Ex-US Ambassador Pleads Guilty to Spying for Cuba

Victor Manuel Rocha, former diplomat to Bolivia, is said to have helped communist nation for decades
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 1, 2024 7:21 AM CST
Ex-US Ambassador Pleads Guilty to Spying for Cuba
This image shows Manuel Rocha during a meeting with an undercover FBI employee.   (Justice Department via AP, File)

For more than four decades, a diplomat working in the US State Department secretly funneled information to Cuba's communist government. That's according to prosecutors, and now to Victor Manuel Rocha himself, a former ambassador to Bolivia who on Thursday switched his initial plea of not guilty to guilty in a Miami court. It's a move that "brings one of the highest profile espionage cases between Cuba and the US to an unexpectedly rapid conclusion," reports the BBC. More coverage:

  • The charges: Rocha is charged with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, as well as wire fraud and making false statements to obtain a US passport.
  • Busted: Per a charging document, Rocha was contacted by an undercover FBI agent via WhatsApp in November 2022, with the agent claiming to be from Cuba's intelligence services with a message for Rocha from "your friends from Havana." During subsequent meetings with the agent, Rocha spilled the beans on his work for the Cuban government. He was arrested in December.
  • The recordings: Rocha was reportedly caught on tape admitting he spied since at least 1981, lauding late Cuban leader Fidel Castro as "Comandante" and calling the United States "the enemy," per a Justice Department release late last year.
  • No espionage? The AP explains that although that would usually be the charge in such counterintelligence cases, prosecutors and Rocha's legal team were more easily able to come to a plea agreement on the lesser charge of acting as a foreign agent.

  • Background: Rocha, born in Colombia, grew up in New York City and has degrees from Yale, Harvard, and Georgetown. He served as the US ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002, as well as in other government roles for a quarter century, including on the National Security Council.
  • 'Missed red flags': The AP notes there were several, with suspicions first arising on Rocha back in 1987, which were never pursued.
  • Rocha's front: The outlet adds the former ambassador has most recently emerged "as a tough-talking Donald Trump supporter and Cuba hard-liner, a persona friends and prosecutors say Rocha adopted to hide his true allegiances."
  • What's next: Rocha's sentencing will be April 12. The Miami Herald reports that a sentence has already been agreed upon by Rocha's legal team and prosecutors, with a possible total of eight years behind bars. On Thursday, Rocha's attorney simply said that the recommended sentence was "fair and reasonable."
(More spying stories.)

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