NPR

Cuban-American, Not-So-Immaculate Conception

Adriana Perez is expected to give birth to a baby girl in about two weeks.

That wouldn't be remarkable, except that Perez's husband, Gerardo Hernandez, spent most of the last decade-and-a-half in U.S. federal prison for leading a Cuban spy ring.

Hernandez was released last week as part of a prisoner swap with Cuba. He returned to Havana and raised eyebrows when he was greeted by his very pregnant wife.

It turns out, the U.S. government helped the couple conceive through artificial insemination while Hernandez was serving a double life sentence. It's one more bizarre footnote to the new chapter now being written in U.S.-Cuba relations.

"We can confirm the United States facilitated Mrs. Hernandez's request to have a baby with her husband," said Justice Department spokesman Patrick Rodenbush. He said the request was passed along by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT.

Leahy has a long history of working to improve ties between the U.S. and Cuba. He and his wife Marcelle were visiting Cuba in 2013, when Perez asked to meet with them.

"She made a personal appeal to Marcelle," Leahy said. "She was afraid that she would never have the chance to have a child. As parents and grandparents, we both wanted to try to help her."

The federal Bureau of Prisons does not allow conjugal visits, but there was precedent for prisoners using artificial insemination. At Leahy's urging, the administration agreed to let Hernandez and his wife try.

"It was the humane thing to do," Leahy said. "We rejoice this Christmas season that it worked."

At the time, Leahy's office was also pressing Cuba to release Alan Gross, an American who'd been arrested in 2009 while working as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development.

Gross was freed last week on humanitarian grounds. White House officials say that cleared the way for the re-opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

This was not the first time Leahy arranged for a special diplomatic delivery. According to the Brattleboro Reformer newspaper, Leahy was on his first visit to Cuba in the early 1990s when Fidel Castro offered him some local ice cream. Leahy said it was good, but not as good as Vermont's own ice cream. When he got home, Leahy sent a case of Ben & Jerry's to the Cuban dictator, on dry ice.

Castro reportedly enjoyed the ice cream. But it took another two decades to bring a thaw in US-Cuba relations.

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