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Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Newman Delivers Remarks on Sentencing of Victor Manuel Rocha


Miami, FL
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon.

I’m David Newman, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the Department of Justice. I am joined today by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Markenzy Lapointe, whom I would like to thank for hosting us for this event. Also with us is Jeffrey B. Veltri, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Miami Field Office.

This afternoon, Victor Manuel Rocha, a former U.S. ambassador and 20-year State Department employee, pleaded guilty to two counts of acting covertly as an agent of a foreign government and conspiring to defraud the government of the United States.

Today’s plea brings to an end more than four decades of betrayal and deceit by Mr. Rocha. For most of his life, Mr. Rocha lived a lie. While holding various senior positions in the U.S. government, he was secretly acting as an agent of the Cuban government.

This is a staggering betrayal of the American people and an acknowledgment that every oath he took to the United States was a fabrication. Mr. Rocha has now been held to account, and the terms of the plea ensure that he will serve a sentence that is commensurate with his crimes.

Mr. Rocha’s deceit began in the early 1970s when he first developed a relationship with Cuban intelligence officials while living in Chile. Although he was born in Colombia, Mr. Rocha became a naturalized U.S. citizen within a few years of that first contact. By 1981, he had successfully secured employment at the Department of State.

Over the course of his career, Mr. Rocha rose thought the diplomatic ranks, taking on multiple assignments relating to Latin America and postings in the region. His roles included serving as the United States’s second highest officer at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Director of Inter-American Affairs on the National Security Council, and later as Ambassador to Bolivia. Several of these positions gave him access to non-public information and the ability to affect U.S. foreign policy.

Mr. Rocha continued to act as a Cuban agent long after retiring from the State Department, including going on a secret mission to Havana in 2017. Mr. Rocha went to great lengths to hide his double life. He used foreign passports during overseas travel and falsely portrayed himself as a staunch opponent of the Cuban regime.

But Rocha’s deception couldn’t last. In 2022, an undercover FBI agent purporting to be a Cuban intelligence operative contacted Mr. Rocha. Rocha agreed to a meeting at the First Miami Presbyterian Church, a historic Miami landmark less than a mile from where we stand today. On his way to the meeting, he employed surveillance detection methods to make sure he was not followed, exactly as he had been directed to do by his Cuban handlers in the past.

In his conversations with the undercover agent, Mr. Rocha described how he had spent a lifetime serving a foreign power hostile to the United States and that he was proud of his duplicity and betrayal. He called the United States “the enemy,” spoke of his contacts in Cuban intelligence services as “comrades,” and described his time working as a spy as “a grand slam.”   

Mr. Rocha’s own words leave no doubt about the true nature of his career: he callously disregarded the national security of the United States and violated the trust of the public who he had sworn to serve.

Stepping back, this case is a reminder that we face espionage and insider threat risks from a range of foreign adversaries. While we know that the greatest espionage threats often come from China and Russia, we also know that the espionage landscape is not limited to threats from those countries.

A core mission of the National Security Division is to vigorously prosecute those who break their oath to protect this country by serving as willing agents of any foreign government. We work in close partnership with U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country, the FBI, and other federal agencies to hold these individuals accountable for their actions.

This case highlights the enduring counterintelligence threat posed by the Government of Cuba. The Havana regime has long focused its espionage activities on Washington, D.C., as well as on local communities here in South Florida. As Mr. Rocha’s case shows, a top priority of the Cuban government continues to be to infiltrating our government and undermining American security. This threat is heightened by Cuba’s close collaboration with other foreign adversaries on intelligence matters, including the governments of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation.

Our commitment to this mission is enduring, and we remain ever vigilant. With today’s plea, the Department of Justice holds Mr. Rocha to account, and we make clear to all those who would violate their oath: You will never be safe from the arm of Justice.

The task falls now to the U.S. government to measure the cost and impact of Mr. Rocha’s years of deception. As you saw in the plea agreement, Mr. Rocha has promised to cooperate fully with the Government and to provide truthful and complete information and testimony about his criminal conduct. That process, which will be lengthy, is now underway. We expect him to live up in full to his obligations.

At the same time, we have no illusions – given the length of his covert action and his access to sensitive information – that we will never know the full measure of the harm he caused, the lives he ruined, and the secrets he disclosed. We hope that Mr. Rocha spends the next 15 years of his life in prison reflecting on the harm he has caused through his betrayal.

I’d like to thank U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, as well as NSD’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, for their steadfast efforts to prosecute this case and bring it to a strong resolution.

I also would like to recognize the dedicated agents of the FBI’s Miami and Washington, D.C., Field Offices, whose extraordinary work made this prosecution possible. They received valuable contributions by the Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service.

I will now turn it over to U.S. Attorney Lapointe for his remarks.

National Security
Updated April 17, 2024