MIAMI (AP) — A former American diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to Bolivia has been arrested as part of a long-running FBI counterintelligence investigation and accused of secretly serving as an agent of the Cuban government, The Associated Press has learned.

Manuel Rocha, 73, was arrested on a criminal complaint in Miami on Friday and is expected to release more details about the case at a court appearance on Monday, said two people who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. because they were not authorized to discuss an ongoing federal investigation.

One of the people said that in the Justice Department case, Rocha is accused of advocating for the interests of the Cuban government. Under federal law, people acting on the political behalf of a foreign government or entity in the U.S. must register with the Justice Department, which has stepped up prosecutions of illegal foreign lobbying in recent years.

The Justice Department declined to comment. It was not immediately clear whether Rocha had an attorney, and a law firm where he previously worked said it did not represent him. His wife hung up when contacted by AP.

Rocha’s 25-year diplomatic career was spent under both Democratic and Republican administrations, much of it in Latin America during the Cold War, a period of sometimes stubborn U.S. political and military policies. His diplomatic postings included a stint with the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba at a time when the U.S. did not have full diplomatic relations with the communist government of Fidel Castro.

Born in Colombia, Rocha grew up in a working-class home in New York City and earned a series of liberal arts degrees from Yale, Harvard and Georgetown before joining the Foreign Service in 1981.

He was the top U.S. diplomat in Argentina between 1997 and 2000, when a decades-long Washington-backed currency stabilization program faltered under the weight of huge foreign debt and stagnant growth, triggering a political crisis that would plunge the South American country into five crises President in two weeks.

In his next posting as ambassador to Bolivia, he intervened directly in the 2002 presidential campaign, warning weeks before the vote that the U.S. would cut off aid to the poor South American country if it elected former coca grower Evo Morales.

“I would like to remind the Bolivian electorate that if they vote for those who want Bolivia to export cocaine again, this will seriously jeopardize any future assistance from the United States to Bolivia,” Rocha said in a speech that was widely seen as offensive interpreted as an attempt to maintain US dominance in the region.

The move angered Bolivians and gave Morales a last-minute boost. When he was finally elected three years later, the leftist leader expelled Rocha’s successor as head of the diplomatic mission for inciting “civil war.”

Rocha also served in Italy, Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic and worked as a Latin America expert for the National Security Council.

Rocha’s wife, Karla Wittkop Rocha, declined to comment when contacted by the AP. “I don’t need to talk to you,” she said before hanging up.

After leaving the State Department, Rocha began a second career in business, serving as president of a gold mine in the Dominican Republic partially owned by Canadian company Barrick Gold.

More recently, he held senior positions at XCoal, a coal exporter based in Pennsylvania; Clover Leaf Capital, a company founded to facilitate mergers in the cannabis industry; Law firm Foley & Lardner and Spanish PR firms Llorente & Cuenca.

“Our company remains committed to transparency and will closely monitor the situation and cooperate fully with authorities as information becomes available to us,” Dario Alvarez, CEO of Llorente & Cuenca’s U.S. operations, said in an email.

XCoal and Clover Leaf Capital did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Foley & Lardner said Rocha left the law firm in August.

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Tucker reported from Washington.

___ Contact AP’s global investigative team at [email protected] or

Source : apnews.com

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