Candidate Simeus Discusses Haiti Campaign
ED GORDON, host:
Four decades have passed since Dumarsais Simeus left a shack in his native Haiti for Florida A&M. Since then, he's joined America's business elite. He ran Beatrice Foods, the largest black-owned business in the country, and currently heads his own food processing company. Now Simeus has a loftier goal. He wants to run for president of Haiti. To do so, he must reach a goal of securing at least 100,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. The deadline for those signatures is tomorrow.
Mr. DUMARSAIS SIMEUS (Founder And Chief Executive, Simeus Foods International): We are extremely confident that during the month of September, we will have all of the signatures required and more. And I think the reason is obvious. The people are looking for a change, and they see the new leader, Dumarsais Simeus, who can come in and bring about the changes which, once and for all, will start turning the country around and provide not only security but job, food on the table, schools for the kids and at least one meal a day for them, of course.
GORDON: When you think about all that you have achieved, how much of it do you believe can be looked back to what you were instilled with as a child?
Mr. SIMEUS: All of the values I acquired that helped me chase the American Dream here in the United States were instilled in me by my parents but especially by my mother: Work hard, be patient, help others, do not touch something that does not belong to you, and make sure you learn everything that's thrown at you in school, because education is going to be the door to opportunity in the world, no matter where you go.
GORDON: Mr. Simeus, you have by all accounts become a very wealthy man in this country. You have been involved with arguably one of the richest African-American-owned companies that we have known. In looking at all of this, some might want to know and ask you why, then, would you want to become a president of Haiti, which, whoever takes that mantle, it's going to be a hard row to hoe at this point?
Mr. SIMEUS: Yes, it's going to be a very, very hard job, even a thankless job in terms of people taking shots at you. But the country is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and I believe that the experience I have had and the ability to put a first-class team together will help us turn the country around. Haiti has to change. The leaders--the so-called leaders we have had over the last 200 years have not done anything for the people. The people--most of the people in Haiti are living in misery. We need to create jobs, and I believe we can do that. We need to bring about security 24 hours a day, and we believe we can do that. And we want Haitians everywhere to be proud, once again, to say, `I love my country, and I shall remain a Haitian no matter where I may live in the world.'
GORDON: Mr. Simeus, how do you go about doing that? I have been to Haiti on a number of occasions, and anyone who's been there and talked with the people of Haiti understands that not only is, as you know better than most, there a strong line between the haves and the have-nots, but many of the haves will, frankly, many would say, fight to the death to hold on to what they have.
Mr. SIMEUS: There has always been a gulf between the haves and the have-nots. However, I believe from all of the dialogues I have had with all of the social classes in Haiti, that they're all ready for a change. I believe the haves are looking for the right leadership to make sure that they invest more money in the country and create jobs and opportunities for the have-nots. I believe the have-nots are looking for a leader who cares about them, who goes out there and touch them and feel them and, more importantly, a leader who has experience in managing people and managing things, a leader who has the connections not only in Haiti but in the international community, who has the credibility to encourage investors to come into Haiti and invest in tourism, invest in manufacturing, in assemblies, to change the country. Many, many, many wealthy people, many investors are ready to come into Haiti to invest, but they need the type of leadership that's going to reform the institutions.
GORDON: And what do you say to those critics who say that you turned your back on this country, that you've lived abroad for 44 years? And in fact, they cite the Constitution which suggests that someone who wants to run for president must have already lived in the country five consecutive years, therefore nullifying you as a valid candidate.
Mr. SIMEUS: Ed, I have never abandoned my country. I have returned continuously to my country, especially to the village Ponte-Sonde, where I was born, and I have done a number of philanthropic things over there, a medical clinic for the poor, portable water projects and scholarships for many of the students in the village over there. So I have been engaged in my country, and I am there many, many times a year. My Haitian citizenship is not negotiable.
GORDON: Finally, Mr. Simeus, before we let you go--and we thank you for your time--you have strong political ties to the Bush family. This clearly would be a help to you; yet there are those who will say that the United States has best been a tenuous friend to Haiti and blown with the political wind. What would you say to that, and how would you go about making that bridge more constant?
Mr. SIMEUS: Well, Ed, I'm a businessman. I operate on both sides of the aisle. If I believed that the person, whether that person be a member of Congress or a president of the United States or occupies some other public office, if that person's vision coincides with mine, I support that person. And I expect not only the United States, I expect the whole international community, if I'm elected--actually I should say when I'm elected--to support me, because I believe that my vision will coincide with the vision that the international community has for Haiti. In my view, that's really one of the most important factors instead of whether I belong to this party or that party.
GORDON: Dumarsais Simeus is founder and chief executive of Simeus Foods International.
Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. If you'd like to comment, log on to npr.org and click on `Contact us,' or give us a call at (202) 408-3330. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.
I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.