Former US ambassador sentenced to 15 years in prison for serving as secret agent for Cuba

Manuel Rocha stands for a portrait at Steel Hector & Davis in Miami in January 2003, joining the firm to help open doors in Latin America. (AP)
Manuel Rocha stands for a portrait at Steel Hector & Davis in Miami in January 2003, joining the firm to help open doors in Latin America. (AP)
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Updated 13 April 2024
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Former US ambassador sentenced to 15 years in prison for serving as secret agent for Cuba

Former US ambassador sentenced to 15 years in prison for serving as secret agent for Cuba

MIAMI: A former career US diplomat was sentenced Friday to 15 years in federal prison after admitting he worked for decades as a secret agent for communist Cuba, a plea agreement that leaves many unanswered questions about a betrayal that stunned the US foreign service.
Manuel Rocha, 73, will also pay a $500,000 fine and cooperate with authorities after pleading guilty to conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government. In exchange, prosecutors dismissed more than a dozen other counts, including wire fraud and making false statements.
“Your actions were a direct attack to our democracy and the safety of our citizens,” US District Court Judge Beth Bloom told Rocha.
Rocha, dressed in a beige jail uniform, asked his friends and family for forgiveness. “I take full responsibility and accept the penalty,” he said.
The sentencing capped an exceptionally swift criminal case and averted a trial that would have shed new light on what, exactly, Rocha did to help Cuba even as he worked for two decades for the US State Department.
Prosecutors said those details remain classified and would not even tell Bloom when the government determined Rocha was spying for Cuba.
Federal authorities have been conducting a confidential damage assessment that could take years to complete. The State Department said Friday it would continue working with the intelligence community “to fully assess the foreign policy and national security implications of these charges.”
Rocha’s sentence came less than six months after his shocking arrest at his Miami home on allegations he engaged in “clandestine activity” on Cuba’s behalf since at least 1981, the year he joined the US foreign service.
The case underscored the sophistication of Cuba’s intelligence services, which have managed other damaging penetrations into high levels of US government. Rocha’s double-crossing went undetected for years, prosecutors said, as the Ivy League-educated diplomat secretly met with Cuban operatives and provided false information to US officials about his contacts.
But a recent Associated Press investigation found red flags overlooked along the way, including a warning that one longtime CIA operative received nearly two decades ago that Rocha was working as a double agent. Separate intelligence revealed the CIA had been aware as early as 1987 that Cuban leader Fidel Castro had a “super mole” burrowed deep inside the US government, and some officials suspected it could have been Rocha, the AP reported.
Rocha’s prestigious career included stints as ambassador to Bolivia and top posts in Argentina, Mexico, the White House and the US Interests Section in Havana.
In 1973, the year he graduated from Yale, Rocha traveled to Chile, where prosecutors say he became a “great friend” of Cuba’s intelligence agency, the General Directorate of Intelligence, or DGI.
Rocha’s post-government career included time as a special adviser to the commander of the US Southern Command and, more recently, as a tough-talking Donald Trump supporter and Cuba hard-liner, a persona that friends and prosecutors said Rocha adopted to hide his true allegiances.
Among the unanswered questions is what prompted the FBI to open its investigation into Rocha so many years after he retired from the foreign service.
Rocha incriminated himself in a series of secretly recorded conversations with an undercover agent posing as a Cuban intelligence operative. The agent initially reached out to Rocha on WhatsApp, calling himself “Miguel” and saying he had a message “from your friends in Havana.”
Rocha praised Castro as “Comandante” in the conversations, branded the US the “enemy” and boasted about his service for more than 40 years as a Cuban mole in the heart of US foreign policy circles, prosecutors said in court records.
“What we have done … it’s enormous … more than a Grand Slam,” Rocha was quoted as saying.
Even before Friday’s sentencing, the plea agreement drew criticism in Miami’s Cuban exile community, with some legal observers worrying Rocha would be treated too leniently.
“Any sentence that allows him to see the light of day again would not be justice,” said Carlos Trujillo, a Miami attorney who served as US Ambassador to the Organization of American States during the Trump administration. “He’s a spy for a foreign adversary who put American lives at risk.”
“As a Cuban I cannot forgive him,” added Isel Rodriguez, a 55-year-old Cuban-American woman who stood outside the federal courthouse Friday with a group of demonstrators waving American flags. “I feel completely betrayed.”
 

 


World Bank approves $700m to address Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh

World Bank approves $700m to address Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh
Updated 6 sec ago
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World Bank approves $700m to address Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh

World Bank approves $700m to address Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh
  • Humanitarian conditions in Rohingya camps deteriorate as international aid drops
  • Maintaining 1m refugees puts stress on the Bangladeshi economy

DHAKA: The World Bank approved on Wednesday $700 million to help address the protracted humanitarian crisis facing Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh as international aid drops.

