Miami – A former US ambassador to Bolivia has been arrested and charged with spying for Cuba over a 40-year span, the Justice Department announced Monday (Tuesday in Manila), detailing a shock betrayal by a suspect who called the United States “the enemy.”
US Attorney General Merrick Garland laid out the allegations against Victor Manuel Rocha, a onetime member of the White House’s National Security Council now accused of using his positions within government to support Cuba’s “clandestine intelligence-gathering mission” against the United States.
The charges against the 73-year-old retired diplomat expose “one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent,” Garland said in a statement.
Rocha, a naturalized US citizen originally from Colombia, allegedly began aiding Havana as a covert agent of Cuba’s General Directorate of Intelligence in 1981, and his espionage activities continued to the present, the statement said.
Garland delivered remarks about the arrest of Rocha Friday in Miami and elaborated on details learned when Rocha spoke at length with someone he believed to be a Cuban operative but who was in fact an undercover FBI agent.
“As detailed in the complaint, Rocha repeatedly referred to the United States as ‘the enemy’” and spoke of his own “meticulous” efforts to infiltrate Washington’s power center and influence American foreign policy, Garland said. AFP
“He repeatedly bragged about the significance of his efforts, saying that ‘what has been done has strengthened the revolution immensely.’”
Rocha served on the National Security Council from 1994 to 1995 in the administration of Bill Clinton and was the ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002 under Clinton and George W. Bush. He has also served as advisor to the US military command responsible for Cuba.
During an initial appearance in federal court Monday in Florida, Rocha broke down into tears and did not enter a plea, according to The New York Times.
The criminal complaint details how, over multiple meetings with the undercover FBI agent beginning in November 2022, Rocha “behaved as a Cuban agent,” praising the communist-ruled island’s late leader Fidel Castro and “using the term ‘we’ to describe himself and Cuba.”
He admitted traveling to Havana in 2016 or 2017 to meet with his DGI handlers and asked the undercover agent to send “my warmest regards to the Direccion,” referring to the DGI.
On Friday, in a voluntary interview with State Department security agents, Rocha “lied repeatedly” including denying meeting the undercover agent, and was subsequently arrested.
“Those who have the privilege of serving in the government of the United States are given an enormous amount of trust by the public we serve,” Garland said.
“To betray that trust by falsely pledging loyalty to the United States while serving a foreign power is a crime that will be met with the full force of the Justice Department.”
Rocha joined the State Department in 1981 and rose through the ranks as a career officer, also serving in posts in Havana, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, the Dominican Republic and Washington.
The charges against him include: conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government; acting as an agent of a foreign government without prior government consent; and using a US passport obtained by making false statements.
The explosive case alarmed US lawmakers including House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul, who said he was shocked at the charges against Rocha.
While abusing the public trust to aid “a criminal, anti-American regime” is disgraceful, the case should also “serve as a reminder that the Cuban regime remains an ever present threat to the US and our interests around the world,” he told AFP.
The State Department said it was not yet clear how damaging Rocha’s decades of espionage has been, but a spokesman said it is working with the intelligence community “to assess any long-term national security implications for this matter.”
Other Americans have also been arrested for leaking secrets to Havana, including Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, who were indicted in 2009 on charges of spying for Cuba for nearly 30 years. AFP