On 18 December, US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro surprised the world by announcing that the US and Cuba would begin to normalise diplomatic and trade relations, ending 61 years of Cold War hostility.

In 1962, President John F Kennedy sent his press secretary on a shopping trip. Pierre Salinger was instructed to buy 1,200 Cuban cigars for the president. When Salinger confirmed the smoker's delicacies were secured, Kennedy signed an order placing a trade embargo between the US and Cuba: Cuban cigars were now illegal.

For more than 60 years, Kennedy's embargo has remained in place, preventing full trade and diplomatic relations with the Caribbean island nation of Cuba, which lies just 110 miles from Florida. The US has justified the embargo because Cuba remains a Communist state, which has been under the control of Fidel Castro, and now his brother Raul, since the socialist Cuban Revolution ended in 1959.

This week, Obama and Raul Castro announced that the two countries have been in discussions to repair relations, thanks to talks brokered by the Vatican, under the supervision of Pope Francis.

The US embargo has been criticised for causing unnecessary hardship for the people of Cuba, which was not shared by the Castros and their cohorts, and helped turn public opinion against the US. But over the six decades Cuba has gradually opened up to free market and capitalism – in part helped by the island's popularity as a tourist destination – and people have been given more freedom.

President Obama faces a fierce struggle to befriend Cuba once again. The anti-Castro lobby in the US is a powerful political force – especially in Florida, which is a key battleground between Democrats and Republicans during presidential elections. This means Obama's announcement could become a poison pill for the next Democrat presidential candidate.

Life in Cuba 5
A man passes by a mural with images of late Cuban revolutionary hero Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (L), Cuba's former president Fidel Castro (C), and late Cuban revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos in downtown Havana. From bus drivers to bartenders and ballet dancers, many Cubans are already imagining a more prosperous future after the US said it will put an end decades of conflict with the communist-run islandAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
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Pictures of Cuban former president Fidel Castro (L), Cuba's president Raul Castro (C) and revolutionary hero Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, hang in an office in Havana. Stepping out of his legendary brother's shadow, Raul Castro has scored a diplomatic triumph and a surge in popular support by securing the freedom of three Cuban spies, who were in US custody, in exchange for one American prisoner and dozens of little-known Cubans. The three men were held in US custody for 16 years, and are viewed as national heroes in CubaEnrique De La Osa/Reuters
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A woman rides her bicycle on a road that reads 'Long live Fidel and Raul' in Artemisa province, near Havana. On July 26, Cubans celebrate the anniversary of the July 26, 1953 rebel assault which former Cuban leader Fidel Castro led on the Moncada army barracks. The attack, held during the annual carnival festivities, was a military disaster, with many rebels killed, but started the revolution that led Castro to topple dictator Fulgencio BatistaEnrique De La Osa/Reuters
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Members of the Cuban Revolutionary Army hold Cuban national flags during a march 'For the Five and Against the Terrorism' in Havana September. 'The Five' refer to the five Cuban intelligence officers, hailed by many in Cuba as national heroes, who were arrested in 1998 and convicted in Miami in 2001, of conspiracy to commit espionage, murder, and other crimes in the USAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
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People load luggage from a Miami charter flight onto a car at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana August. Cuba's duties and restricted imports on consumer goods have troubled its fledgling private sector and angered people looking to counter chronic shortages. The restrictions attempted to cut the supply of goods to black market dealers, while protecting the state monopoly on selling imported goods. But they burdened Cubans who run small businesses, like restaurants and beauty parlors, who depend on travelers carrying suitcases full of goods into the countryEnrique De La Osa/Reuters
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A woman lies during a whole-body scan in the tomography section of Havana's main cardiology and heart surgery hospital. Universal free education and free medical healthcare for all the population are two of the pillars of the socialist society built in Cuba since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolutionDesmond Boylan/Reuters
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A man walks near a sign with an image of Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana. Raul Castro was a little-known figure outside of Cuba, with Fidel dominating the world's popular imaginationStringer/Reuters
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Cuban security personnel detain members of the Ladies in White group during a protest on International Human Rights Day, in Havana in December. Several activists were detained during peaceful demonstrations at a popular Havana square on Wednesday, an annual protest on International Human Rights DayEnrique De La Osa/Reuters
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Christian Jesus, 8, a third-grade student at the Enrique Villuendas Primary School, poses in his Iron Man costume as his school celebrates the 52nd anniversary of the Young Communist League (UJC) and the 53rd anniversary of the Jose Marti Pioneers Organization (OPJM) in Havana, April 4. Schools across the country celebrate the simultaneous anniversariesEnrique De La Osa/Reuters
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A boy plays on a street in downtown Havana, December. It is hard to say how Cuba will change as the children of Cuba will grow up, after Obama's and Castro's deal was announcedAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters