Ex-US ambassador Victor Rocha accused of acting as covert agent for Cuba

Former ambassador to Bolivia charged for allegedly collaborating with Cuban intelligence services over several decades.

A seal for the FBI
An FBI seal is seen on a wall on August 10, 2022, in Omaha, Nebraska, US [File: Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo]

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged a former US ambassador to Bolivia for allegedly working with Cuban intelligence services as an undercover agent for several decades.

In court papers unsealed on Monday, the DOJ alleged that Victor Manuel Rocha had taken part in “clandestine activity” with the Cuban government since at least 1981, sharing false information with the US and meeting with Cuban operatives.

The 73-year-old former ambassador worked in the US Foreign Service for 25 years, holding top posts in South American nations such as Bolivia and Argentina.

“We allege that for over 40 years, Victor Manuel Rocha served as an agent of the Cuban government and sought out and obtained positions within the United States government that would provide him with access to non-public information and the ability to affect US foreign policy,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the statement.

The case against Rocha “exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent”, he said.

“Those who have the privilege of serving in the government of the United States are given an enormous amount of trust by the public we serve,” Garland said.

“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.”

The DOJ has charged Rocha with acting as an illegal agent of a foreign government. US law requires those acting on behalf of foreign governments to register with the DOJ.

Bolivian President Hugo Banzer shakes hands with Victor Manuel Rocha
Former Bolivian President Hugo Banzer shakes hands with Victor Rocha, the new US Ambassador to Bolivia, during a ceremony in the Government Palace in La Paz [File: Reuters]

Clandestine intelligence-gathering

Rocha was apprehended at his Miami residence on Friday by the FBI and is currently detained, awaiting a bond hearing scheduled for Wednesday after a brief court appearance on Monday.

In a court document filed in the southern district of Florida, the US accuses Rocha of having secretly supported Cuba and its clandestine intelligence-gathering mission against Washington since 1981.

Rocha admitted his decades of work for Cuba in a series of meetings in 2022 and 2023 with an undercover FBI agent who posed as a covert Cuban General Directorate of Intelligence representative, according to the court document.

The website of the US Department of State says that Rocha was sworn in as ambassador to Bolivia on July 14, 2000.

In 2002 he intervened in Bolivia’s presidential race, warning that the US would cut off aid if Bolivians elected Evo Morales, a left-wing candidate and former coca leaf grower.

Rocha’s speech, interpreted as an effort to shape the outcome of an election in a region where the US has a long history of subterfuge and interference, angered Bolivians and helped propel Morales to victory.

Since retiring from government service, Rocha has started a new career as the president of a Dominican gold mine owned partly by Canada’s Barrick Gold that has been accused of environmental degradation, The Associated Press reported.

The company has also faced allegations that it was complicit in extrajudicial killings in Tanzania.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies