At the UN in Feb. 2008, Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The Covenants ensure citizens political and civil freedom, and gaurantee the right to work, fair wages, social security, education, and high standards of physical and mental health. Roque also announced that in 2009 the United Nations Human Rights Council will be allowed to examine Cuba at will.
The government relaxed land restrictions for private farmers in July 2008, in an effort to boost the countrys poor food production and reduce dependence on food imports.
The U.S. Congress voted in March 2009 to repeal the long-standing restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting Havana and sending money into the country. President Obama has signaled a willingness to establish warmer ties with Cuba, a subtle acknowledgement that isolation has not been effective in forcing the Castro regime from power.
Castro made the surprise announcement in July 2010 that he plans to release 52 political prisoners. The prisoners—activists and journalists—have been held since a 2003 crackdown on dissidents. Fidel Castro said the activists were mercenaries acting at the request of the United States.