Manuel Rocha, the former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia was, in his own words, “pissed.” It was June 23, 2023, and he was in a Miami food court meeting with a man named “Miguel” whom he believed was working with Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence.
“The Dirección wants to ensure that you are still a Compañero of ours,” Miguel asked, using the Spanish name for the Cuban intelligence agency. “Are you still with us?”
The question set Rocha off..
“I am angry,” he said. “It’s like questioning my manhood … It’s like you want me to drop them … and show you if I still have testicles.”
An indignant Rocha then proceeded to outline his bona fides as a Cuban agent to Miguel.
What Rocha did not know was that Miguel was in fact an undercover FBI employee.
The tense scene was outlined by an FBI special agent in a criminal complaint wherein Rocha was charged with having “acted for decades as a covert agent” of Cuban intelligence. Based on the court document, Rocha was providing Havana with information — and misleading his State Department colleagues — as he rose through the diplomatic ranks including serving on the White House national security council.
Rocha was hit with multiple federal charges on Dec.1 including acting as an agent of a foreign government. The criminal complaint accuses him of working with Havana from the very beginning of his State Department career and describes the series of cloak and dagger meetings where the alleged betrayal unraveled.
According to an archived biography on the State Department website, Rocha joined the agency in 1981 and worked in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Italy, Argentina, and Havana. He worked on the NSC between 1991 and 1994 as Director for Inter-American Affairs where his purview included issues involving Cuba.
Rocha became the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia in 2000 and remained in this capacity until he left the State Department in 2002. Following his departure from State, Rocha worked as a special advisor to the U.S. military commander of SOUTHCOM and held multiple high profile jobs in the private sector.
The criminal complaint says the FBI became aware of Rocha’s work as an agent of Cuba’s intelligence agency “prior to November 2022.” That month, an undercover agent messaged Rocha on Whatsapp.
“Good Afternoon ambassador, my name is Miguel and I have a message for you from your friends in Havana. It is in regards to a sensitive matter. Are you available for a telephone call?” the undercover agent wrote.
“I don’t understand but you can call me,” Rocha replied.
The pair set up a phone call where Miguel told Rocha they were “ordered … to make contact with you to give you a message.”
“I know that you have been a great friend of ours since your time in Chile,” said Miguel.
According to the complaint, Rocha subsequently set up three meetings with Miguel including the June 2023 conversation at the food court. En route to each of those conversations, the FBI observed Rocha using tactics that the criminal complaint described as “consistent” with Cuban intelligence “tradecraft” including taking an “indirect” route and watching the meeting location “for several minutes … from a safe distance.”
Despite Rocha’s precautionary measures, according to the complaint, when he sat down with Miguel, the former ambassador “repeatedly described and celebrated his activity as a DGI agent.” The FBI taped and filmed these encounters and translated them from Spanish to English.
During the conversations, Rocha allegedly asked Miguel to send “my warmest regards to the Dirección” and boasted of the loyalty to Cuba’s revolutionary communist government that he felt while working in the State Department.
“My number one concern, my number one priority was … any action on the part of Washington that would … endanger the life of … the leadership … or the revolution itself,” Rocha said.
Rocha also allegedly described how Cuban intelligence worked with him throughout his diplomatic career.
“I went little by little,” Rocha explained. “lt was a very meticulous process … obviously the Dirección accompanied me.”
Having a high-level diplomat working as a double agent would have been an immense coup for Cuba, which has had a contentious relationship with America for decades. During his conversations with Miguel, Rocha allegedly touted the importance of his subterfuge.
“What we have done … it’s enormous … more than a grand slam,” Rocha said.
The criminal complaint provides some hint of what led Rocha to let his guard down with the undercover agent. Along with learning about Rocha’s alleged involvement with Cuban intelligence, U.S. law enforcement seems to have found out specific signals he used with his handlers. In comments quoted in the document, Rocha indicated that he had been expecting someone named Miguel and that it was significant for this person to have referenced “Chile” when they reached out to him.
“They must have told you something because you mentioned Chile. … That … inspired trust in me,” Rocha said.
During his meetings with Miguel, the criminal complaint said Rocha also used a Colombian peso note as a signal. Along with describing his past work with Cuban intelligence — which included meetings in Havana — Rocha also allegedly expressed his desire to remain helpful. The charges against Rocha include some related to false statements he allegedly made to obtain a passport he used for some of his travel to Cuba. According to the Washington Post, Rocha faces up to 10 years in prison.
Following his lengthy diplomatic career, Rocha held multiple positions in the private sector including serving on the board of a cannabis business and working as a vice president at a coal company. On his Linkedin page, Rocha also described himself as a “senior international business adviser” at Foley & Lardner, a prominent white shoe law firm.
Rocha, who had an initial court appearance on Monday and did not enter a plea, could not be reached for comment. A phone number associated with Rocha in public records databases led to Foley & Lardner and an automated recording:
“Manuel Rocha is no longer with the firm.”