It was the shooting of baseball legend David “Big Papi” Ortiz outside a bar in Santo Domingo that brought the issue of mysterious deaths in the Dominican Republic to worldwide attention, but it remains the recent spate of mostly-unsolved and unexplained deaths of American tourists at popular resort hotels that has tourism officials worried about what comes next. (Big Papi is recovering well in a Boston hospital)
Though the issue has not captured much attention of Canadian media—which is mystifying as Canadians provide the second largest pool of tourism to the DR next to Americans—print and broadcast media in the US have been asking tough questions about what local tourism officials have characterized as a series of unfortunate coincidences. In one published report, however, the DR’s attorney general Jean Alain Rodriguez told local journalists that the nation is “secure but definitely has many challenges.”
Indeed it has. So far this year (as of June 20) at least seven American tourists have died in mysterious circumstances while vacationing in the DR, mostly after eating a meal or drinking out of a hotel room minibar. And this is but a continuation of similar incidents that began in 2018.
One of the most recent cases was a 41-year old woman from Pennsylvania who was staying at the luxury Bahia Principe Bougainville Hotel in La Romana, with her husband in May when she suddenly collapsed and died after having a drink to celebrate her ninth wedding anniversary. Autopsy results showed revealed pulmonary edema (fluid in her lungs) and respiratory failure. The FBI, which has been brought into the DR investigations is conducting toxicology tests.
Five days later, a couple from Maryland suddenly died at a nearby hotel—with similar autopsy findings reported. Several of the other deaths followed a similar pattern, involving pulmonary edema and respiratory failure shortly after the ill-fated vacationers had drinks from their hotel minibars, or meals at their hotel restaurants.
Most of the deaths have occurred in territory well-travelled by Canadians in Punta Cana on the eastern-most top of the island of DR, La Romana about 70 miles to the west on the southern coast and Puerto Plata on the Northwestern coast.
Of the more than 904,000 Canadians who visited the DR in 2018, about 800,000 vacationed at resorts in Punta Cana, Puerto Plata and La Romana.
To date neither Travel Canada’s advisory service https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/dominican-republic, not the US State Department travel advisories https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html/, have issued warnings related to the recent deaths but are maintaining “exercise increased caution” advisory levels—warning visitors of petty crimes at airports and all-inclusive hotels, baggage looting, fake police stops, rogue lawyers and tour guides (particularly in Punta Cana) in addition to reports of spiked food and drinks at bars and hotels.
No national government travel services have advised their residents to avoid travel to the DR, but practicing sharp vigilance and common sense is always necessary in situations where “relaxation” and “unwinding” is your top priority, be it in the DR or Mexico or any other location designed specifically to help you relax and unwind.
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