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Former U.S. ambassador charged with being an agent for Cuba

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Monday that Victor Manuel Rocha, the former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, has been charged with acting illegally as a foreign agent for the government of Cuba.
Drew Angerer
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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Monday that Victor Manuel Rocha, the former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, has been charged with acting illegally as a foreign agent for the government of Cuba.

Updated December 4, 2023 at 3:29 PM ET

A longtime U.S. diplomat who served as ambassador to Bolivia has been arrested and charged with being a clandestine agent for the Cuban government.

Victor Manuel Rocha was formally charged today in federal court in Miami. Prosecutors say Rocha's illegal work with Cuba spanned 40 years, including his 20 years as a State Department employee.

Rocha was born in Colombia and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1978. According to the criminal complaint, he began working for the State Department in 1981. Over the next two decades, he held positions at U.S. embassies in Mexico, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Bolivia where he served as ambassador.

From 1995 to 1997, he was stationed in the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, Cuba.

"This action exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in Washington following Rocha's arrest.

Rocha is charged with conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government and with passport fraud.

"Like all federal officials, U.S. diplomats swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Acting as an agent for Cuba – a hostile foreign power – is a blatant violation of that oath and betrays the trust of the American people," FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

In the complaint, prosecutors say the FBI was alerted of Rocha's alleged work for Cuba in 2022. An FBI undercover employee, posing as a Cuban agent, then contacted Rocha and held a series of meetings with him in Miami. In those meetings, the complaint says Rocha admitted to being a Cuban agent for nearly four decades.

His stint in the U.S. Interest Section in Havana between 1995 and 1997 was at a time of heightened tensions between the two countries. In February 1996, the Cuban military shot down two airplanes operated by Brothers to the Rescue, a U.S. group opposed to the Castro regime. Four people were killed. At one of the meetings with an undercover FBI employee, Rocha called it "the knock down of the small planes." He said, "Brothers to the Rescue and other similar people ...were pushing politics toward unnecessary provocations."

In 2002, while serving as ambassador to Bolivia, Rocha inserted himself into that country's presidential race, warning Bolivians that if they elected former coca grower Evo Morales President, the U.S. might retaliate by cutting aid. The move gave the leftist Morales a boost, and is credited with helping him win election three years later.

The federal criminal complaint doesn't cite any specific episodes where Rocha's work for Cuba undermined U.S. policy or interests. In his meetings with the FBI informant, Rocha appears to have grown increasingly confident and bragged about the importance of the information he provided the Cuban government.

"For me, what has been done, has strengthened the Revolution," he said. "What he have done...it's enormous...More than a grand slam."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.

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