HAVANA, May 26 (UPI) -- Cuban leader Raul Castro appears headed in a new direction by talking with Catholic Church officials about political dissidents, observers say.
The Communist island nation's leader recently met with Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega. The upshot of those negotiations was a Castro promise to place sick dissidents in hospitals and to move others to jails closer to their homes.
"What is new is the government's readiness to publicly recognize the Cuban Catholic Church as a middleman for resolving key issues," Havana dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe wrote in a column Monday.
El Nuevo Herald reported Wednesday Castro's meetings with Ortega have raised hopes for improved human rights in Cuba, though there are concerns the cardinal is being manipulated by Castro for propaganda purposes.
Still, some analysts suggest Castro has embarked on uncharted waters.
"The government is tacitly recognizing with this gesture that it will definitively accept the risks of thinking differently," said Julio Hernandez, a Miami supporter of dissident Oswaldo Paya's Christian Liberation Movement.
Phil Peters, a Cuba analyst at the Lexington Institute, a Washington think tank, said the talks "mark the government accepting the church as a part of civil society."
"I don't particularly see any risk [for Castro] in it, but it is opening up a new space for political discussions on topics that were not open before," Peters said.