Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former U.S. ambassador admits to serving as secret agent for Cuba

The Miami Herald profiled former Ambassador V. Manuel Rocha in 2003 when he joined the firm of Steel Hector & Davis to help open doors in Latin America. He had been charged by federal prosecutors of being a covert agent for the Cuban government. (Raul Rubiera/Miami Herald/TNS)  (Raul Rubiera)
By Daniel Wu Washington Post

Manuel Rocha, a retired U.S. ambassador, said Thursday that he will plead guilty to charges of serving as a secret agent for Cuba’s spy agency, affirming what the Justice Department described as one of the most serious infiltrations of U.S. government in history.

Rocha, 73, told a federal judge that he would plead guilty to charges of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government, the Associated Press reported. Prosecutors dropped 13 other charges, including wire fraud and making false statements, and said they had agreed to a sentence but did not provide details in court, according to the AP.

Rocha is expected to return to court on April 12.

Prosecutors alleged in December that Rocha, a former State Department employee who served on the National Security Council and as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, spied on the United States for more than 40 years as an agent of Cuba.

He was arrested after a yearlong sting operation by the FBI, during which Rocha admitted to decades of work as a covert agent and referred to the United States as “the enemy,” according to the Justice Department.

Rocha, who was born in Colombia and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1978, embarked on a decades-long campaign to ascend the ranks of the State Department in service of Cuba’s spy agencies beginning in 1981, the Justice Department alleged.

Rocha held various roles in the State Department that conferred access to classified information, according to prosecutors. He worked in U.S. embassies in the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Argentina and Mexico before serving as director of inter-American affairs on the National Security Council from 1994 to 1995, a position that included responsibility over Cuba. Rocha served as ambassador to Bolivia between 2000 and 2002.

Prosecutors said that after he left the State Department, Rocha served as an adviser to the head of U.S. Southern Command, which oversees military operations in a region that includes Cuba, from 2006 to 2012.

The complaint against Rocha does not detail any specific acts of espionage. The FBI was alerted to Rocha after receiving a tip in 2022 and used an undercover agent, posing as another spy, to record conversations in which Rocha revealed his identity as a Cuban agent, according to the complaint.

In several meetings during 2022 and 2023, Rocha told the undercover agent that he was working for Cuba’s spy agencies, prosecutors alleged. He allegedly revealed some of the instructions he’d been given by his handlers, including to refer to Havana only as “the island” and fashion an identity as a political conservative to mask his allegiance to Cuba.

Rocha allegedly celebrated his infiltration, telling the undercover agent that it “strengthened the revolution” and was a “grand slam.”

Rocha’s former colleagues told the Washington Post that they were stunned by the allegations when they were announced in December. John Feeley, who worked with Rocha in the Dominican Republic, said he was a charming and ambitious Latin America expert. In retirement, Rocha had “gone full-on Donald Trump,” Feeley said, adding, “It was a perfect cover.”

Rocha was arrested in Miami in early December, the AP reported. The charges against him carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.