The U.S. diplomat who spied for Cuba for 40 years and his ‘comrades’ in Cuba and Chile

It seems former U.S. diplomat Victor Manuel Rocha was only one of many spies the communist Castro dictatorship recruited to threaten U.S. national security and destabilize Latin America.

Via CubaNet (my translation):

Rocha’s ‘comrades’ in Havana (and Chile)

In several conversations with the undercover FBI officer who contacted him in November 2022, Víctor Manuel Rocha made it clear that he was a seasoned agent trained by and for the Cuban regime’s intelligence services, who continued to be active and willing to continue obeying orders from the “leadership” and his “comrades” in Havana. But above all, he was aware of the magnitude of the damage caused by him not only in terms of the internal security of the United States but also to the efforts of thousands of Cubans inside and outside the island to overthrow the communist dictatorship and thus initiate a necessary process of democratization.

“For me,” Rocha admitted when discussing his own espionage work, “what we have done has strengthened the Revolution. It has immensely strengthened it. We cannot put that at risk. I am very jealous of what we have done and what I have to protect.”

While these words, though seemingly exaggerated, would have been sufficient for many to condemn him, they alone did not constitute physical evidence of specific contacts between Agent Rocha and his bosses in Cuba. Thus, he could only be sentenced to 15 years in prison for acting as an unregistered foreign agent and not for the crime of espionage.

Beyond his confession, his guilty plea, and the promise to be willing to repair the damages caused — despite having previously transferred some of his properties to his wife, and despite there not yet being a comprehensive assessment of the magnitude of these damages — there is no physical evidence beyond the testimonies revealed during the trial in Miami. Furthermore, no official statement has been issued from Havana that could have served as a confession by the parties to demonstrate that Víctor Manuel Rocha was working for the dictatorship while holding various positions in the Department of State, the National Security Council, and even advising the United States Southern Command (between 2006 and 2012), after that scandal known as “El Rochazo,” which undoubtedly propelled coca grower Evo Morales to the presidency of Bolivia, forced him to definitively abandon his career in the foreign service in 2002.

Likewise, based on the elements provided by the FBI, it is known that he may have been contacted and recruited by the Cuban General Intelligence Directorate (DGI) at some point in 1973 when he was in Chile, but especially when the presence of Cuban agents and officers linked to the DGI and other security structures, coordinated with the protection services for Salvador Allende (managed from Cuba by Fidel Castro himself), became stronger and more numerous, as information about the possibility of a coup d’état began to be received little more than two years before September 11, 1973, according to the testimonies of the then young Cuban intelligence officer Pedro Aníbal Riera Escalante, who was assigned in March 1972 to monitor the CIA Station in Santiago, as well as all activities of American citizens in Chile.

Aníbal Escalante and Fidel Castro’s Chilean move

Under the guise of diplomatic mail, but with the operational center at the Cuban Embassy in Santiago, Aníbal Riera Escalante arrived in Chile at just 21 years old with several missions: to transport weapons concealed in diplomatic pouches, which were later stored in the basements of the embassy (awaiting the coup d’état that Salvador Allende refused to believe in, despite several alerts from the DGI), to monitor the activities of the US Embassy and Americans in general. He was also tasked with establishing as many contacts and recruitments, especially among young students, Americans sympathetic to the Allende government, the parties, and leftist movements that supported it, and the Communist Party.

The chances that the young DGI officer would succeed with the last of the missions were quite high, as Fidel Castro, to settle his disagreements with the Chilean Communist Party, played the card of releasing Aníbal Escalante, uncle of Aníbal Riera Escalante, whom he had imprisoned following the political purge known as the “Microfraction Case,” which occurred within the Cuban Communist Party between 1966 and 1968.

Aníbal Escalante and his followers, accused of “counter-revolution” and of being agents of the CIA and Soviet and Chinese secret services, had actually been tried for their openly critical stances toward Fidel Castro, whom they labeled as a dictator.

It was Manuel Piñeiro, known as “Commander Barbarroja,” then head of the DGI, who recorded secret meetings with Soviet intelligence officers and later presented them as evidence in the trial where Aníbal Escalante was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison (the highest penalty among the accused). It was also Manuel Piñeiro who, on orders from Fidel Castro, tasked Aníbal Riera Escalante with missions in Chile, after his uncle was released in 1971 at the request of the Chilean communists and as a gesture of reconciliation from the dictator, after accusing them of treason for rejecting armed struggle as a method to achieve political power in Latin America.

Fidel couldn’t go to Chile without having released Aníbal Escalante first. Nor would he miss the opportunity to use his nephew in Chilean affairs, leveraging the sympathies generated by the Microfraction Case. This detail would open many doors for him and, therefore, facilitate his tasks of gathering information and recruitment.

