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Former U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Manuel Rocha accused of 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 top U.S. diplomat who most recently served as America's ambassador to Bolivia was arrested last Friday and charged with acting as a foreign agent of Cuba, according to court documents. 

Beginning as early as 1981 and continuing through to the present day, Victor Manuel Rocha — a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Colombia and currently living in Miami — allegedly spied on behalf of the island nation's intelligence agency, referred to the U.S. as "the enemy" and supported Cuba's clandestine intelligence-gathering mission, according to prosecutors.

A federal grand jury in Miami indicted Rocha on 15 counts on Tuesday, including charges that he acted as an illegal agent of a foreign government and wire fraud as part of alleged scheme to "act as a clandestine agent" of Cuba and "harm the interests of the United States." As part of his employment at the State Department, prosecutors said Rocha had periodic high-level security clearances and gained access to top secret information.

While an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint did not provide details about the information that prosecutors allege Rocha shared with the Cubans during the decades he is accused of working with them, charging documents describe an ongoing relationship he fostered with Cuban handlers. 

Working with unnamed conspirators inside Cuba's intelligence community, Rocha allegedly "agreed to act and did act as a clandestine agent of the Cuban government," the affidavit said.

First, as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic, Rocha moved his way up through various diplomatic posts in the region, charging documents say, including as director of Inter-American Affairs for the U.S. National Security Council. That role, according to prosecutors, gave him special responsibility over Cuban policy. 

Investigators said Rocha signed nondisclosure agreements and was required to "affirm his loyalties to the United States and absence of covert activity on behalf of any foreign nation." 

And from 2006 through 2012, Rocha was an adviser to the commander of the joint command of the U.S. military in the region, which included Cuba. 

Court documents say unspecified evidence from the investigation, coupled with numerous meetings in recent years between Rocha and an undercover FBI agent, led prosecutors to bring the charges. 

Over three meetings in 2022 and 2023, investigators allege Rocha discussed his decades-long partnership with Cuban intelligence, telling the undercover agent during their first meeting outside a Church in Miami, "My number one priority was … any action on the part of Washington that would— would endanger the life of— of the leadership... revolution itself."

"I have to protect what we did because what we did…the cement that has strengthened the last 40 years," Rocha allegedly told the undercover agent during their second meeting. "What we have done ... it's enormous. ... More than a grand slam."

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

And in June 2023, during their last meeting, the undercover agent asked Rocha if he was "still with us." 

"I am angry. I'm pissed off … It's like questioning my manhood," Rocha allegedly responded. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland said at an event Monday, "This action exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent." 

The Cuban Embassy did not respond to a request for comment, and Rocha's attorney also did not immediately return request for comment.

Rocha's initial appearance in court took place Monday, and he will be arraigned later this month.

The charges against Rocha come almost a year after another a Cuban spy was freed from prison after more than 20 years behind bars. Ana Montes, a former analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency, spied for Cuba for 17 years, revealing the identities of the United States' undercover intelligence officers and its highly sensitive collection capabilities, until her arrest in 2001.

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