US

Ex-US ambassador accused of being spy for decades

A former US ambassador to Bolivia has been charged with secretly acting as a Cuban agent for “more than 40 years”.

Manuel Rocha, who was arrested at his Miami home on Friday, served as the top US diplomat to Bolivia between 2000 and 2002.

Prosecutors from the US Justice Department accuse him of promoting the Cuban government’s interests, Sky’s US partner NBC News reported.

This is not a crime unless it is done on US soil without registering with the department as a foreign lobbyist, the broadcaster added.

Rocha, 73, appeared in court on Monday and is alleged to have begun his “clandestine activity” on Cuba’s behalf in 1981 or earlier.

It was one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the US government by a foreign agent, department officials said.

He met Cuban intelligence operators, lied to US government officials about his travels and contacts and used a passport obtained through a false statement, prosecutors claimed in court documents filed in Florida.

The charges reflect a harsher approach by the department towards the prosecution of illicit foreign lobbying.

Bolivian President Hugo Banzer (L) with Victor Manuel Rocha in 2000
Image:
Bolivian President Hugo Banzer (L) with Manuel Rocha in 2000

During his 25-year career as a US diplomat, Rocha served as ambassador to Bolivia and held another senior post – head of mission – in Argentina.

He worked for the US Interests Section in Havana in the mid-1990s, a time when the US lacked full diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro’s communist government.

Prosecutors claim Cuba’s notoriously sophisticated intelligence services first began using Rocha in 1981 when he first joined the US State Department.

They added that the alleged links continued well after he left government service more than two decades later.

The FBI learned about the relationship last year, it is alleged, and arranged a series of undercover meetings with an agent posing as a Cuban intelligence operator.

In one encounter in Miami last year, Rocha is alleged to have said: “I always told myself, ‘The only thing that can put everything we have done in danger is – is … someone’s betrayal, someone who may have met me, someone who may have known something at some point’.”

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Born in Colombia, Rocha joined the US foreign service in 1981.

As ambassador to Bolivia, he warned Bolivians that if they voted for Evo Morales in the upcoming election, the US would cut off aid to the poor South American country.

Rocha also served in Italy, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and worked as a Latin America expert for the US National Security Council.

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