Convicted ex-U.S. diplomat says ‘radical politics’ at Yale turned him into Cuban spy

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Born in Colombia, Manuel Rocha was raised in the housing projects of Harlem.

His ticket out was a scholarship to a Connecticut prep school and another to Yale University.

It was in that Ivy League hothouse in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, according to Rocha, that he was radicalized into becoming a future spy for communist Cuba.

“During my formative years in college, I was heavily influenced by the radical politics of the day,” Rocha, 73, told a federal judge in Miami on Friday, just before she sentenced the former U.S. diplomat to 15 years in prison for being a covert agent for the Cuban government.

READ MORE: Ex-U.S. ambassador Rocha sentenced to 15 years in prison for working as Cuba covert agent

“My deep commitment at that time to radical social change in the region led me to the eventual betrayal of my oath of loyalty to the United States during my two decades in the State Department,” said Rocha, a former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia who left the foreign service in 2002 and eventually settled in Miami as a global advisor and businessman. “Today, I no longer see the world through the radical eyes of my youth.”

“My long and successful transition to the private sector culminated in my becoming a top international executive in the mining sector for over a decade,” Rocha said in his statement.

Before his arrest in December, Rocha worked as president of Barrick Gold Corp. in the Dominican Republic and as an international adviser for the Miami law firm Foley & Lardner LLP.

“The latter, however, cannot erase the damage done during my earlier career working for the government,” he said. “I take [full] responsibility for that and accept the penalty I must pay. Importantly, I am making, and will continue to make as required, significant amends through my unconditional collaboration to those I have betrayed.”

Rocha was given a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for conspiring to defraud the U.S. government and acting as an illegal foreign agent for Cuba.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom, who called him the “enemy” of “a country that gave you everything,” fined Rocha $500,000 and compelled both prosecutors and his lawyer to include a provision for restitution to pay back his potential victims. A restitution hearing is scheduled for June 21 before Judge Bloom.

After his arrest in early December, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Rocha’s covert work for Cuba was “one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent.”

Rocha, who also attended Harvard and Georgetown universities, rose through the State Department and worked at the White House’s National Security Council’s Office of Inter American Affairs between July 1994 and July 1995. He also held several positions in Latin American embassies, including two years as the deputy in charge of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana between July 1995 and July 1997.

That period was a convulsive time in U.S.-Cuba relations marked by the signing of the migration accords after the Balseros crisis, the shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue planes and the passing of the Libertad Act, also known as Helms-Burton.

“I know that my actions have caused great pain to my family, former colleagues, and the closest of friends,” Rocha said in his statement. “I ask them all for their understanding and their forgiveness. They need to know I am deeply and sincerely sorry.”

Miami Herald staff writer Nora Gámez Torres contributed to this story.