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A Former US Ambassador Bags 15-Year Prison Term For Acting As Cuba’s Secret Agent

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A Former US Ambassador Bags 15-Year Prison Term For Acting As Cuba’s Secret Agent

In a plea deal that left many unanswered questions about a betrayal that shocked the US foreign service, a former career US ambassador was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison on Friday for confessing he worked for decades as a secret agent for communist Cuba.

After entering a guilty plea to conspiring to pose as an agent of a foreign government, Manuel Rocha, 73, will also cooperate with investigators and pay a fine of $500,000. Prosecutors dropped over twelve other allegations in return, including making false statements and wire fraud.

“Your actions were a direct attack on our democracy and the safety of our citizens,” US District Court Judge Beth Bloom told Rocha.

Rocha begged his relatives and family to pardon him while wearing a beige jail uniform. He declared, “I accept the penalty and take full responsibility.”

A trial that would have provided fresh insight into the precise actions Rocha took to assist Cuba throughout his two decades of employment with the US State Department was avoided, and the sentencing concluded an incredibly quick criminal prosecution.

When the authorities discovered that Rocha was spying for Cuba, they refused to even inform Bloom of those findings, according to the prosecution.

A secret damage assessment that could take years to finish has been carried out by federal officials. In order “to fully assess the foreign policy and national security implications of these charges,” the State Department said on Friday that it will keep collaborating with the intelligence community.

Less than six months after his startling arrest at his Miami home on charges of engaging in “clandestine activity” on behalf of Cuba since at least 1981—the year he enlisted in the US foreign service—Rocha received his punishment.

Cuba’s intelligence agencies have demonstrated their skill through past destructive penetrations into high echelons of the US administration, as demonstrated by this case. For years, prosecutors claimed, Rocha’s deceit went unnoticed as the Ivy League-educated ambassador met in secret with Cuban spies and gave false information about his contacts to US officials.

However, red signs were missed along the way, according to a recent Associated Press investigation, including a warning one veteran CIA agent received almost two decades ago that Rocha was acting as a double agent.

According to unreleased information, the CIA knew in 1987 that Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba, had a “super mole” buried deep within the US administration. Some officials thought this mole might have been Rocha, the AP stated.

In addition to holding prominent positions in Argentina, Mexico, the White House, the US Interests Section in Havana, and Bolivia, Rocha had a distinguished career.

Following his graduation from Yale in 1973, Rocha went to Chile, where prosecutors claim he made a “great friend” of the General Directorate of Espionage, or DGI, the espionage agency of Cuba.

Rocha served as a special assistant to the US Southern Command commander throughout his post-government career. More recently, he has been perceived by friends and prosecutors as a tough-talking admirer of Donald Trump and a hard-liner on Cuba, an image he cultivated to conceal his true allegiances.

One of the mysteries is what led the FBI to begin looking into Rocha so many years after he left the foreign service.

In a series of talks with an undercover agent acting as a Cuban intelligence operative that was covertly filmed, Rocha implicated himself. When the agent first contacted Rocha via WhatsApp, he went by the name “Miguel” and claimed to have a message “from your friends in Havana.”

In the talks, Rocha referred to Castro as “Comandante,” called the US the “enemy,” and bragged about having worked as a Cuban mole in the US foreign policy establishment for more than 40 years, according to court documents filed by the prosecution.

According to reports, Rocha stated, “What we have done is enormous—more than a Grand Slam.”
The plea deal sparked criticism in Miami’s Cuban exile community even before Friday’s sentencing, as some legal commentators expressed concern Rocha would receive an unduly short sentence.

“Any sentence that allows him to see the light of day again would not be justice,” said Carlos Trujillo, a Miami attorney who served as US Ambassador to the Organization of American States during the Trump administration. “He’s a spy for a foreign adversary who put American lives at risk.”

“As a Cuban, I cannot forgive him,” added Isel Rodriguez, a 55-year-old Cuban-American woman who stood outside the federal courthouse Friday with a group of demonstrators waving American flags. “I feel completely betrayed.”

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