Home / View Point / Earl Best / Media Monitor: Is Mondello leaving a ‘shithole country’? Or returning to one?

Media Monitor: Is Mondello leaving a ‘shithole country’? Or returning to one?

It wasn’t, we knew then, the best of times; it wasn’t, we now know, the worst of times. 

When, in July 1990, Yasin Abu Bakr opened a door and, in David Rudder’s well-weighted words, showed us our other side, like Adam and Eve, we went frantically in search of a fig leaf or two to cover our political modesty. 

Photo: A soldier waves away a photographer in Port of Spain on 31 July 1990, during the 1990 insurrection in Trinidad and Tobago.
(Copyright AP Photo/Scott J Applewhite)

Abu Bakr had organised a group of 114 insurgents to overthrow the duly elected Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Under siege for six dark days, the democracy held firm. 

The courage under fire of Tobago’s Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson and the clearheaded calm of the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment saved the day. 

Had Justice Clebert Brooks had the cojones to not take the line of least resistance, Abu Bakr and his insurrectionists would today probably still be laughing on the other side of their faces—and vegetating on the other side of the bars!

The events which shook Washington DC on Wednesday 6 January remind us of those July 1990 events in Port-of-Spain. ‘Banana republic’ screamed Bakr’s brazenness and Brooks’ abject surrender. 

But after last week’s events, I think we can be forgiven for thinking that, all things considered, we aren’t all that badly off. 

Photo: Supporters of US president Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington, as Congress prepares to affirm president-elect Joe Biden’s victory on 6 January 2021.

That was but one of the uninvited thoughts that occasionally assailed my mind as I read Raffique Shah’s ‘America’s shame’ column in the 10 January Sunday Express.

“People […] had their sensibilities shocked when [Donald] Trump’s madding mob invaded the Capitol,” an early paragraph noted. “In horror, they screamed: “[…] This must be some banana republic!”

On 6 January, a Tim Gopeesingh Letter to the Editor had appeared in Wired868. The author had spent full five years as education minister. But, in the midst of a genuine crisis in the field, he used the premium space afforded him last week by the site to complain exclusively—for what seemed like the umpteenth time since he had been consigned to the political dung heap in 2015—that the PNM government had failed to provide every student in the country with a device. 

As I read, I could easily accept Trump’s descriptor. Only in a ‘shithole’ country would a qualified judge not move heaven and earth to uncover jurisprudence ensuring that insurrectionists get their just deserts. 

Photo: Imam Yasin Abu Bakr surrenders to the Army forces on 1 August 1990, after holding hostages at the Red House and Trinidad and Tobago Television for six days.

Only in such a country can such a hopelessly empty man ritually and unapologetically fill so much valuable space with the same unaltered, unadulterated rubbish for over five years. 

Unsurprisingly, the US president’s ‘shithole countries’ view is most likely shared by departing Ambassador Joseph Mondello. Despite his would-be flattering farewell letter this week, his media statement of 7 January makes clear what he really thinks of us Trinis. 

The statement seeks to dismiss what Shah sees as America’s shame as an aberration. The good gentleman seriously attempted to pass the previous day’s insurrection—incited by the sitting president, no less, and publicly supported ex-ante facto by high-profile elected officials in Congress—as mere ‘unrest’. 

The election was stolen and we really should not hold it against president Donald J Trump’s loving, passionate supporters if they tried to overturn the result. By fair means or foul! 

Photo: Armed guards try in vain to keep Donald Trump supporters from breaching the US Senate on Capitol Hill on 6 January 2021.

“Trump should be charged with treason, sedition and other offences,” Shah ends, “and the generals must explain their absence and face the consequences.”

“We should not be defined,” Mondello decreed, “by such moments.”

Yeah, right! Even if within a week the House of Representatives would impeach president Trump—again!—on the grounds of ‘incitement of insurrection’. And no fewer than 10 elected Republicans would vote in favour of conviction. 

But, says Mondello, don’t you dare define us by the behaviour of our unapologetically rogue president! And our elected officials.

My guess is that someone sent Mondello’s media statement to Nicolás Maduro. How else to explain the carcajadas estruendosas coming, of course, from down the Main and clearly heard by people in Cedros and Icacos and down the islands?

Photo: Outgoing US Ambassador to Port of Spain Joseph N Mondello.

Mine wasn’t raucous bellyful laughter but I giggled at Shah’s reference to the generals’ absence. 

Fifty years ago last April, a group of disgruntled Trinidadians also attempted to overthrow the duly elected government of the independent nation of Trinidad and Tobago. 

There were people—a madding mob?—marching and demonstrating not far away from the seat of government. They did manage to desecrate God’s House on the eastern end of Independence Square but they never quite made it, thank God, into the Red House.

Those were not, however, the people who had, so the story went, plotted to overthrow the duly elected government. No, the so-called coup plotters were soldiers. Their leaders? Generals? No, lieutenants. 

Their names? Rex Lassalle and Raffique Shah.

Photo: A 25-year-old Raffique Shah during the 1971 mutiny trials.
Shah, a former lieutenant, led 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Trinidad and Tobago Revolution of 1970.

In 1970, the lieutenants were making the headlines; last week, Shah points out, the generals were conspicuous by their absence. History will not be kind to them. Nor will it be kind to ‘Number 45’, the only president ever to hatch and execute a coup against his own government and be impeached—a second time!—for his troubles.

But, echoing Fidel Castro, Shah predicted all those many years ago that History would absolve him and his co-conspirators. He was correct. Pleading ‘condonation’, they were acquitted.

Which is what makes me laugh. Were he charged with mere insurrection, Number 45, a desperate man with no moral compass, would not hesitate to plead condonation. The president made me do it!

If, as has been mooted, he is represented in the trial by Rudy Giuliani, he might yet plead condonation. 

Condonation? Of course! By 74 million Republican voters, including every one of the Republican senators except Mitt Romney, and almost 200 Republicans in the House. 

Photo: US president Donald Trump professes his love for his country’s flag.

Ironically, there seems to be a better-than-even chance that, like Abu Bakr, Trump will live to fight another day—and another election, in 2024. 

So, Mr Mondello, before you go, what really is your definition of ‘shithole’? 

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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2 comments

  1. Excellent as always Mr Best

  2. Well said Mr Best