The release of five Cuban intelligence agents imprisoned in the United States has been a cause celebre here for years -- the one issue that officials constantly harped on, seeing the incarceration of the men and denial of access to their families as the ultimate injustice.
So when the three final spies came home in the last few days as part of a diplomatic trade that would clear the way for new U.S.-Cuban relations, more than a few eyebrows were raised to see the grand belly of one of the men’s wives.
Gerardo Hernandez and his wife, Adriana Perez, were 2,000 miles apart for years as he served two life sentences and she, also an intelligence agent, was repeatedly denied a visa to the U.S.
How then could she be so clearly pregnant?
She and Hernandez met with Cuban President Raul Castro over the weekend and then attended an honorary concert with Cuban great Silvio Rodriguez. She wiped tears from her cheeks; he patted her bountiful stomach.
U.S. officials said Monday a procedure involving artificial insemination was made possible as something of a humanitarian gesture and thanks to the entreaties of Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.).
Perez apparently thought her biological clock was ticking away. During a trip Leahy and his wife, Marcelle, made to Cuba in February 2013, Perez made her plea.
“She made a personal appeal to Marcelle,” Leahy said Monday in a statement released by his office. “She was afraid that she would not have the chance to have a child.”
Leahy added that his wife, as a nurse, “had particular knowledge” of the medical necessities faced by Perez and how to proceed.
“It was the humane thing to do, and we would have done the same for anyone,” Leahy said.
Samples of Hernandez’s sperm were transported first to Panama last year, where fertilization did not take. A second specimen was taken to Havana early this year, and Perez was impregnated.
Hernandez reportedly said the pregnancy was achieved “through remote control.”
Other U.S. officials portrayed the gesture as part of efforts to ease the plight of Alan Gross, an American subcontractor with the U.S. Agency for International Development imprisoned for five years in Cuba and released last week with the exchange.
“We can confirm the United States facilitated Mrs. Hernandez's request to have a baby with her husband,” said Patrick Rodenbush, a U.S. Department of Justice spokesman. “The request was passed along by Sen. Leahy, who was seeking to improve the conditions for Mr. Gross while he was imprisoned in Cuba.”
In Havana, Perez’s pregnancy took on an air of an immaculate conception, given the holiday season and the obvious lack of contact between husband and wife. Relatives said the expected child was a girl who would be born in about two weeks.
The baby also may gain a special status, thanks to that of her father -- who was convicted in the U.S. of involvement in the shooting down of flights by the Cuban American exile community aimed at taking people off the island. Four people died in the shoot-downs.
Hernandez was one of five Cuban intelligence agents convicted for various crimes in the U.S. They were widely known as the Cuban Five, their portraits peering out from billboards at the Havana airport and everywhere else in the city. Two had already been released after serving their sentences.
The impending birth of the baby set many Cubans abuzz.
The new baby, said Nadiezca Martinez, a vendor at an Old Havana market, “will be the sixth hero. She was conceived in the empire.”
Times staff writer Richard A. Serrano in Washington contributed to this report.
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