Former US ambassador to Bolivia charged with working for Cuba

Manuel Rocha's 25-year diplomatic career was spent mostly in Latin America

Then US ambassador to Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, in July 2001. AFP
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A former American diplomat who was an ambassador to Bolivia has been charged with serving as a covert agent to Cuba for decades, the Justice Department said on Monday.

Manuel Rocha wept as he sat handcuffed in Miami Federal Court on charges that he engaged in “clandestine activity” on Cuba's behalf since at least 1981, the year he joined the US foreign service.

It included meeting with Cuban intelligence operatives and providing false information to US government officials about his contacts.

Federal law requires people doing the political bidding of a foreign government or entity inside the US to register with the Justice Department, which in recent years has increased its criminal enforcement of illicit foreign lobbying.

The complaint is short on specifics of how Mr Rocha may have assisted Cuba.

But it provides a vivid case study of what American officials say are long-standing efforts by Cuba and its sophisticated intelligence services to target US government officials who can be flipped.

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

"To betray that trust by falsely pledging loyalty to the United States while serving a foreign power is a crime that will be met with the full force of the Justice Department.”

But the department did not reveal how Mr Rocha attracted the attention of Cuba’s intelligence operatives and did not describe what, if any, sensitive information he may have provided.

His 25-year diplomatic career was spent under Democratic and Republican administrations, much of it in Latin America during the Cold War, a period of sometimes heavy-handed US political and military policies.

His diplomatic postings included a stint at the US Interests Section in Cuba during a time when America lacked full diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro’s communist government.

He was the top US diplomat in Argentina between 1997 and 2000 as a decade-long currency stabilisation programme backed by Washington was unravelling under the weight of huge foreign debt and stagnant growth.

That caused a political crisis that would result in the South American country going through five presidents in two weeks.

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

After his retirement from the State Department, he began a second career in business, as the president of a gold mine in the Dominican Republic partly owned by Canada’s Barrick Gold.

Updated: December 05, 2023, 6:19 AM