen and can help with
donations. As Haiti's next president, he said, his first weeks in office
would be spent reinventing the role of government. ``Without that, it's
impossible to develop the country,'' he said. ``What we want is to put
our people to work.'' Haiti's low wages could help attract industry,
which would bring revenues to invest in education to address the
country's high illiteracy rate. The odds are formidable, Claude
acknowledges. But again, he calls on South Africa's former president and
international figure Nelson Mandela to help him make the point that
everything is possible. Said Claude: ``People with a good head and good
heart make a formidable combination.''