Correction, 5/7/2015: An earlier version of this article stated that Hernandez returned to Cuba on December 17, 2015. This was incorrect, it was December 17, 2014. Additionally his sample was sent to Panama, not Cuba.

Cuban intelligence officer Gerardo Hernandez was a central character in the frosty relations between Cuba and the United States.

His return to Cuban soil on December 17, 2014 marked a dramatic new beginning for both countries.

After 16 years in US prisons, he was given a hero's welcome, and remains defiant and loyal to his government. 

I can tell you very humbly that we saved lives. So I couldn't regret something like that. Even if I spent 16 years of my life in prison. That is something that I - it is hard for myself and for my family, but I have to be honest. I will do it again if I have to.

Gerardo Hernandez, Cuban spy

In 2001 he was convicted by a Miami court and handed down two life sentences for sending intelligence back home to Cuba.

The court said his actions assisted in the murder of Cuban exiles - in the shooting down of two planes - who were attempting to overthrow the Castro government.

He was a spy, but Hernandez, and the other members of the so-called "Cuban Five" spies captured on US soil and now released, have been declared national heroes by Fidel Castro and were decorated by Cuban president Raul Castro earlier this year. 

All this time he had been separated from his wife Adriana Perez, yet, to the surprise of many she was nine months pregnant when he returned to Cuba in 2015. What hadn't been revealed was that in an unusual diplomatic gesture of good will, officials on both sides had worked to send Hernandez's sperm to Panama, so that the couple could have a child through artificial insemination. 

Hernandez's surprise release, and the story involving his wife and their baby, which may never have been born, was a key ingredient in secret negotiations leading to a historic agreement to end more than half a century of hostilities between the US and Cuba.

Now, for the first time, Hernandez and his wife share the story of his imprisonment and release, Perez's experiences, how Hernandez posed as a Puerto Rican graphic artist in the US before his capture and how their child was conceived in a diplomatic move, as they talk to Al Jazeera in Havana, Cuba.

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Source: Al Jazeera