Dominican Republic officials dismiss reports of US tourist deaths as fake news: 'The food, the alcohol, the air is normal'
Nine US tourists have died in the country in the past few months, and with many now promising to boycott the country, officials have come out to slam the reports as a 'setup' to hurt its tourism industry
Dominican Republic public health officials have slammed reports over the spate of recent deaths at luxury resorts in the country as "fake news" aimed at hurting its thriving tourism industry.
Many tourists are now promising to avoid the Dominic Republic, which attracts five million tourists every year after it emerged that nine US tourists had fallen seriously ill and died in the past few months while vacationing in the country.
According to Fox News, Carlos Suero, a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health, claimed the reports were seeking to raise "hysteria" against the Caribbean nation and pointed to either final or preliminary autopsy reports of the nine tourists which had concluded they had died of natural causes.
Suero also said that the testing of food, alcohol, the pool, and air conditioning on all the properties where deaths were reported — which was carried out by their government health inspectors with assistance from the US Embassy — came back negative.
"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," he 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," he continued. "With all the tourists we get every year, we make sure we comply with international standards for everything."
The State Department did confirm that the FBI was providing technical assistance to Dominican authorities with toxicology reports for the three deaths reported at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana Resort and that the results would take up to 30 days, but did not reveal whether the testing on the food, alcohol, air, and pools did indeed come back negative.
Several of the tourists who died had reportedly consumed a drink from their room's minibar in the leadup to their death, and preliminary reports of many indicated they had suffered pulmonary edema and respiratory failure.
But the government has repeatedly insisted that the deaths are isolated incidents, with Suero claiming that mountains were being made out of molehills. "People die all over the world," he said. "Unfortunately, very unfortunately for us, these tourists have died here. We had about 14 deaths last year here of US tourists, and no one said a word. Now everyone is making a big deal of these."
"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 argued. "If I'd died, would I have been right to blame the United States? No."
Like Suero, Dominican Republic Public Health Minister Rafael Sanchez Cardenas termed the reports on the deaths as a "setup" that was aimed at "hurting tourism". Cardenas referred to the death of 54-year-old New York woman Leyla Cox as proof for his argument. Cox died in her room on June 10 at the Excellence Resort in Punta Cana, and while her family claimed she was healthy, Cardenas said she had a history of "several heart attacks".
Similarly, a preliminary report on the death of Jonathan Allen stated he was a "ticking time bomb", and that his "organs were practically destroyed, with a biological age of more than 80 years old. He was extremely obese, weighing more than 400 pounds."
Dominican officials are using the hashtag #BeFairWithDR on social media in a bid to combat the negative press surrounding the country.