During a Friday press conference, Tourism Minister Francisco Javier Garcia slammed media coverage of the cases, arguing that each of the deaths could be explained.
“A cause of death has been determined for all of the deaths that have occurred,” he said, according to a translation from The Washington Post. “Therefore, mystery deaths do not exist in the Dominican Republic. We have demonstrated that it is not true that there is an avalanche of deaths in of American tourists in the country.”
At least nine Americans have died while vacationing in the country within the past year. Most recently, 55-year-old Joseph Allen of New Jersey was reported dead after having been found in his room at Terra Linda Resort in Sosúa just over a week ago. Days before that, 53-year-old Leyla Cox was also found unresponsive in her hotel room.
Though causes of death have been determined in each the cases, ranging from heart issues to respiratory failure, the majority of the fatalities appear to be sudden and unexpected, several of them having occurred after tourists consumed drinks from their mini bars.
Multiple deaths have been reported at Bahía Príncipe’s resorts and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana.
In a separate instance in April, 47 people became violently ill on a Jimmy Buffet cruise with symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting and fevers, though none of them died.
On Wednesday, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) wrote a letter to the State Department asking it to reassess its travel advisory for the island ― currently a Level 2 ― “so that it accurately reflects possible risks.”
“The circumstances surrounding the untimely deaths of nine Americans is heartbreaking, and I ask that you immediately take steps to update the bereaved families and ensure they are given all information on the cause of their loved one’s death as the investigation continues,” he wrote.
In light of a deluge of news reports keeping count of the vacations turned deadly, Garcia suggested on Friday that the coverage was unprecedented.
“I have been leading the ministry of tourism for 11 years, never in 55 years has there been a debate in the media around tourists ― of any nationality ― that had died in a country,” he said. “This is a debate that for the first time, appears in the media, and it appears that the place chosen to initiate this debate has been the Dominican Republic.”
Taking a similar tone in a June 7 press release, Bahía Príncipe Hotels alleged that “inaccurate and false information has been spread or circulated of by various media, digital platforms and social networks,” though it was not immediately clear to which news reports the company was referring.
In a statement sent to HuffPost on Friday, the State Department said it is “closely monitoring ongoing investigations by Dominican authorities” of the recent deaths.
However, it added that there are more than 2.7 million Americans travel to the island each year, “and we have not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen deaths reported to the Department.”