Victor Manuel Rocha, Aníbal Riera Escalante, and other coincidences

In this sense, it is very likely that the then young Victor Manuel Rocha, with several of the requirements to be monitored and recruited (although he only became a US citizen in 1978), was among the first contacts of Aníbal Riera Escalante and another Cuban officer in Santiago, named Guillermo Espino, “El Guille,” who remained active as an officer of the MININT until his death in December 2023, coinciding with Rocha’s arrest.

But it is Aníbal Riera who has publicly provided in articles and interviews abundant details of his activities in Santiago to confirm the possibility but also some of his subsequent missions and movements on the continent as a DGI officer show coincidences with the movements and missions of Victor Manuel Rocha as a US government official, a career he began in 1981.

In February 1972, Aníbal Riera Escalante was assigned to the MQ section (Foreign Counterintelligence) of the DGI and, in turn, to the “Counterrevolution” group of the Q4 Information and Analysis Bureau, responsible for the evaluation and compilation of information obtained mainly from Miami. According to Aníbal himself, his first task was to prepare the report on the structure and functioning of the CIA Station in Santiago, based mainly on information provided by former CIA officer Philip Agee, who worked for Cuban intelligence services for 40 years, in a relationship that lasted until his death in 2008.

Also in Chile, Aníbal Riera began recruiting Kathleen Blevins, one of the CIA’s main informants in Santiago, a mission that would only conclude 18 years later in Mexico City, coinciding with the period (1989-1991) when Victor Manuel Rocha served as First Secretary of the US Embassy in Mexico. Thus, the missions of Aníbal, Kathleen, and Rocha converged once again, and this time resulted in another great acquisition.

During Aníbal Riera’s service years (which ended with his imprisonment in Cuba in the early 90s), several other Cuban intelligence structures operated in Chile besides the DGI: the DGLN (General Directorate of National Liberation), already in 1973 under the command of Commander Manuel Piñeiro, as well as numerous officers who would later be part of what would be known as the “General Directorate of Special Operations and Special Troops,” including young officers like Antonio de la Guardia (condemned and executed alongside General Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989, accused of drug trafficking) and Patricio de la Guardia, who coincided in the same space, time, and mission not only with Aníbal Riera, Guillermo Espino, and Victor Manuel Rocha. In addition there was Max Marambio, “El Guatón,” who, with military training in Cuba, was the head of the GAP (Group of Friends of the President) responsible for the protection of Salvador Allende and who years later, as a businessman, was involved in one of the major corruption scandals that exposed the true face of the Cuban dictatorship.

Given these and other coincidences (including the shooting down of the Brothers to the Rescue planes, the murders of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, among others), we can get an idea of the magnitude of the damage caused by Victor Manuel Rocha as an agent in the service of the Cuban dictatorship. However, he was not the only one.

Among the cases of other US government officials who have been recruited by Cuban intelligence are those of Marta Rita Velázquez, agent “Bárbara,” a former official of the Department of State, accused of recruiting Ana Belén Montes, the well-known official of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Velázquez had joined the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) of the State Department in 1989 and also held positions in the US embassies in Nicaragua and Guatemala. In June 2002 (coinciding with Rocha’s departure from the State Department), Velázquez resigned from USAID, precisely when press reports began to appear about the arrest of Ana Belén Montes.

Montes had dealt with Cuban affairs at the Defense Intelligence Agency, and from 1984 until September 2001, she provided secret information to the DGI, the same year that five Cuban spies were convicted in the Southern District of Florida.

FBI agents explained to the federal judge that in some cases, it involved handing over secrets so sensitive that the subject to which they referred could not even be mentioned.

Other agents recruited by the DGI within the Department of State were the couple Walter and Gwendolyn Myers, captured in 2009 and convicted of espionage. On July 17, 2010, according to press reports, the Myers were sentenced. He, at 73 years old (the same age as Victor Manuel Rocha when arrested in 2023), would serve life imprisonment for spying for Cuba for almost 30 years.

In 1995, the Myers secretly flew to Cuba via Mexico to receive the medals earned for their services to the regime and to personally meet Fidel Castro. That same year, Victor Manuel Rocha had finished his duties as Director of Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council of the United States, with special responsibility for Cuba. And that same year, 1995, in July, he had begun his services at the Interests Section in Havana. The following year, in February 1996, the shooting down of the Brothers to the Rescue planes would leave four patriots dead and several Cuban families in mourning.

OPINION ARTICLE: The opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinion of CubaNet.

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