Former US Ambassador To Bolivia Victor Manuel Rocha Pleads Guilty To Spying For Cuba, Gets 15 Years

A former U.S. ambassador was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty Friday to acting as a Cuban intelligence agent for over four decades, CBS News reported.

Victor Manuel Rocha, 73, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia from 2000 to 2002, received a 15-year prison sentence for acting as an operative for Cuba, according to the outlet. Rocha originally denied guilt in February 2024 but later changed his plea. The legal proceedings in Miami hit a snag when Judge Beth Bloom challenged the plea agreement’s adequacy, pointing out its failure to include victim restitution and citizenship revocation, according to the outlet.

Prosecutors, however, reportedly argued the 15-year sentence was justified, pointing out Rocha’s age and his limited likelihood of surviving the incarceration. They later amended the plea deal to add victim restitution, with the possibility of denaturalization to be considered separately in civil court, the outlet reported.

“For most of his life, Mr. Rocha lived a lie,” David Newman, a top national security official at the Justice Department, said at a press conference, CBS News reported. “While holding various senior positions in the U.S. government, he was secretly acting as the Cuban government’s agent. That is a staggering betrayal of the American people.” (RELATED: Military Officer Accused Of Trading Sensitive U.S. Security Information With China)

Details on what led the FBI to suspect the former U.S. official of spying for Cuba are unclear, but court documents mention a tip received before November 2022, according to CBS News. After the tip, the FBI watched Rocha’s meetings with an undercover agent, who Rocha reportedly thought was from Cuban intelligence.

Court records reveal that throughout the year, Rocha identified the U.S. as an opponent and stated that their activities had profound and extensive consequences, according to the outlet. He indicated his foremost concern was any U.S. actions that could endanger the leadership or the revolution itself, CBS News stated. The complaint also mentioned that as recently as 2017 Rocha met with his Cuban contacts, traveling initially from Miami to the Dominican Republic using his American passport, before switching to a Dominican passport for his subsequent trips to Panama and Havana, according to the outlet.

Records also indicate the ambassador appointed by then-President Bill Clinton was instructed by Cuban intelligence to live an outwardly ordinary life, according to the outlet. To conceal his dual life, he constructed a persona as a conservative, the outlet reported.

Rocha had top-level security clearances, giving him access to highly sensitive information. He likely provided substantial help to Cuba, especially while overseeing Cuban affairs at the National Security Council and other diplomatic positions, according to the outlet. Although not charged with espionage, which carries stiffer penalties, Rocha was convicted as a foreign agent. This lesser charge, sometimes called “espionage lite,” was used because of inadequate evidence for more serious accusations, possibly affected by the amount of time passing since the alleged actions, according to CBS News.

Attorney General Merrick Garland stated the case was “one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the U.S. government by a foreign agent,” according to the outlet.