Joe Mondello reflects on tense times as ambassador to Trinidad

WASHINGTON — When former Nassau GOP Chairman Joseph Mondello left Long Island in 2018 for the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago to serve as then-President Donald Trump’s appointed U.S. ambassador, he found himself navigating that country’s diplomatic minefields.

The pair of Caribbean islands had been deemed by intelligence officials as a primary recruiting ground for the Islamic State terrorist group, and the United States was looking to stop the pipeline.

Thousands of Venezuelan migrants, beset by food shortages and a crumbling economy, arrived and continue to arrive on the shores of the islands seeking refuge.

China and Russia also have been looking to exert their influence over the region, with China spending massively on developing a port in Trinidad and Russia aligning itself with the regime of authoritarian leader Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, a country whose northern coastal border is mere miles from Trinidad.

All the while, the country’s leaders shared a tense relationship with Mondello, which often played out in the local newspapers.

“There might have been a time when it was a quiet tropical island and a place for fun … but this was not that,” Mondello said in an interview with Newsday. “When you’ve got the country that produces the most ISIS fighters per capita, when you’ve got a country that’s six miles away from Maduro and what he’s done in Venezuela, when you are in a country where the Chinese are coming in and building ports and a new embassy, and they’re bringing their own people in to do all the work, and when you’ve got Russia landing planes six miles away [in Venezuela], with troops and everything … it was a hotbed.”

Mondello, 83, stepped down shortly before President Joe Biden was sworn into office in January. Even if Trump had won the 2020 presidential election, the grandfather of five said he and his wife, Linda Crabtree Mondello, had always planned to return to their Oyster Bay home after 2½ years of living…

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