Bangladesh hosts more than 1.2 million Rohingya Muslims who over decades escaped death and persecution in neighboring Myanmar, especially during a military crackdown in 2017.

Most of them live in Cox’s Bazar district, a coastal region in eastern Bangladesh, which with their arrival became the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Humanitarian conditions in the camps have been deteriorating over the years and Bangladeshi authorities have warned they were reaching crisis levels as global aid for the oppressed stateless minority has sharply declined.

The World Bank funding is “to provide basic services and build disaster and social resilience for both the host communities and displaced Rohingya population.”

The financing will be partly a loan, Hasan Sarwar, additional secretary at the Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, told Arab News.

“Around half of the amount, which is approved for the well-being of the Rohingyas, will come here as a grant, and the rest of the amount which is for the host community people will be received as a loan,” he said.

He added: “This grant from the World Bank will be helpful for building and repairing infrastructure like roads, drainage systems, solar electricity systems, etc., inside the Rohingya camps. Besides, this fund will be spent on skill development and livelihood projects.

“The majority of the grants will be spent through the UN system for the Rohingyas’ well-being.”

Although Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, its government supports the Rohingya by providing not only land, but also water, electricity, a huge law-enforcement presence, as well as medical and administrative officials.

Sarwar said the government has spent around $2 billion since the beginning of the crisis on maintaining the infrastructure and managing the community of over 1 million people.

He said part of the World Bank funding could be spent on law enforcement, as security in the camps has been deteriorating amid the continuing civil war in Myanmar, which prevents a UN-backed repatriation process from taking off.

“Repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar is the only sustainable solution to this crisis,” Sarwar said. “It has been stalled for months due to the unrestful situation inside Myanmar. We are in touch with the Myanmar military authorities, but the repatriation is almost impossible for now.”


Indian capital records highest temperature of 49.9 Celsius

Indian capital records highest temperature of 49.9 Celsius
Updated 16 min 20 sec ago
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Indian capital records highest temperature of 49.9 Celsius

Indian capital records highest temperature of 49.9 Celsius
  • Indian authorities warn there is very ‘high likelihood of developing heat illness,’ necessitating extreme care of vulnerable
  • India’s West Bengal and Mizoram states are also recovering from a cyclone that hit the country on Sunday, killing 65 people

NEW DELHI: Temperatures in India’s capital have soared to a record-high 49.9 degrees Celsius (121.8 degrees Fahrenheit) as authorities warn of water shortages in the sprawling mega-city.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD), which reported “severe heat-wave conditions,” recorded the temperatures on Tuesday at two Delhi suburb stations in Narela and Mungeshpur.
The weather bureau said the temperatures were nine degrees higher than expected, breaking a previous 2022 record for the city of 49.2C (120.6F).
Forecasters predicted similar temperatures Wednesday for the city, which has an estimated population of more than 30 million people, issuing a red alert health notice.
The alert warns there is a “very high likelihood of developing heat illness and heat stroke in all ages,” with “extreme care needed for vulnerable people.”
India is no stranger to searing summer temperatures but years of scientific research have found climate change is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense.
People on the streets of Delhi said there was little they could do to avoid the heat.
“Everyone wants to stay indoors,” said snack-seller Roop Ram, 57, adding he struggled to sell his savory fritters.
Ram, who lives with his wife and two sons in a cramped house, said they had a small fan but that did little to cool them down.
They were counting down until the rainy season arrives in July.
“I am not sure what else we can do to cope,” he said. “We are just waiting for the monsoon.”
Rani, 60, who uses only one name, travels by bus for two hours each morning to sell jewelry to tourists at a makeshift street stall.
“It is definitely hotter, but there is nothing we can do about it,” she said, gulping water from a bottle she brought from home. “I try to refill the bottle from anyone around.”
Heat remains high even at night, the IMD said, noting that the temperatures were “likely to reduce gradually” from Thursday.
New Delhi authorities have also warned of the risk of water shortages as the capital swelters in headache-inducing heat, cutting supplies to some areas.
Delhi Water Minister Atishi Marlena has called for “collective responsibility” to stop wasteful water use, the Times of India newspaper reported Wednesday.
“To address the problem of water scarcity, we have taken a slew of measures such as reducing water supply from twice a day to once a day in many areas,” Atishi said, according to the Indian Express.
“The water thus saved will be rationed and supplied to the water-deficient areas where supply lasts only 15 to 20 minutes a day,” she said.
The highly polluted Yamuna river, a tributary of the Ganges, runs through Delhi but its flow is hugely reduced during the summer months.
Delhi relies almost entirely on water from neighboring Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, both farming states with huge water demands.
Many blame the soaring temperatures on scorching winds from Rajasthan state, where temperatures on Tuesday were the hottest in the country at 50.5C (122.9F).
Rajasthan’s desert region of Phalodi holds India’s all-time heat record of 51C (123.8F) hit in 2016.
Neighboring Pakistan has also sweltered through a week-long heatwave, which peaked at 53C (127.4F) on Sunday in Mohenjo Daro in rural Sindh province.
Pakistan’s meteorological office said it expected temperatures to subside from Wednesday but warned further heatwaves were coming in June.
It comes as Pakistan hashes out a new deal with the International Monetary Fund that is believed to focus heavily on an energy supply crisis that has left parts of the country facing up to 15 hours of load-shedding a day.
At the same time, India’s West Bengal state and the northeastern state of Mizoram are recovering after a cyclone hit India and Bangladesh on Sunday, killing at least 65 people.
Bangladesh’s Meteorological Department said the cyclone was “one of longest in the country’s history,” blaming climate change for the shift.


