14ymedio, Madrid, 5 December 2023 — The Prosecutor’s Office formally accused Manuel Rocha, former US diplomat, of having spied on his country for Cuba, which he called “the enemy” according to the information that intelligence had and that was revealed this Monday after the filing of the complaint before a federal court in Miami. The complaint is based on the sworn statement of FBI special agent Michael Haley, who managed to extract the information from the former official in several secret meetings.
According to the documentation, Rocha collaborated in a “clandestine mission to collect information from Cuba against the United States” since 1981, but his task has continued over time, since in 2017 he held a meeting with the Cuban Intelligence Directorate (DGI) in which he boasted of “having strengthened the Revolution” for 40 years at the service of the Government of the Island.
Rocha was working as Deputy Principal Officer of the then US Interests Section in Havana when the Brothers to the Rescue [Hermanos al Rescate] planes were shot down in February 1996, a time that he described in his meetings with the FBI as “very tense.” “It was the time of the Brothers to the Rescue and other types of people who put political pressure through unnecessary provocations.” On one of the trips, on the orders of Raúl Castro, two small planes of the organization were attacked with missiles by a MiG fighter of the Cuban Air Force. All four crew members died.
“It was the time of the Brothers to the Rescue and other types of people who put political pressure through unnecessary provocations”
Rocha, who is currently 73 years old, faces very serious accusations, such as conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government, acting as an agent in the service of a foreign government and having obtained a passport through a false declaration. But things could go further, as prosecutors warn that the investigation is not closed and new crimes may appear. A detention hearing is scheduled for this Wednesday.
Haley, posing as a member of Cuban intelligence, contacted Rocha in November 2022, with whom she arranged a meeting which the former diplomat attended, after carrying out a “surveillance detection route in accordance with DGI techniques.” The agent introduced himself as his new contact in Miami and Rocha thanked him for the exchange, adding that he had visited Havana for a meeting in 2016 or 2017, where he arrived with a Dominican passport. “I want you to tell my colleagues that I very much appreciate it and thank them for this alert,” he added.
“They were decades (…) intense. Almost 40 years (…) of great danger,” he confessed to his interlocutor, who used the name Miguel during his investigations. “This is an enormous sacrifice, with a lot of tension that you have to manage internally, with self-discipline, all the time,” he added.
In February 2023, there was a new meeting in which he revealed to Miguel how he obtained his job at the State Department: “I went little by little. It was a very meticulous, very disciplined process. I knew exactly how to do it and obviously la Dirección ’accompanied’ me.” It was at that meeting when he showed his full satisfaction for having contributed to the revolutionary cause. “We cannot jeopardize that,” he argued, lamenting the current “blows” by the enemy.
In the third meeting, Miguel launched into asking him if he was still loyal to “la Dirección”, to which, annoyed with the question, Rocha responded that he had “never put a colleague in danger in 40 years.”
In the third meeting, Miguel launched into asking him if he was still loyal to “the Management”, to which, annoyed with the question, Rocha responded that he had “never put a colleague in danger in 40 years” and promised to continue protecting what has been achieved. The former diplomat referred to Fidel Castro on several occasions as “the Commander,” according to the FBI agent’s statement.
The fourth meeting, scheduled for this December, did not take place, since the Diplomatic Security Service contacted Rocha for an interview in which he “lied repeatedly,” denying, among other things, having met Miguel, and varying his testimony little by little.
“This action reveals one of the most far-reaching and long-lasting infiltrations in the United States Government by a foreign agent,” acknowledged Attorney General Merrick Garland, before the press in Washington, where an investigation has been opened to determine the scope of the revelations and what failures could have occurred such that no one detected such a danger for so long. Garland stated that Rocha expressly sought a career in government institutions to have “access to non-public information and the ability to influence foreign policy.”
Rocha, who studied at the most prestigious universities in the United States – Yale, Harvard and Georgetown – began working as the person in charge of Honduras for the State Department in 1981, the same year that prosecutors consider that his collaboration with Cuba began, where he was Deputy Principal Officer of the US Interests Section in Havana.
He then passed through Mexico, Argentina and Bolivia – where his statements against the then candidate Evo Morales opened a crisis that was closed when the leader of the Movement Towards Socialism won the elections four years later; and through other delegations, such as the Dominican Republic, Italy or Panama.
While government records define him as a “fierce double agent,” his former colleagues consider him a “loquacious, charming and elegant man.”
While government records define him as a “fierce double agent,” his former colleagues consider him a “loquacious, charming and elegant” man. He had been, according to his friends, a socialist in his youth, but little by little he embraced conservatism and harsh criticism of the Cuban regime. “All the time he presented himself as a right-wing guy,” declared Eduardo Gamarra, a professor of International Relations at Florida International University and a friend of Rocha for forty years. “He became more and more Trumpist,” he added.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, Havana urged him to appear in that way to clear up any shadow of doubt. In private, and according to the minutes of the complaint, Rocha took pride in his spying. “What we’ve done is enormous, more than a bases-loaded home run,” he goes so far as to say.
John Feeley, a former career diplomat who worked alongside Rocha decades ago, told The New York Times that the case could be among the worst intelligence leaks in recent history. “Manuel literally had the keys to the kingdom. If it had anything to do with Cuba, he saw it,” he declared.
The New York newspaper also spoke with Ricardo Zúniga, a retired senior official from the State Department and the White House, as well as Obama’s negotiator during the thaw, who described the case as “an incredible performance.” “It’s an extraordinary testament to how capable these guys are,” he said. “I was always extremely careful for that reason.”
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