(Trinidad Guardian) Donald Trump’s pick as ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Joseph Mondello, has told a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that if confirmed he would seek help from federal agencies to reduce the rate of ISIS recruitment in T&T.
Mondello said yesterday that ISIS had recruited 135 members of T&T’s small Muslim community to fight elsewhere, a problem which he said “overshadows” all the other issues he expects to face. He said he was prepared to employ federal agencies to help the local government grapple with it.
Eighty-year-old Mondello was pressed by Senators on ISIS recruitment in T&T with chairman Marco Rubio saying T&T “produces more ISIS fighters per capita than any other country in the western hemisphere.”
He said ISIS is trying to rebuild as an insurgency instead of controlling large swathes of territory.
Rubio told Mondello that the issue was of concern because “there are numerous daily non-stop flights between Trinidad and Tobago and Miami and Kennedy Airport. So we should care a lot about what’s happening there. It’s very close to home.”
The figure of 135 was an increase on the number given in early March by the Commander of US Southern Command, Navy Admiral Kurt W Tidd, who told a Pentagon briefing that the Government of T&T had spoken of “100 or so” persons who “have gone to that particular fight,” adding it was a concern to the T&T Government.
“They have focused on it and so I think it is an area we all have into consideration,” Tidd said then.
Yesterday at the Senate hearing, Mondello was asked if he had ever been to T&T. He admitted “never” but he said there is “poverty” in Trinidad and Tobago, “there are social and economic problems despite the fact they have a very high” gross domestic product.
“We have to have some messaging going on there, to let people understand what we believe, what we are,” he said.
Mondello also promised to urge the T&T Government to drop its support in the Organization of American States for Venezuela, led by President Nicolás Maduro.
In his opening statement before the committee in Washington DC, Mondello thanked Trump for nominating him to the post. He said, “Being considered for the post of ambassador of the United States to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is an extraordinary high point in my life.”
Trump named Mondello ambassador to T&T after Mondello, as GOP leader, endorsed him at a time when few thought he could win the nomination, much less the presidency.
Following the hearing, senators on the committee will submit written questions to Mondello for the record. The panel will then vote on his nomination and if it’s approved the full Senate will take a final vote.