Former U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia arrested on charges of spying for Cuba for decades

Seal of Justice Department seen during press conference at US Attorney Office library
Seal of Justice Department seen during press conference at US Attorney Office library

73-year-old Manuel Rocha, a former American diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, has been arrested in a long-running FBI counterintelligence investigation. Rocha, who is accused of secretly serving as an agent of Cuba’s government, was arrested in Miami on Friday on a criminal complaint.

Rocha’s 25-year diplomatic career was spent under both Democratic and Republican administrations, much of it in Latin America during the Cold War. His roles included a stint at the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba during a time when the U.S. lacked full diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro’s communist government.

Born in Colombia, Rocha was the top U.S. diplomat in Argentina between 1997 and 2000. During his time as ambassador to Bolivia, he intervened directly into the 2002 presidential race, warning weeks ahead of the vote that the U.S. would cut off assistance to the poor South American country if it were to elect former coca grower Evo Morales. Rocha also served in Italy, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and worked as a Latin America expert for the National Security Council.

Following his retirement from the State Department, Rocha began a second career serving as the president of a gold mine in the Dominican Republic partly owned by Canada’s Barrick Gold. He’s also held senior roles at XCoal, a Pennsylvania-based coal exporter; Clover Leaf Capital, a company formed to facilitate mergers in the cannabis industry; law firm Foley & Lardner and Spanish public relations firms Llorente & Cuenca.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Monday, “This action exposes one of the furthest reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent.” Rocha’s initial appearance in court took place Monday, and he will be arraigned later this month.

Editorial credit: lev radin /