US diplomat turned Cuban spy jailed for 15 years

  • By Bernd Debussmann Jr
  • BBC News, Washington

image source, Good pictures

image caption, Victor Rocha abruptly changed his plea in February, initially pleading not guilty to the charges.

A former career diplomat who once served as the US ambassador to Bolivia has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for serving as an agent for Cuba.

According to prosecutors, 73-year-old Victor Manuel Rocha secretly passed information to the Cuban government for more than 40 years.

In February, Rocha entered his first not guilty plea in a Miami court, agreeing to avoid trial.

The intelligence case between the US and Cuba is unprecedented.

Rocha, dressed in a brown prison uniform, told a federal court in Miami on Friday: “I plead guilty.”

In addition to prison, Rocha must pay a $500,000 fine and cooperate with authorities.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland called Rocha's crimes “one of the most high-profile and longest-running intrusions of the US government by a foreign agent”.

Born in Colombia, and educated at Yale and Harvard, Rocha served as the US ambassador to Bolivia between 1999 and 2022, as well as various diplomatic posts in Argentina, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

He also served in other government positions, including the National Security Council.

After his diplomatic service, Rocha served as an adviser to the US Army's Southern Command, which oversees all of Latin America and the Caribbean, including communist Cuba.

During three subsequent meetings, Rocha revealed details of his previous intelligence on behalf of Cuba. At one point, Rocha used the word “we” to describe Cuba and himself, vowing to “protect” what “we” had done together.

When asked if he was “still with us,” Rosa told the secret agent that he was “angry” because his loyalty to the Cuban regime was being called into question. This is like questioning my masculinity.

The U.S. has had a tense relationship with Cuba since Fidel Castro overthrew the island's U.S.-backed government in 1959, a revolution quickly followed by a U.S. trade embargo.

While then-President Barack Obama and former Cuban President Raúl Castro took steps to normalize relations in 2015, the Trump administration reversed many of those steps.

In an interview with the BBC, former CIA counter-intelligence chief James Olsen said the case was symbolic of how Cuban intelligence had “beaten” their American adversaries for decades.

“They belong to us,” Mr Olson said. “That's one of the reasons I have a personal distaste for Cuban intelligence because they've been so successful in working against us.”

Mr Olson called Rocha a “traitor”.

He betrayed our country. “I think it's disgraceful, and I don't think he's ever going to see the light of day again.”

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