Miami, FL - The Associated Press has learned that Manuel Rocha, a former American diplomat who served as the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, has been arrested in connection with a long-running FBI counterintelligence investigation. Rocha, 73, was accused of secretly working as an agent for the Cuban government.
Rocha's arrest took place in Miami on Friday, and more details about the case are expected to be revealed during a court appearance on Monday. According to sources familiar with the matter, the Justice Department has charged Rocha with promoting the interests of the Cuban government. Federal law mandates that individuals engaging in political activities on behalf of a foreign government within the United States must register with the Justice Department. In recent years, the department has intensified its enforcement efforts against illicit foreign lobbying.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the case, and it remains unknown whether Rocha has legal representation at this time. The law firm where he previously worked stated that they are not representing him, while his wife hung up when contacted by the AP.
Rocha's distinguished diplomatic career spanned 25 years and involved service under both Democratic and Republican administrations. He primarily served in Latin America during the Cold War era, a time marked by robust U.S. political and military intervention. Notably, he held a position at the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba when there were no formal diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Fidel Castro's communist government.
Born in Colombia, Rocha grew up in a working-class family in New York City. He obtained multiple liberal arts degrees from prestigious institutions such as Yale, Harvard, and Georgetown before joining the foreign service in 1981.
Between 1997 and 2000, Rocha served as the top U.S. diplomat in Argentina during a period of economic turmoil. The country's decade-long currency stabilization program, supported by Washington, collapsed under the weight of substantial foreign debt and stagnant growth. This led to a political crisis that witnessed Argentina go through five presidents within a two-week span.
The Controversial Diplomatic Career of Rocha
Former ambassador Rocha had a long and eventful diplomatic career, with notable assignments in Bolivia, Italy, Honduras, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Although highly experienced in Latin American affairs, he often found himself at odds with local governments.
Influencing Bolivian Elections
During his tenure as ambassador to Bolivia, Rocha made a direct intervention in the 2002 presidential race. He issued a warning to the Bolivian electorate, indicating that if they were to elect Evo Morales, a former coca grower, the United States would cut off assistance to the country. Some interpreted this as an attempt to maintain U.S. dominance in the region.
Despite Rocha's efforts, Bolivians elected Morales three years later. Notably, Rocha's successor as chief of the diplomatic mission was later expelled by Morales for inciting "civil war."
Transition to Business Ventures
Following his retirement from the State Department, Rocha embarked on a second career in the business sector. He assumed the role of president at a gold mine in the Dominican Republic, a venture partly owned by Canada's Barrick Gold.
More recently, Rocha has taken on senior positions at various companies, including XCoal, a Pennsylvania-based coal exporter, and Clover Leaf Capital, which facilitates mergers in the cannabis industry. He has also been associated with law firm Foley & Lardner and Spanish public relations firms Llorente & Cuenca.
Remarks from Associated Individuals
Karla Wittkop Rocha, Rocha's wife, declined to comment when approached by the AP. She simply stated, "I don't need to talk to you," before ending the conversation.
Foley & Lardner confirmed that Rocha left the law firm in August, without providing further details.
Rocha's multifaceted career demonstrates his expertise in diplomacy and his subsequent ventures into the business world.