Manuel Rocha, the former US ambassador to Bolivia, has been arrested on suspicion of having spied for Cuba for over 40 years.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Monday that it has ended a significant, nearly unimaginable, decades-long Cuban surveillance program at the highest governmental levels.
The arrest of Manuel Rocha, the former US ambassador to Bolivia, at his Miami residence on suspicion of clandestinely serving as a spy for Cuba “for more than 40 years” may set a record. “Highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the US government by a foreign agent” is how the case is being described.
After attending Yale, Harvard, and Georgetown Universities, the 73-year-old Rocha started his career as a desk officer for Honduras in November 1981 and worked his way up through the ranks of the State Department and foreign service.
“For decades, Rocha allegedly worked as a covert agent for Cuba and abused his position of trust in the U.S. government to advance the interests of a foreign power,” a DOJ press release stated.
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According to the US administration, he had the potential to influence US foreign policy because, while holding high-level diplomatic positions, he covertly supported Cuban interests.
After such a long career serving two masters, he was finally apprehended when he boasted to an undercover FBI agent of having accomplished “decades” of labour on behalf of Cuba. Following his apprehension last Friday, the DOJ went into the following detail:
The complaint alleges that, in a series of meetings during 2022 and 2023, with an undercover agent from the FBI posing as a covert Cuban General Directorate of Intelligence representative, Rocha made repeated statements admitting his “decades” of work for Cuba, spanning “40 years.”
When the undercover told Rocha he was “a covert representative here in Miami” whose mission was “to contact you, introduce myself as your new contact, and establish a new communication plan,” Rocha answered “Yes,” and proceeded to engage in a lengthy conversation during which he described and celebrated his activity as a Cuban intelligence agent.
Given that the retired ambassador referred to the US as “the enemy” in the covertly recorded chat with Rocha, the DOJ has attempted to clarify that these actions went much beyond a simple lobbying relationship:
Throughout the meetings, Rocha behaved as a Cuban agent, consistently referring to the United States as “the enemy,” and using the term “we” to describe himself and Cuba. Rocha additionally praised Fidel Castro as the “Comandante,” and referred to his contacts in Cuban intelligence as his “Compañeros” (comrades) and to the Cuban intelligence services as the “Dirección.” Rocha described his work as a Cuban agent as “a grand slam.”
The case facts also show that US investigators think he was working as a Cuban spy from the start, having joined the US State Department in the early 1980s. If Cuban intelligence could accomplish this, what about Washington’s larger and more formidable competitors?
By the late 1980s, Rocha had attained high-level diplomatic positions, which included the following responsibilities in succession through the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s:
- First Secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico;
- Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic;
- Department of State employee, as the Director of Inter-American Affairs on the U.S. National Security Council, with special responsibility for, among other things, Cuba;
- Deputy Principal Officer at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba;
- Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and
- November 1999 until in or around August 2002: Ambassador to Bolivia at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia.
The specific instances or methods in which he helped Cuba or maybe affected US policy have not been made public. It’s interesting to note that during the periods when Washington did not maintain formal contacts with the Castro administration—which has also long been subject to debilitating sanctions—he was assigned in Cuba.
Naturally, one important issue will come up: are there any other foreign moles, considering the duration and scope of his tenure as a Cuban spy at the highest levels of the State Department? This appears to be the most likely option, especially considering that the 1980s marked the end of the Cold War.