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How a Cuban Spy and His Wife Came to Be Expectant Parents

How a Cuban Spy and His Wife Came to Be Expectant Parents
DEC. 22, 2014

It was no easy feat to get a vial of frozen sperm from Gerardo
Hernández, a Cuban spy serving two life sentences in California, to
Panama, where his wife, desperate to have a baby, was artificially
inseminated.

Yet the matter became an urgent priority over the past year for the
small group of Cuban and American officials who were secretly working to
broker a historic thaw in relations. Facilitating the pregnancy, one of
the strangest subplots in the annals of secret negotiations between
Washington and Havana, fell largely on the shoulders of a Senate staffer
who had become central to laying the groundwork for the change in United
States-Cuba policy.

Mr. Hernández was one of three Cuban spies who returned home last
Wednesday to a hero’s welcome as part of a deal that included the
release of Alan , the American subcontractor imprisoned in Havana
for five years. Photographs of Mr. Hernández, who had been in an
American for 16 years, and his pregnant wife became the talk of
the town in Havana. He meekly told reporters that the baby was his, but
offered no details.

There are plenty of unsung heroes who helped bring about the shift
Obama and Raúl Castro of Cuba announced last week.
But no one seems to have delivered as much as Tim Rieser, a powerful yet
unassuming Senate staffer who advises Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of
Vermont, on foreign policy and helps put together the State Department
budget each year. Besides taking on the unexpected sperm diplomacy task,
Mr. Rieser worked tirelessly to improve the treatment of Mr. Gross, who
had become despondent and suicidal.

“Tim was one of the people who took upon himself the responsibility of
dealing with the human side of the situation, talking to Alan on a
regular basis during his worst moments,” said Ricardo Zúñiga, a senior
White House official who was one of the lead negotiators of the deal.
“He never wavered in his effort to push the administration to do as much
as we could as fast as we could to seek Alan’s release.”

Cuban officials started pressing the American government to help Mr.
Hernández and his wife, Adriana Pérez, now 44, conceive a child in 2010,
when an embarrassed Cuban diplomat first raised the issue with an
American counterpart in Washington, according to an official involved
with the exchange. It was a long shot. The Federal Bureau of Prisons
doesn’t allow conjugal visits, and American officials suspected Ms.
Pérez had also been trained as a Cuban spy.

When Mr. Leahy, one of the chief advocates of a change in policy with
Cuba, visited Havana in February 2013, Cuban officials asked if he would
meet with Ms. Pérez. Mr. Leahy, his wife, Marcelle Pomerleau Leahy, and
Mr. Rieser met with her in a Havana room.

“It was an emotional meeting,” Mr. Leahy recalled in an interview. “She
wanted to have a baby before she got too old. She was deeply in love
with her husband.”

When they returned to Washington, Mr. Leahy was convinced that helping
the couple was the right thing to do on humanitarian grounds and to
improve the prospect of a diplomatic breakthrough that had eluded
numerous administrations over the decades.

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“Tim, we need to figure out how to do this,” Mr. Leahy recalls telling
his staffer.

Mr. Rieser is no stranger to complex tasks. He was one of the architects
of the 1992 law that banned land mines. He also helped draft the
so-called Leahy Law, which was passed in 1998 and bans the United States
from providing military assistance to foreign armies that violate human
rights without being held to account. His skills and authority on
Capitol Hill are so well respected that a senior State Department
official affectionately referred to him as “Secretary of State Rieser.”

When the Bureau of Prisons told Mr. Rieser that a conjugal visit was out
of the question, he asked about artificial insemination and learned that
it had been authorized once before. He got top officials at the State
Department and the Justice Department to sign off on the special
arrangement.

“So then the question became how to make it happen,” Mr. Rieser said in
an interview over the weekend.

Once everyone was on board, Cuban officials collected a sperm sample
from Mr. Hernández and transported it to Panama. The initial attempt to
get Ms. Pérez pregnant failed. A second one, around eight months ago,
worked.

“I wanted to make clear to them that we cared about the treatment of
their people, just as we expected them to care about the treatment of
ours,” Mr. Rieser, 62, said.

As Mr. Rieser worked to facilitate Mr. Hernández’s wish, he persuaded
Cuban officials to improve the conditions of Mr. Gross’s imprisonment.
Mr. Gross had gone on a hunger strike this year and threatened to commit
suicide if he wasn’t released soon. Mr. Rieser got the Cubans to turn
the lights off in Mr. Gross’s room at night and to give him access to a
computer and a printer. Mr. Rieser was also allowed to speak to Mr.
Gross by phone many times over the past few months. “If Alan Gross had
lost hope, committed suicide, the whole thing would have fallen apart,”
Mr. Leahy said.

When President Obama called Mr. Leahy after the deal was announced last
week to thank him for his persistence and counsel, the senator said much
of the credit belonged to a little known former public defender in his
office, who has never sought the limelight.

“I could not have done it without Tim Rieser,” he told the president.

Source: How a Cuban Spy and His Wife Came to Be Expectant Parents –
NYTimes.com –
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/23/opinion/how-a-cuban-spy-and-his-wife-came-to-be-expectant-parents.html?_r=0

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