"Cuba remains a hard-line communist state with a poor record on human rights. The country's political succession from the long-ruling Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl was characterized by a remarkable degree of stability. Fidel stepped down from power in July 2006 because of health reasons, and Raúl assumed provisional control of the government until February 2008 when he officially became President. His government has implemented limited economic policy changes, but there has been disappointment that further reforms have not been forthcoming. The economy was hard hit by storms in 2008 and the global financial crisis has caused further strains. Few observers expect the government to ease its tight control over the political system. Since the early 1960s, U.S. policy has consisted largely of isolating Cuba through economic sanctions. A second policy component has consisted of support measures for the Cuban people, including private humanitarian donations, U.S.-sponsored broadcasting to Cuba, and support for human rights activists. In light of Fidel Castro's departure as head of government, many observers have called for a re-examination of sanctions policy. In this new context, two broad approaches have been advanced: an approach that would maintain the dual-track policy of isolating the Cuban government while providing support to the Cuban people; and an approach aimed at changing attitudes in the Cuban government and society through increased engagement. The Obama Administration has lifted restrictions on family travel and remittances; eased restrictions on telecommunications links with Cuba; restarted semi-annual migration talks; and initiated talks on resuming direct mail services."
CRS Report for Congress, R40193