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.