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Ex-US ambassador jailed after spying for Cuba

April 14, 2024

WASHINGTON, CMC – A former United States ambassador who admitted to secretly acting for decades as an agent of the Government of Cuba has been jailed for 15 years.

Victor Manuel Rocha, 73, of Miami, a former US Department of State employee who served on the National Security Council from 1994 to 1995 and as US Ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002, was sentenced on Friday by a US federal judge to the statutory maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

“Today’s plea and sentencing brings to an end more than four decades of betrayal and deceit by the defendant,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

“Rocha admitted to acting as an agent of the Cuban government at the same time he held numerous positions of trust in the US Government, a staggering betrayal of the American people and an acknowledgement that every oath he took to the United States was a lie,” he added.

US Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida said that “Rocha secretly acted for decades as an agent of a hostile foreign power.

“He thought the story of his covert mission for Cuba would never be told because he had the intelligence, knowledge and discipline to never to be detected,” he said. “Rocha underestimated those same skills in the prosecutors and law enforcement agents who worked tirelessly to bring him to justice for betraying his oath to this country.

“I am mindful that Rocha’s decades-long criminal activity on behalf of the Cuban Government is especially painful for many in South Florida,” Lapointe added. “Rocha’s willingness to cooperate, as required by his plea agreement, is important, but does not change the seriousness of his misconduct or his clandestine breach of the trust placed in him.

“Rocha’s 15-year prison sentence, the maximum punishment for his crimes of conviction, sends a powerful message to those who are acting or seek to act unlawfully in the United States for a foreign government: we will seek you out anywhere, at any time, and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” he continued.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) says that said US District Court Judge Beth Bloom accepted Rocha’s guilty plea to counts 1 and 2 of the indictment, which charged him with conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government and conspiring to defraud the United States and acting as an agent of a foreign government without notice as required by law.

The DOJ said the court then sentenced Rocha to the statutory maximum penalty on his counts of conviction: 15 years in prison, a US$500,000 fine, three years of supervised release and a special assessment.

The court also imposed “significant restrictions” on Rocha, the DOJ said.

Under the terms of the parties’ plea agreement, the DOJ said Rocha must cooperate with the United States, including assisting with any damage assessment related to his work on behalf of the Republic of Cuba.

The DOJ said Rocha must relinquish all future retirement benefits, including pension payments, owed to him by the United States based upon his former State Department employment.

Rocha must also assign to the United States any profits that he may be entitled to receive in connection with any publication relating to his criminal conduct or his US Government service, the DOJ said.

“Despite swearing an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, Rocha betrayed the US by secretly working as a Cuban agent for decades,” said Executive Assistant Director Larissa L. Knapp of the FBI’s National Security Branch. “After years of lying and endangering national security and US citizens, he finally accepted responsibility for his actions and received the maximum prison sentence.

“This should serve as a notice to our adversaries that the FBI will work tirelessly to stop foreign intelligence services and any who work with them against the interests of the United States and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” she added.

Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey B. Veltri of the FBI Miami Field Office said Rocha was jailed for “deceiving our nation.”

“He blatantly violated the oath of office he willingly took as an employee of the State Department and disregarded the loyalty to the United States that is inherent with that oath,” he said. “As this case demonstrates, the counterintelligence threat facing our nation is real, pervasive, and has the potential to cause great harm to our national security.”

Veltri commended the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida for “their close partnership on this highly sensitive matter”; the Washington Field Office; the Counterintelligence Division; the Department of Justice’s National Security Division; and the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service for “their valuable contributions to this case.”

“The investigation of this crime demonstrates the sustained threat from hostile intelligence services,” said Assistant Director for Domestic Operations Andrew Wroblewski of the US Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). “Today’s guilty plea and sentencing are another example of our commitment to successfully work together with our federal law enforcement partners in the pursuit of those who compromise the security of the United States.”

In pleading guilty, the DOJ said Rocha admitted that, beginning in 1973, and continuing to the time of his arrest, “he secretly supported the Republic of Cuba and its clandestine intelligence-gathering mission against the United States by serving as a covert agent of Cuba’s General Directorate of Intelligence.”

By his own admission, to further that role, the DOJ said Rocha obtained employment at the US Department of State, where he worked between 1981 and 2002, in positions that provided him access to nonpublic information, including classified information, and the ability to affect US foreign policy.

Besides serving as the US Ambassador to Bolivia and on the White House National Security Council, the DOJ said Rocha’s career included a stint as Deputy Principal Secretary of the State Department’s US Interests Section in Havana, Cuba from 1995-97.

“After his State Department employment ended, Rocha engaged in other acts intended to support Cuba’s intelligence services,” the DOJ said.

“Rocha kept his status as a Cuban agent secret to protect himself and others and to allow himself the opportunity to engage in additional clandestine activity,” it added. “Rocha provided false and misleading information to the United States to maintain his secret mission and traveled outside the United States to meet with Cuban intelligence operatives.”

In a series of meetings during 2022 and 2023, with an undercover FBI agent posing as a covert Cuban General Directorate of Intelligence representative, the DOJ said 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 lengthy conversations during which he described and celebrated his activity as a Cuban intelligence agent,” the DOJ said.

Throughout the meetings, it said “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.”

The DOJ said Rocha additionally praised for Cuban President 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 ‘enormous … More than a grand slam,’ and asserted that what he did ‘strengthened the Revolution … immensely,’” the DOJ said.

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