- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2016

Cuban dictator Raul Castro finally has his chance to get Shaq’s autograph.

The U.S. State Department announced Friday that NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal will be the country’s first-ever Basketball Sports Envoy to the communist nation.

President Obama spearheaded the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba in 2014 despite its well-documented history of human rights abuses and unwillingness to embrace political reform.

The NBA Hall of Fame member’s role will be to “reach out to young people and promote cooperation and engagement” between the two nations. 

“This people-to-people program taps into the unique strength of sports — including basketball — to reach out to young people and promote cooperation and engagement in Cuba,” the department’s statement says, Sports Illustrated reported Friday.

A 2014 report the State Department noted human rights violations such as:

  • Physical assault by government forces against pro-democracy advocates.
  • Prisons that lack adequate water, sanitation, space, light, ventilation, and
    temperature control.
  • Arbitrary arrests and detention.
  • Searches and seizures of property by police officials without legal justification.
  • Denial of due process: “The law presumes defendants to be innocent until proven guilty, but authorities often ignored this, placing the burden on the defendant to prove innocence.”
  • Restricted freedom of speech.
  • The requirement that candidates for National Assembly elections be “pre-screened by government-run bodies.”


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