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Former US Ambassador Exposed as Cuban Double Agent

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December 4, 2023

Ainsley King


Former US Ambassador Exposed as Cuban Double Agent

On Monday, U.S. authorities charged a former American diplomat with serving as a covert agent for the Cuban government for decades, citing proof of his covert support for the foreign country throughout his ascent through the U.S. State Department's ranks.


Federal prosecutors said in a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Miami that Manuel Rocha, the diplomat, had been covertly supporting Cuba's "clandestine intelligence-gathering mission against the United States" since 1981 and that he appeared to have met as recently as 2017 with handlers from the island nation's top spy agency.


Mr. Rocha worked at the State Department for over 20 years in a variety of Latin American-related capacities, most notably as Bolivia's ambassador until 2002. In more recent times, he served as an advisor to a U.S. military command that oversaw Cuba among other things.


Rocha, who was born in Colombia and grew up in a working-class family in New York City, attended Yale, Harvard, and Georgetown to earn a string of liberal arts degrees prior to enlisting in the foreign service in 1981.


Between 1997 and 2000, he served as the top U.S. diplomat in Argentina. At that time, the country's ten-year currency stabilization program, supported by Washington, was coming apart due to massive foreign debt and slow growth, setting off a political crisis that would see Argentina go through five presidents in two weeks.


In his subsequent role as Bolivia's ambassador, he directly meddled in the 2002 presidential contest, announcing weeks in advance that the United States would withhold aid from the impoverished South American nation should it choose to install former coca farmer Evo Morales as president.


In a statement that was largely perceived as an effort to maintain American supremacy in the area, Rocha stated, “I want to remind the Bolivian electorate that if they vote for those who want Bolivia to return to exporting cocaine, that will seriously jeopardize any future aid to Bolivia from the United States.” 


The gambit infuriated Bolivians and provided Morales with a decisive advantage. Three years after Rocha's election, the socialist leader dismissed his successor as head of the diplomatic mission on the grounds of promoting "civil war."


In addition, Rocha worked as a Latin America specialist for the National Security Council and was stationed in Italy, Honduras, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.

The allegation doesn't go into specifics about what information Mr. Rocha might have given to Cuba or how he might have influenced US policy. However, it details three encounters that occurred almost a year ago between Mr. Rocha and an undercover FBI agent, whom Mr. Rocha took to be an operative of Cuba's espionage service, the Directorate of Intelligence.


According to a Miami-based F.B.I. special agent Michael J. Haley's affidavit, Mr. Rocha repeatedly mentioned serving the agency's interests during those discussions and referred to the United States as "the enemy." The affidavit quotes Mr. Rocha as stating that "what we have done" is "enormous" and "more than a grand slam," yet it doesn't say what he meant to express. The F.B.I. translated the Spanish-language discussions.


On Monday, Mr. Rocha was accused of two more offenses in addition to serving as an unauthorized representative of a foreign government. On Monday afternoon, he was scheduled to appear in a Miami courthouse.


Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement that Mr. Rocha had applied for jobs in the diplomatic service that would have given him access to classified material and allowed him to have a say in international affairs.


“This action exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent,” Mr. Garland said.

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