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Former US Diplomat Charged With Spying for Cuba Over 40 Years

The US government charged a former diplomat who served on the national security council in the 1990s with secretly serving as an agent of Cuba’s government for more than 40 years.

Victor Manuel Rocha was arrested on Friday, following a long-running FBI counterintelligence investigation. The US ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002, Rocha also worked on the national security council from 1994 to 1995. He is charged with committing multiple federal crimes.

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

“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.”

Rocha, 73, was arrested in Miami on Friday.

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 stepped up its criminal enforcement of illicit foreign lobbying.

Rocha’s 25-year diplomatic career was spent under both 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 the US lacked full diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro’s communist government. Born in Colombia, Rocha was raised in a working-class home in New York City and went on to obtain liberal arts degrees from Yale, Harvard and Georgetown.

The government alleged that Rocha landed positions in the state department starting in 1981 to provide him access to non-public information, including classified information, and the ability to affect US foreign policy.

It says that from approximately 2006 to 2012, Rocha was an adviser to the commander of the US Southern Command, a joint command of the United States military whose area of responsibility includes Cuba.

It adds that as well as providing misleading information to the US to maintain his secret, he frequently left the US to meet Cuban intelligence operatives and lied to obtain travel documents.

It says that Rocha apparently admitted he was a spy to an undercover FBI agent in meetings last year and this year. The agent, posing as a covert Cuban General Directorate of Intelligence representative, heard Rocha admit “decades” of work for Cuba.

Rocha allegedly kept referring to the US as the “the enemy” and used the term “we” to describe himself and Cuba, praised Fidel Castro as the “Comandante” and referred to his contacts in Cuban intelligence as his “compañeros” (comrades), according to the US government statement.

Rocha was the top US diplomat in Argentina between 1997 and 2000, just as a decade-long currency stabilization program backed by Washington was unraveling under the weight of huge foreign debt and stagnant growth, triggering a political crisis that would see the South American country cycle through five presidents in two weeks.

At his next post as ambassador to Bolivia, he intervened directly into the 2002 presidential race, warning weeks ahead of the vote that the US would cut off assistance to the struggling South American country if it were to elect the former coca grower Evo Morales.

“I want to remind the Bolivian electorate that if they vote for those who want Bolivia to return to exporting cocaine, that will seriously jeopardize any future aid to Bolivia from the United States,″ Rocha said in a speech that was widely interpreted as an attempt to sustain US dominance in the region.

Three years later Bolivians elected Morales anyway and the leftist leader would expel Rocha’s successor as chief of the diplomatic mission for inciting “civil war”.

Rocha also served in Italy, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and worked as a Latin America expert for the national security council.

In recent years he held various positions in business: as the president of a goldmine in the Dominican Republic, and senior roles at a Pennsylvania-based coal exporter, a company formed to facilitate mergers in the cannabis industry, a law firm and a Spanish public relations firm.

Source: The Guardian