DAYS ahead of the swearing-in of Joe Biden as new US president next Wednesday, outgoing US ambassador Joseph Mondello hoped TT and the US could use the change to strengthen their relationship.
“We have the opportunity now to begin a new chapter in our relationship and become true strategic partners,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
“I hope the Government of Trinidad and Tobago takes advantage of this opportunity with our new administration. I wish them both luck.”
He said his term in TT was “the greatest honour of my life”, with locals “some of the nicest and most sincere people he has ever met.
Yet despite good bilateral relations, he wanted better collaboration between both nations in the areas of national security, trade and industry and positions on Venezuela.
“Our security co-operation is good and effective overall. One of the United States’ key goals is to assist the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’s security institutions to improve their capacity to counter terrorist threats and reduce transnational and violent crime.”
He said in recent years the US has donated millions of dollars to the TT Defence Force, police service, prison service and law courts.
“This money has purchased new equipment for the Coast Guard, physical and digital forensic training for the TT Police Service, new hardware and software for the Financial Intelligence Unit, and K-9 dogs for the police, prison, and customs services, among other security assistance.”
Mondello hailed the co-operation in law enforcement between the US and TT, such as the extradition of Eduardo Azocar to be tried for cocaine distribution plus US intelligence to TT law enforcement to help seize a shipment of 475 kilogrammes of cocaine.
“One of the best areas of our bilateral security co-operation is between the US military and the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force.
“While US forces provide significant training annually to ensure the Defence Force is best-equipped to respond to the latest threats, our military co-operation may not continue beyond this year without a new Status of Forces Agreement.” This pact lets the US military visit TT to conduct joint training, exercises and subject matter expert exchanges.
He hailed a collaboration with the Ministry of Health for the visit of the US Naval Ship Comfort to treat 7,000 patients for free.
He said the US President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief had given US$2.8 million in assistance to TT over the past two years.
“The United States provided US$250,000 in covid19 assistance to TT last year, which supported medical professionals and government officials in acquiring personal protective equipment and scientific hardware, and provided quarantine upgrades.” He said TT will soon get the covid19 vaccine developed by US firms under Operation Warp Speed, a US$11 billion initiative an end the pandemic. This move could boost our robust people to-people connections, especially for the 500,000 TT nationals living in the US, including celebrities like actor Winston Duke, leaders like Howard University president Wayne Frederick and scientists such as Dr Michelle Samuel-Foo.
Noting the two countries familial, educational, and cultural ties, he said TT nationals had reacted well to his new interview waiver processing to renew their business and tourist visas without visiting the embassy.
“We processed 30 per cent more visa applicants in 2019 compared to 2018, and as a result saw a 12 per cent increase in travel to the United States.”
Yet Mondello said the bilateral relationship could improve.
Regarding trade, he said TT was the biggest beneficiary of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), with duty-free exports of US$3.7 billion for 2014-19. Mondello said the US government cannot force US companies to invest in TT, which invest where it is easy to do business, with little red tape and corruption.
He lamented TT had slipped on an ease of doing business scale of 190 countries from 79th in 2014 to 105th now.
“The adoption of more transparent procurement procedures and intellectual property rights protections would go a long way towards improving the investor climate.” Mondello offered US support.
“The Venezuelan political and humanitarian crisis caused by the Nicolas Maduro regime’s horrific brutality and disastrous policies is a matter on which we do not see eye-to-eye with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.”
He reckoned the crisis would continue until “full, legitimate, and transparent democracy” is restored to Venezuela by free and fair elections.
Saluting the Government of TT’s efforts to assist 16,500 registered Venezuelans, he promised more help to mitigate the effects of the crisis on top of US$11 million already given.