Former US Ambassador Who Spied for Communist Cuba Gets 15 Years in Prison

Tom Ozimek
By Tom Ozimek
April 14, 2024US News
Former US Ambassador Who Spied for Communist Cuba Gets 15 Years in Prison
Bolivian President Hugo Banzer shakes hands with Victor Manuel Rocha (R), the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, during a ceremony in the Government Palace in La Paz, Bolivia, on Aug. 3, 2000. (Reuters)

A former U.S. ambassador who had access to top secret government information has been sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to working for communist-run Cuba’s spy service for decades.

Victor Manuel Rocha, a former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia and member of the White House National Security Council, was recruited by Cuba’s spy agency in 1973, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Mr. Rocha entered into a plea deal on April 12, admitting to having secretly acted as an agent of the Cuban regime for 40 years while holding various positions of trust that gave him access to classified information and the ability to affect U.S. foreign policy.

A judge then handed him the maximum statutory penalty of 15 years behind bars.

“After years of lying and endangering national security and U.S. citizens, he finally accepted responsibility for his actions and received the maximum prison sentence,” Larissa Knapp, executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, said in a statement.

Under the terms of the plea deal, Mr. Rocha must also pay a $500,000 fine, be subjected to three years of supervised release, and cooperate with U.S. authorities in assessing the damage done by his work on behalf of the Cuban regime.

He must also relinquish all future retirement benefits, including pension payments, that arise from his former State Department employment and hand over any future profits he might make from writing a book about his criminal conduct or from any other publication relating to his espionage.

Mr. Rocha kept his status as a Cuban agent secret for decades, including by providing misleading information to U.S. government agents in order to cover his tracks, but his activity was eventually discovered when he divulged information to an undercover FBI agent posing as a Cuban spy.

‘More Than a Grand Slam’

Mr. Rocha, a graduate of Harvard and other Ivy League universities, was recruited as a covert agent of Cuba’s General Directorate of Intelligence in 1973 after he graduated from Yale.

He was born in Colombia and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1978.

While secretly supporting Cuba’s spy agency in its clandestine intelligence-gathering mission against the United States, Mr. Rocha eventually managed to get a job at the State Department, where he worked from 1981 to 2002.

Besides serving as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002, he also worked as deputy principal secretary of the State Department’s U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, from 1995 to 1997.

After his State Department employment ended, he engaged in various other actions meant to support Cuba’s spy service, according to the DOJ.

Despite keeping a low profile, Mr. Rocha’s secret identity was discovered when, in several meetings in 2022 and 2023, he made a series of compromising statements to an undercover FBI agent.

The FBI agent posed in Miami as “a covert representative” of Cuba’s spy service, whose mission was to contact Mr. Rocha, introduce himself as Mr. Rocha’s new contact, and “establish a new communication plan,” per the DOJ.

Mr. Rocha affirmed the contact and “proceeded to engage in lengthy conversations during which he described and celebrated his activity as a Cuban intelligence agent,” according to the DOJ.

“Throughout the meetings, 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 agency stated.

The Justice Department stated that Mr. Rocha praised former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and referred to his contacts in Cuban intelligence as his “compañeros,” or comrades.

“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 stated.

‘Staggering Betrayal’

Little remains known about what, specifically, he did for Cuba’s communist regime or how his actions may have undermined U.S. foreign policy.

His indictment indicates that he held high-level U.S. government security clearance, which would have given him access to top-secret information.

Prosecutors said on April 12 that the damage assessment from Mr. Rocha’s actions is still ongoing and that the full extent of the harm from his actions may never be known.

David Newman, a top national security official at the DOJ, said at a press conference after the sentencing that Mr. Rocha’s actions amount to a “staggering betrayal of the American people.”

Mr. Newman said the case is a reminder of the espionage risks that the United States faces from a range of countries.

“We are, of course, laser-focused on the threat from China and Russia. But we know that the espionage landscape is not limited to threats from those countries,” he said.

“The Cuban government continues to be infiltrating our government and undermining American security.”

From The Epoch Times

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