UK police arrest 40 after pro-Palestinian rally

UK police arrest 40 after pro-Palestinian rally
Updated 29 May 2024
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UK police arrest 40 after pro-Palestinian rally

UK police arrest 40 after pro-Palestinian rally
  • Individuals were arrested late on Tuesday for offenses including breaching public order conditions, obstructing roads and assaulting emergency workers

London: UK police on Wednesday said that 40 people had been arrested and three officers injured after protesters refused to disperse following a demonstration in London over Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza.
The British capital’s Metropolitan Police Service said the individuals were arrested late on Tuesday for offenses including breaching public order conditions, obstructing roads and assaulting emergency workers.
It said two officers sustained minor injuries after being assaulted while a third, who was struck by a bottle thrown from within the crowd, suffered a “serious facial injury.”
The Met, as the force is widely known, said an investigation was under way to identify who threw the bottle.
Police had approved plans for the early evening protest — organized by a coalition including the Palestine Solidarity Campaign — outside the gates of Downing Street in central London.
But it imposed conditions including that the rally end by 8:00pm.
Up to 10,000 people attended, and the “vast majority” had left by the required time, but a group of around 500 remained to continue protesting, according to police.
“Officers engaged extensively before making a number of arrests for failing to comply with conditions,” the Met said in a statement.
“As they moved in, some in the crowd resisted physically requiring officers to use force to extract those who had been arrested.”
Further arrests followed later in the evening after the remaining demonstrators launched a breakaway march and were eventually corralled outside a train station, the Met said.
Israel’s renewed military operations in Gaza, concentrated on Rafah, have sparked fresh protests in London and other cities around the world.
The British capital has seen frequent marches protesting Israel’s response to the deadly Hamas attack on its territory on October 7, stoking controversy and political debate over how they should be policed.
They have passed off largely peacefully, but police have made arrests at many for various offenses, including anti-Semitic chanting and banners, promoting a proscribed organization and assaults.


Singapore Airlines flight investigation finds sharp altitude drop caused injuries

Singapore Airlines flight investigation finds sharp altitude drop caused injuries
Updated 29 May 2024
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Singapore Airlines flight investigation finds sharp altitude drop caused injuries

Singapore Airlines flight investigation finds sharp altitude drop caused injuries
  • One passenger died of a suspected heart attack and dozens were injured after Flight SQ321 encountered extreme turbulence

SINGAPORE: Preliminary findings of an investigation into a Singapore Airlines flight hit by severe turbulence last week showed a rapid change in gravitational force and a 54 meter altitude drop caused injuries, Singapore’s transport ministry said on Wednesday.
One passenger died of a suspected heart attack and dozens were injured after Singapore Airline Flight SQ321, flying from London to Singapore, encountered what the airline described as sudden, extreme turbulence while flying over Myanmar. The ministry said the investigation was ongoing.
The SQ321 London-Singapore flight on a Boeing 777-300ER plane carrying 211 passengers and 18 crew diverted to Bangkok for an emergency landing after the plane was buffeted by turbulence that flung passengers and crew around the cabin, slamming some into the ceiling.
“The aircraft experienced a rapid change in G (gravitational force) ... This likely resulted in the occupants who were not belted up to become airborne,” the ministry said in a statement, citing a report by the Transport Safety Investigation Bureau of Singapore.
“The vertical acceleration changed from negative 1.5G to positive 1.5G within 4 seconds. This likely resulted in the occupants who were airborne to fall back down.
“The rapid changes in G over the 4.6 seconds duration resulted in an altitude drop of 178 ft (54 m), from 37,362 ft to 37,184 ft. This sequence of events likely caused the injuries to the crew and passengers,” it said.
The report also said a pilot was heard calling out that the fasten seat belt sign had been switched on.


