JOSEPH MONDELLO has never been to Trinidad and Tobago, but that has not dissuaded US President Donald Trump from nominating him for the post of US ambassador to this country.
“My job is going to be to help continue the good relationships that exist, to make sure I keep those going and improve upon those relationships, and to try to increase trade,” Mondello said this week when questioned by the American press.
However as ambassador Mondello cannot simply continue an already healthy relationship. He must act as a facilitator, yes, but must deepen cooperation between both countries in matters relating to security, trade and regional development. In this regard, of particular concern must be various reports about the prominence of extremists within our society, reflected by concern over instances in which it is believed nationals of this country have joined or supported recruitment to the nefarious activities of the so-called Islamic State. This is likely to be among the most urgent matters requiring attention by the new ambassador. Come what may, the postholder will have very large shoes to fill. Though his tenure was relatively short, former ambassador John Estrada was effective in stimulating national debate on a range of issues, including: crime and the imbalance of wealth in society; the denigration of communities such as Laventille; taxation regulation; as well as the need to abolish child marriage. Perhaps Estrada’s ties to this country (he was born here) gave him an advantage.
The nomination of Mondello comes at a time when concerns continue to be raised over Trump’s repeated failures to take an appropriate stance in relation to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as his poor record in connection with key challenges facing the US revolving around race, gun control and the environment. Undoubtedly, turbulence in the US political system has potential negative implications for Trinidad and Tobago.
Our most important trading partner remains the US, with that market accounting for about US$4.1 billion of our exports and US$2.2 billion of our imports. Additionally, the US grants support to important regional institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the largest source of development financing for Latin America and the Caribbean. And it offers assistance in regional security.
With the economic downturn, Trinidad and Tobago has also drawn upon financing from the US, such as a portion of the US$1 billion raised by Finance Minister Colm Imbert during a roadshow in 2016. There also remain key trading and distribution linkages which continue to feed our economy.
On the other hand, this country has key linkages with Caricom states as well as countries such as Venezuela and Guyana, linkages that are important to the US.
While the absence of an ambassador is not necessarily inimical to diplomatic cooperation, the appointment of the new ambassador, if approved by the US Senate, will fill a key gap.