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Montevideo, May 24th 2024 - 16:45 UTC

 

 

US diplomat spying for Cuba given a 15-year prison sentence

Monday, April 15th 2024 - 10:22 UTC
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Rocha was discovered by undercover FBI agents and arrested in December last year in Miami Rocha was discovered by undercover FBI agents and arrested in December last year in Miami

Colombian-born Victor Manuel Rocha, who served as a former US Ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for spying for Cuba for 40 years.

Rocha, 73, who also held leading positions in other US diplomatic missions throughout his career, pleaded guilty to “acting as an illegal agent of a foreign government” and to conspiracy to commit the same crime and “defrauding the United States.”

He admitted that between 1973 and the time of his arrest in Miami in December last year, he secretly supported Cuba and its clandestine intelligence-gathering mission against the United States by serving as an undercover agent of the island, the US Attorney's Office said in a statement. He was also charged with other crimes such as fraud and document forgery.

In addition to the statutory maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, Judge Beth Bloom handed down a US$ 500,000 fine on Rocha, three years of supervised release, and a special assessment.

“Today’s plea and sentencing brings to an end more than four decades of betrayal and deceit by the defendant,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

“Rocha admitted to acting as an agent of the Cuban government at the same time he held numerous positions of trust in the US government, a staggering betrayal of the American people and an acknowledgment that every oath he took to the United States was a lie,” he added.

“Victor Manuel Rocha secretly acted for decades as an agent of a hostile foreign power. He thought the story of his covert mission for Cuba would never be told because he had the intelligence, knowledge, and discipline never to be detected. Rocha underestimated those same skills in the prosecutors and law enforcement agents who worked tirelessly to bring him to justice for betraying his oath to this country,” said US Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida.

“I am mindful that Rocha’s decades-long criminal activity on behalf of the Cuban Government is especially painful for many in South Florida. Rocha’s willingness to cooperate, as required by his plea agreement, is important, but does not change the seriousness of his misconduct or his clandestine breach of the trust placed in him. Rocha’s 15-year prison sentence, the maximum punishment for his crimes of conviction, sends a powerful message to those who are acting or seek to act unlawfully in the United States for a foreign government: we will seek you out anywhere, at any time, and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

Judge Bloom accepted Rocha’s guilty plea to counts 1 and 2 of the indictment, which charged him with conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government and conspiring to defraud the United States, and acting as an agent of a foreign government without notice as required by law.

Under the terms of the parties’ plea agreement, Rocha must cooperate with the United States, including assisting with any damage assessment related to his work on behalf of the Republic of Cuba. Rocha must relinquish all future retirement benefits, including pension payments, owed to him by the United States based upon his former State Department employment. Rocha must also assign to the United States any profits that he may be entitled to receive in connection with any publication relating to his criminal conduct or his US Government service.

By his own admission, to further that role, Rocha obtained employment at the US Department of State, where he worked between 1981 and 2002, in positions that provided him access to nonpublic information, including classified information, and the ability to affect US foreign policy. Aside from serving as the US Ambassador to Bolivia and on the White House National Security Council, Rocha’s career included a stint as Deputy Principal Secretary of the State Department’s US Interests Section in Havana, Cuba from 1995-97. After his State Department employment ended, Rocha engaged in other acts intended to support Cuba’s intelligence services.

Rocha kept his status as a Cuban agent secret to protect himself and others and to allow himself the opportunity to engage in additional clandestine activity. Rocha provided false and misleading information to the United States to maintain his secret mission and traveled outside the United States to meet with Cuban intelligence operatives.

In a series of meetings during 2022 and 2023, with an undercover FBI agent posing as a covert Cuban General Directorate of Intelligence representative, Rocha made repeated statements admitting his “decades” of work for Cuba, spanning “40 years.” When the undercover told Rocha he was “a covert representative here in Miami” whose mission was “to contact you, introduce myself as your new contact, and establish a new communication plan,” Rocha answered “Yes,” and proceeded to engage in lengthy conversations during which he described and celebrated his activity as a Cuban intelligence agent. 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. Rocha additionally praised Fidel Castro as the “Comandante,” and referred to his contacts in Cuban intelligence as his “Compañeros” (comrades) and to the Cuban intelligence services as the “Dirección.” 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.”

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