Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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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

    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 Gross, the American subcontractor imprisoned in Havana
    for five years. Photographs of Mr. Hernández, who had been in an
    American prison 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
    President Obama and President 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 hotel 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

    “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,

    “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 – –