Dominican Republic defending against media attack


By Belén Tovar / EntornoInteligente.com / Multiple stories have been falsely constructed from specialized operations centers to affect tourism in the Dominican Republic. In this opportunity, apparent natural deaths are being used by these laboratories to affect an industry that generates millions of dollars to the Dominican Republic.


Dominican Republic's health ministry, Carlos Suero, calls mysterious deaths 'fake news' as official lashes out in interview. For weeks, news media in the United States and beyond have painstakingly chronicled pretending horrifying stories of Americans who have died at resorts in the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic public health officials dismissed reports of the rash of deaths of U.S. tourists at luxury resorts as nothing more than “fake news” Wednesday aimed at undermining their tourism industry.


Ministry of Public Health spokesman Carlos Suero told Fox News on Wednesday that either final or preliminary autopsy reports for the nine tourists whose deaths are publicly known show they died of natural causes.


Suero also said that results from testing by government health inspectors – with assistance from the U.S. Embassy, he added — of food and alcohol, the pool and air conditioning and other areas on the properties all came back negative. Several of the U.S. tourists who died were said to have had a beverage from the room minibar before they fell ill.


“It’s all a hysteria against the Dominican Republic, to hurt our tourism, this is a very competitive industry and we get millions of tourists, we are a popular destination,” Suero said. “People are taking aim at us.”


“The testing results are all negative, everything – the food, the alcohol, the air – is normal, there is no alteration of the alcohol,” Suero said. “With all the tourists we get every year, we make sure we comply with international standards for everything.”


Asked to confirm that testing of alcohol and food and resort properties had returned negative results, the State Department did not respond to the specific question, sending an email to Fox News that said: “We are closely monitoring ongoing investigations by Dominican authorities into several recent deaths of U.S. citizens in the Dominican Republic.


Stories about the deaths of 11 American tourists over the past year have been trickling out one by one — on local outlets, in international tabloids such as the New York Post and the Daily Mail, and digital juggernauts including Fox News Channel and NBC.


The stories are starting to link the deaths, characterizing them as “mysterious,” “strange” and “suspicious,” and painting the Caribbean island nation — where tourism is the leading industry — as a place where something nefarious might be lurking amid the pools, beaches and palm trees.

But there’s a problem: There are no signs that’s actually the case. There’s not even evidence that the spate of death and illness in the Dominican Republic this year is out of the ordinary.


As the coverage seemed to reach a fever pitch this week, the U.S. State Department said it has seen no spike in deaths reported from the Dominican Republic.


"The FBI is providing technical assistance to Dominican authorities with toxicology reports for three recent deaths at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana resort. Our FBI colleagues tell us that those results may take up to 30 days.  For all other questions regarding investigations into recent deaths (and attacks) of U.S. citizens, we refer you to local authorities in the Dominican Republic.”


The FBI did not respond to a request for confirmation or comment about the completion and results of tests on alcohol, food and other factors.

Luis José Chávez, the president of the Dominican Tourism Press Association, told The Washington Post. “The whole country is trying to get over this and gain back the image of what we really are.


The State Department official noted that the Dominican Republic, just a few hours on a plane from many areas in the southern and eastern United States, might be a victim of its own success as an increasingly popular travel destination for Americans.


“The Dominican Republic is attractive to a fair amount of less-experienced travelers — there is a certain subset of people who their standard vacation might be Orlando, and now instead they go to Cancun [in Mexico] or Punta Cana,” the official said. “It seems almost like it’s home. But then anytime something happens down there, they might not be prepared to encounter a medical system that’s different in the States or a law-enforcement situation that’s different than the States.”

About 2.7 million Americans visited the Dominican Republic last year, according to the State Department, which only publicly releases data about unnatural deaths, such as car crashes and drownings. It does not release information about deaths by natural causes, such as heart attacks or strokes, even though it compiles reports on all Americans who die abroad.


It is a matter of statistics that a certain number of travelers will experience serious illnesses, accidents and even death while traveling internationally.


“The death rate in the Dominican Republic is not any higher than death rate in the States, and heart attack and stroke are common causes of death,” the State Department official said. “It could look like more of a sensational story than it is.”


Rampant speculation in the media has caused frustration and concern in the Dominican Republic, where tourism accounts for about 22 percent of the economy, directly and indirectly.


Suero’s comments come after Dominican Public Health Minister Rafael Sanchez Cardenas characterized the reports of the deaths as “un montaje” (setup) aimed at “hurting tourism.”


Sanchez Cardenas said that Leyla Cox, a 53-year-old New York woman who died in her room on June 10 at the Excellence resort in Punta Cana, had a history of “several heart attacks.”


Her family and co-workers disputed his claim, saying that she was generally healthy and had not had a heart attack before. They said they question the Dominican conclusion that the cause of her death was a heart attack, and will be conducting toxicological tests when a sample of her blood is received in the U.S.


Dominican government officials have been using the hashtag #BeFairWithDR on social media.


From the outset, Dominican authorities have said that the deaths of the U.S. tourists, who range in age from 41 to 78, were isolated incidents.


Dominican Republic Minister of Public Health Rafael Sanchez Cardenas

Dominican Republic Minister of Public Health Rafael Sanchez Cardenas

“People die all over the world,” Suero said. “Unfortunately, very unfortunately for us, these tourists have died here. We had about 14 deaths last year here of U.S. tourists, and no one said a word. Now everyone is making a big deal of these.”


Suero was referring to deaths kept on the State Department website that cover incidents such as car accidents, but excludes deaths declared by Dominican authorities as stemming from natural causes. It is difficult to know, therefore, how many tourist deaths linked to natural causes there have been.


Suero said the Dominican Republic should not be blamed for what would have happened to those who died in the resort anywhere else.


“I went to the United States and got an infection in my throat, but luckily I was returning to the Dominican Republic soon after,” he said. “If I’d died, would I have been right to blame the United States? No.”


Robert Quigley, a cardiovascular surgeon and senior vice president of International SOS, which offers medical and travel security risk services to individuals and companies, said travelers experience health problems for a variety of reasons: They engage in activities they don’t normally do, take more risks, try new foods and drink more than usual, making people with preexisting conditions vulnerable to medical complications, he said.


The popular Caribbean vacation spot, which attracts more than 5 million tourists each year from around the globe, has been rocked by reports of the deaths of nine U.S. tourists. Most fell suddenly and critically ill in the resorts, and many died in their rooms, some after having a beverage from the minibar. Preliminary reports for many of them noted pulmonary edema – in which the lungs are filled with fluid. And the cause of death for most of them was a heart attack.