Watch CBS News

Victor Manuel Rocha, ex-U.S. ambassador, admits to spying for Cuba for decades

Former U.S. ambassador accused of spying
Former U.S. ambassador Manuel Rocha accused of spying for Cuba 02:38

Washington — A former U.S. diplomat admitted to spying for Cuba for decades, telling a judge on Thursday that he intends to plead guilty to federal charges stemming from his espionage on behalf of the communist regime.

Victor Manuel Rocha, the former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, was indicted in December on charges that he allegedly spied for Cuba's intelligence agency for four decades. 

During a hearing in federal court in Miami on Thursday, Rocha said he had agreed to plead guilty to two charges of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government, according to The Associated Press. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss more than a dozen other charges in exchange for his guilty plea, the AP said.

The two counts carry a maximum sentence of between five and 10 years behind bars. The AP reported that Rocha replied "I am in agreement" when the judge asked him if he wanted to change his plea. His intention to change his plea was reflected on the case's docket after the hearing. Rocha is due back in court on April 12.

Investigators alleged Rocha was recruited by Cuba's spy agency, the Directorate of Intelligence, in Chile in 1973. The intelligence service instructed him to create a cover story to conceal his double life, according to prosecutors. 

After Rocha's arrest, Attorney General Merrick Garland described the case as "one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent." He said Rocha pursued U.S. government jobs that "would provide him with access to non-public information and the ability to affect U.S. foreign policy."

This image provided by the Justice Department and contained in the affidavit in support of a criminal complaint shows Victor Manuel Rocha during a meeting with a FBI undercover employee.
This image provided by the Justice Department and contained in the affidavit in support of a criminal complaint shows Victor Manuel Rocha during a meeting with a FBI undercover employee. Department of Justice / AP

The government has not publicly said what information Rocha might have divulged to Cuba or how he could have influenced U.S. policy. Rocha held high-level security clearances, giving him access to top secret information, according to the indictment.

Rocha had at least three meetings with an undercover FBI agent, whom the retired diplomat believed to be a representative of Cuba's spy agency. He referred to the U.S. as "the enemy" and said "what we have done" was "enormous" and "more than a grand slam," according to the criminal complaint.

"My number one concern; my number one priority was ... any action on the part of Washington that would endanger the life of the leadership, or the revolution itself," Rocha allegedly told the undercover agent.

Rocha was born in Colombia and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1978. For more than two decades beginning in 1981, he worked for the State Department in various positions in Latin America, including as ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002. Cuba fell under his purview when he served as director for inter-American affairs at the National Security Council and as a deputy principal officer at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana. After leaving the State Department, he was an adviser to the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, whose area of responsibility includes Cuba.

Rocha's employment with the U.S. government overlapped with that of Ana Montes, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who spent 20 years in prison for spying for Cuba before being released in 2023. She was recruited by Cuban intelligence in 1984 before she was hired by the Defense Intelligence Agency. 

In one of his meetings with the undercover FBI agent, prosecutors said Rocha praised a U.S. government employee who had spied for Cuba, saying she "was betrayed." 

"Sadly she would have done much more had she not been betrayed," he said, later identifying her as "Ana," according to the indictment. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.