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US Senator Helped Cuban Prisoner Become a Father

Gerardo Hernandez, one of so-called "Cuban Five," hugs his wife Adriana Perez during the National Assembly in Havana, Dec. 20, 2014.

After 16 years apart, the only thing between convicted Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez and his wife Adriana when they reunited in Havana last week was her full, pregnant belly.

With only weeks to go before the birth of their daughter, eyebrows raised around the island about how the couple could be expecting a child.

The answer came down to modern medical procedures and the goodwill of a U.S. senator.

In a statement released to VOA on Monday, Sen. Patrick Leahy confirmed that during a February 2013 trip to Cuba, Adriana Hernandez, now in her early 40s, requested help from the lawmaker and his wife to start a family with her husband who was then serving two life terms for espionage in the U.S.

CNN first reported the story Sunday.

"[Adriana] made a personal appeal to Marcelle. She was afraid that she would never have the chance to have a child," Leahy said. "As parents and grandparents we both wanted to try to help her. And as a registered nurse, Marcelle had particular knowledge of the medical realities she [Adriana] was facing."

A conjugal visit for the Cuban couple was out of the question. So procedures for artificial insemination were arranged, in part by a Leahy staffer.

"It was the humane thing to do, and we would have done the same for anyone," the senator said. "We rejoice this Christmas season that it worked."

A spokesman for the lawmaker, David Carle, told VOA that helping Hernandez and his wife conceive was "not part of an overall deal" for rapprochement with Cuba. Instead, he categorized it as a "separate humanitarian effort" by the senator.

But the gesture wasn't without diplomatic merit.

"It did help change the overall tone and atmosphere of the discussions," Carle said.

Leahy had for years pushed for the release of U.S. government contractor Alan Gross from a Cuban prison. In an abrupt move last week that ushered in the announcement of renewed diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington after more than 50 years, Gross and a second American were freed in exchange for three Cuban prisoners, including Hernandez.

Leahy aide Tim Rieser told NBC that as the Hernandez family's request was being considered, "We were also asking the Cubans to do things that would help improve the condition of Alan Gross."

Carle said the Cuban government "did grant, in many respects" humanitarian requests to improve Gross’s treatment, but that there was "no discussion of 'if we do this, we want you to do that.'"

Hernandez is one of the Cuban Five arrested in 1998 and later convicted as head of La Red Avispa, or Wasp Network, which spied on Cuban-American groups in the United States. He was linked to the shoot-down of a Brothers-to-the-Rescue group aircraft in 1996 that killed four people.

The sister of one of the men killed aboard the downed aircraft told NBC that helping the couple to conceive was "absurd."

"People in Cuban jails are not allowed visits... and here we are going way overboard so that this guy has a child? It doesn't make any sense," she said.

The Hernandezes are reportedly expecting a daughter in the next two weeks.

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