Former US Ambassador to Bolivia Charged in federal court According to court documents filed by Cuba acting as an undercover foreign agent, they were unsealed Monday.
Manuel Rocha, a 73-year-old former U.S. diplomat, “covertly supported the Republic of Cuba and its covert intelligence-gathering mission against the United States by serving as an undercover agent for Cuban intelligence,” prosecutors wrote.
Rocha served as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002 and as deputy chief of staff for U.S. interests in Cuba in the 1990s. Rocha served in the 1980s at the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Embassy in Italy, and in different roles at the U.S. Embassies in Mexico and Argentina.
In several meetings with an undercover FBI agent posing as a member of Cuban intelligence, Rocha repeatedly referred to the United States as the “enemy” and praised Cuban revolutionary and politician Fidel Castro, according to court documents.
Rocha described it as “responsible” for what he called the “downing of small planes” — an incident believed to be Cuba’s shooting down of two unarmed planes piloted by members of the Brotherhood during Rocha’s tenure at the State Department in Havana. In retaliation, a US-based group opposed to Castro’s government killed four people.
In the indictment, prosecutors say the Cuban government worked for years to recruit individuals inside the United States to help with intelligence gathering, including individuals within the U.S. government.
As a State Department employee, Rocha had “unique” access to non-public government information, prosecutors said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday that the case against Rocha “exposes one of the highest and longest infiltrations of the US government by a foreign agent.”
Rocha faces three federal charges, including acting as an illegal agent of a foreign government. Rocha was arrested and made a preliminary court appearance Monday in Miami, where federal prosecutors asked a judge to detain him pending trial.
Rocha is represented by Miami attorney Jacqueline Arango with the Ackerman law firm, where she is co-head of white-collar crimes and government investigations.
Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Edwin Torres set a pretrial detention hearing for Wednesday at 1 p.m., and Rocha will remain in custody until then.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Stratton said the government plans to bring additional charges with a grand jury, which will be struck Tuesday.
Torres set a preliminary hearing and trial for Dec. 18.
In November 2022, after investigators were tipped off about Rocha’s undercover work, an undercover FBI employee posing as a Cuban intelligence agent messaged Rocha on WhatsApp, court documents say. In that message, prosecutors say, the undercover employee “has a message for you from your friends in Havana. This is related to an important matter.
“I don’t understand but you can call me,” Rocha replied. The former ambassador agreed to meet with the Secret Service in Miami to talk.
During the meeting, Rocha allegedly took several precautions, making sure he wasn’t followed, taking a long route to their meeting, and asking the undercover agent to speak only to “low-level employees” in the “food court.” … So, no one is likely to see me.
During their first meeting, Rocha told the undercover operative that the Cuban intelligence agency, known as the Tiresian General de Intelligence, “asked me to lead a normal life,” and that he had “created the legend of a right-wing person.”
“The only thing that could put everything we’ve done in jeopardy – someone’s betrayal, someone who’s met me, who might know something at some point,” I always told myself. A transcript of the meeting cited in court documents.
He added: “My first concern; My first priority…any action by Washington – endangers the life of the leadership or the revolution.”
During another meeting several weeks later, Rocha reportedly described getting his State Department job to an undercover employee, saying, “I went through quite a bit. … It was a very meticulous process … very disciplined.
“I know exactly how to do it, obviously Direxian came with me … they know I know how to do it. … It’s a long process and it’s not easy,” he said, according to prosecutors.
Rocha boasted of his “decades” of work on behalf of the Cuban government, which he said had “strengthened the revolution” over the “last 40 years,” and lamented the “blows of the enemy.” , “has dealt with the current revolution.”
According to court documents, Rocha was working as a “senior international business consultant” at consulting firm LLYC USA at the time of his arrest. LLYC said in a statement to CNN on Monday that Rocha is “no longer associated with LLYC, effective immediately” and will “cooperate fully with authorities if necessary.”
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Denis Royal and Katelyn Bolandz contributed to this report.