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Cuban-American Prisoner Exchange Signals a Renewal of Diplomatic Contacts

In a development few could have foreseen, President Obama has carried out an exchange of five convicted Cuban spies languishing in federal prison in return for the release of American aid contractor Alan Gross, held captive in Cuba for years, as well as another Cuban agent imprisoned for spying for the Americans. However unexpected this development, which resulted in a restoration of diplomatic relations between the countries, it was not as unexpected as the reason for the development: the fact that the wife of one of the newly-released Cuban spies is pregnant--with his child.

Federal prison authorities do not permit conjugal visits, raising a question as to how this development happened. Apparently, Senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, after negotiating to improve the conditions of confinement for Gross, agreed to lobby federal prison authorities to permit Gerardo Hernandez, the head of the spy ring, to submit a sperm specimen that was used to artificially inseminate his wife, at a hospital in Panama.

After this was carried out, negotiations progressed an exchange, and all parties were repatriated. Hernandez had been convicted in 2001 and received two life sentences.  Gross had served five years of a fifteen-year sentence.

Both Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel, thanked Pope Francis and the Vatican for their role in promoting the negotiations that led to the exchange, as well as the government of Canada, who hosted the secret talks that began in June of 2013.

Although the exchange of sensitive prisoners between countries is not unprecedented, the revelation of the federal government permitting the collection of sperm from a federal prisoner certainly was a refreshing development. Perhaps the federal Bureau of Prisons, which has not distinguished itself through large amounts of compassion in the past, will realize that mercy is as much a part of justice as punishment.

Sources: Associated Press,,

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