A new chapter in Cuba - U.S. relations sent everything Cuba skyrocketing higher, including $CUBA which hit $10 before fading later in the session.
What started out as a proposed prisoner swap between the United States and Cuba turned into a historic shift in relations between the two countries, one devised during secret meetings abroad and resulting in the re-establishment of diplomatic relations after more than five decades.
The two countries, separated by just 90 miles of water, once had the world on the brink of nuclear war, an episode that prompted 50 years of a U.S. economic embargo on the island and anti-American rage from Cuban President Fidel Castro. Now, the countries are preparing to open embassies in each other's capitals and increase the flow of people and capital between them.
At the White House on Wednesday, President Obama called the move an end to "an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests." In Havana, Cuban President Raúl Castro, who took over the country when his brother fell ill in 2008, welcomed the new ties to the United States while acknowledging numerous issues remained.
The deal was finalized when two Americans had returned home from Cuban prisons. One was Alan Gross, a Maryland man who spent more than five years in a Cuban prison after he was arrested while distributing communications equipment on the island while working for the U.S. Agency for International Development. The second was described as an "intelligence asset" who had spent more than 20 years in Cuban prisons, according to three senior White House officials who were not authorized to speak publicly.
In exchange, three Cubans who had been convicted of espionage and other charges in the United States were sent home.
But the agreement will resonate far beyond Wednesday's flights, as Secretary of State John Kerry prepares for his first trip to Cuba and both sides work out the long list of changes they have agreed to make.
"This is the biggest shift in U.S.-Cuba relations in 50 years," said Ric Herrero, executive director of #CubaNow, which has advocated that empowering Cubans is the quickest way to a downfall of the Cuban regime.
The embargo has had little effect on Cuba's regime, Obama said, and encouraging more engagement will help promote reform in the long run. He likened the move to normalization of relations with other communist nations like China and Vietnam, the latter a country "where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation."
The United States is now choosing "to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future," Obama said, "for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere and for the world."
The U.S. and Cuba clashed repeatedly in the decades after the communist revolution, from reported U.S.-backed assassination plots targeting Castro to the placement of Russian missiles in Cuba that led to a near nuclear war in 1962. Successive presidents, Republican and Democratic, refused to change the economic embargo against Cuba.
As Obama spoke, Raúl Castro tempered expectations, saying, "This in no way means that the heart of the matter has been solved."
Obama and Raúl Castro spoke by phone Tuesday about the agreement, officials said, the first direct contact between American and Cuban leaders since Fidel Castro took control.
A surprise intermediary was Pope Francis, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. He sent a letter about Cuba to Obama and Raúl Castro, officials said, and Obama and the pope discussed the topic at the Vatican in March. Secret negotiations between the two nations were also conducted in Canada, the officials said.
The agreement includes Cuba's release of Alan Gross, an American citizen arrested in 2009 on espionage charges for trying to provide Internet service to Cuban residents. Obama spoke with Gross by phone as he flew back to the United States.
Cuba, the officials said, also released an unnamed "intelligence asset" who had been imprisoned there for two decades. The asset, intelligence officials said, had helped unmask Cuban agents operating in the United States. In exchange, the United States sent three Cubans accused of spying and imprisoned here to Cuba, the officials said