Aid reaches Papua New Guinea landslide site

Aid reaches Papua New Guinea landslide site
Updated 29 May 2024
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Aid reaches Papua New Guinea landslide site

Aid reaches Papua New Guinea landslide site
  • Difficulties getting aid and supplies to the site has stoked a mix of desperation and frustration on the ground
  • Full-scale rescue and relief efforts have been severely hampered by the site’s remote location

PORT MORESBY: Supplies of food and medicine began arriving at the scene of a deadly landslide in Papua New Guinea Wednesday, with aid workers discovering children rendered mute by the shock of the disaster.
Papua New Guinea’s government estimates that as many as 2,000 people may be buried underneath a massive landslide that struck a thriving highland settlement in Enga province in the early hours of May 24.
Only six bodies have so far been pulled from the mountain of churned-up earth after days of frantic digging with makeshift tools.
Difficulties getting aid and supplies to the site — and the speed of the government response — has stoked a mix of desperation and frustration on the ground.
Community leader Miok Michael said that 19 of his “family members and relatives” were missing and feared dead.
“The relief support and donations are slowly reaching the affected site,” said Michael, who recently visited the disaster zone.
“But displaced people are still crying and calling for help. There is no proper house for them to sleep, all their houses were buried.”
With rescue teams abandoning hope of finding survivors under the meters of mud and rubble, the community has started to count the emotional and physical cost.
Mourning locals have started carrying the dead away in immense “haus krai” funeral processions, collective outpourings of love and grief that can last for weeks.
Images showed a group of men carrying a wooden casket down the forested valley on their shoulders as scores of mourners trailed behind them, wailing with despair.
Aid groups fear children will bear the brunt of the catastrophe, estimating that 40 percent of residents in the area are younger than 16.
“What we are hearing is that, because of what they saw and experienced, many of the children have stopped talking,” Justine McMahon from CARE Papua New Guinea said.
Niels Kraaier from UNICEF Papua New Guinea said workers were aware of nine orphaned children.
UNICEF said it had started distributing rudimentary hygiene kits of buckets, jerrycans and soap, while World Vision said food, shelter, blankets and mosquito nets remained immediate needs.
However, full-scale rescue and relief efforts have been severely hampered by the site’s remote location, nearby tribal violence and landslide damage that has severed major road links.
The collapse of bridges along the sealed road to the site has forced lengthy detours for some aid convoys.
Papua New Guinea’s military tried for days to bring heavy earth-moving equipment to the site.
But, with a series of bridges in a state of disrepair or damaged by earlier floods, they have now abandoned that plan and will source equipment from mines and businesses.
That equipment will arrive at the landslide by Thursday at the “latest,” UN migration agency official Serhan Aktoprak said.
Provincial leaders have implored the government to declare a national emergency that would draw attention to their plight and free up resources.
“I am not equipped to deal with this tragedy,” provincial administrator Sandis Tsaka said.
Prime Minister James Marape is yet to visit the remote pocket of Enga province more than five days after the landslide.
He has stayed in the capital Port Moresby, where his government is trying to fend off a no-confidence motion that could sweep it from power.
There are concerns this political manoeuvering has drawn attention away from what could be one of the country’s worst natural disasters.
Marape told parliament on Wednesday that the village of Yambali was “no more.”
“Nature, through a disastrous landslip, submerged or covered the village and from our initial estimation over 2,000 people would have perished in this disaster.”
“In this year, we have had extraordinary rainfall that has caused flooding in river areas, sea level rise in coastal areas, and landslips in a few areas,” Marape said.
Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most disaster-prone regions and landslides are extremely common in its highlands.
Geologists believe recent heavy rain may have contributed to the slide.
“Papua New Guinea sits right on a plate boundary, where these large, rigid parts of the earth plow into each other,” University of Adelaide geologist Alan Collins said.
“This creates mountains, steep slopes and other extreme topography.
“You have these steep slopes located in an area of heavy rainfall, and this can rot the minerals in the rocks, and gradually weaken them.”
The World Bank and others have warned that landslides were likely to increase in Papua New Guinea due to a growing population and uncontrolled land use.
Scientists have also warned that climate change will cause more extreme rainfall across most parts of the world.