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Sat. May 18th, 2024

Former US ambassador Victor Manuel Rocha, 73, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to spying for Cuba over a span of more than four decades. The sentencing took place in a federal court on Friday, marking the culmination of what US officials described as “one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent.”

Rocha, who had initially pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government, ultimately accepted a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Judge Beth Bloom presided over the three-and-a-half hour hearing in Miami and imposed the maximum penalty permitted by law, along with a $500,000 fine.

The former ambassador, a naturalized US citizen originally from Colombia, began aiding Havana as a covert agent of Cuba’s General Directorate of Intelligence (DGI) in 1981, according to US authorities. His espionage activities allegedly continued until his arrest. Rocha’s career trajectory included service in various diplomatic posts, including Havana, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Washington, as well as a stint on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, announcing Rocha’s arrest in December, highlighted the severity of his actions, noting Rocha’s repeated references to the United States as “the enemy” and his boasting about the significance of his efforts. The criminal complaint against Rocha outlines how he consistently behaved as a Cuban agent during meetings with an undercover FBI agent, praising Fidel Castro and aligning himself with Cuba’s interests.

Larissa Knapp, executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, condemned Rocha’s betrayal of his oath to defend the US Constitution, emphasizing the decades-long deception that endangered national security and US citizens. She underscored the significance of Rocha’s acceptance of responsibility and subsequent sentencing, which reflects the gravity of his actions.

Rocha’s case adds to a series of espionage incidents that have strained relations between the United States and Cuba since the Communist revolution in 1959. Notable cases include the indictment of Walter Kendall Myers and Gwendolyn Myers, an American couple who spied for Cuba for nearly 30 years, and military intelligence analyst Ana Montes, who admitted to gathering intelligence for Cuba over almost a decade. These incidents underscore the ongoing challenges in US-Cuba relations amid enduring diplomatic tensions and Cuba’s status as a State Department-listed state sponsor of terrorism, subject to a US embargo since 1962.

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