The recent string of suspicious deaths, violence and mysterious illnesses among American tourists who have stayed at several resorts in the Dominican Republic included at least five Black people. While the numbers of African Americans traveling there had already been dropping before tourists started dying and getting sick, the rising death toll could help those numbers fall even further.
“I have noticed over the last two years a really steep decline in my actual membership going,” Evita Robinson, who is the creator of the Black lifestyle travel brand Nomadness that boasts a 22,000-person membership, told NewsOne recently.
To date, at least ten American tourists have died in the Dominican Republic in recent months, seven of whom were Black. In June 2018, Yvette Sport of Philadelphia died of a heart attack at the resort she was staying in reportedly after she had a drink at a mini bar. New York couple Orlando Moore and Portia Ravenelle died after their rental car plunged off of a cliff in March. Two months later, a Maryland couple, Cynthia Ann Day and Edward Nathaniel Holmes were found dead in their hotel room during the last week of May. Just days before their death, a Pennsylvania woman collapsed and died at the same hotel. On June 13, Joseph Allen of New Jersey was found dead in his hotel room reportedly from a heart attack, making him the latest tourist to die in the D.R. And the May death of Donette Edge Cannon, a 38-year-old New York City woman who fell ill with a violent stomach sickness on her trip to Punta Cana, was just reported Friday.
Most of the problems seemed to stem from one hotel — the Bahia Principe Hotel in Punta Cana — but there have been deaths and sicknesses reported other tourist-friendly cities, as well.
According to Robinson, the drop in Black American tourism to the Dominican Republic that she said she noticed ahead of the spate of deaths and sicknesses may have been because of political reasons festering between the island nation landlocked with neighboring Haiti.
“Now you’re starting to see people talk about it,” she said. “You know, the people who have probably been quiet are like look ‘I wasn’t messing with D.R. anyway because of how they were treating Haiti.’”
Similar sentiments have been making the rounds on social media.
Robinson said the already steady decline in her membership’s travel to the D.R. has now come to a complete standstill, which she admitted was likely because of the health problems tourists have been having.
“I know there’s theories of all types of things from them putting pesticides in the alcohol, it could be the alcohol is at these bars and people falling ill, even coming home and dying once they get home. It’s like, wait a second, guys. What’s really going on here?” Robinson said. “People are really confused and it is scary. I’m not a travel fear-mongerer at all, [but] something’s not right here.”
Potential travelers definitely have something to be concerned as the death toll has continued to rise with no obvious end in sight. NewsOne talked with Cleveland Clinic Pulmonologist Huberto Choi, who found it particularly strange that Day and Holmes died on the same day from respiratory failure and pulmonary edema, a condition caused by excess fluid in the lungs.
“I think it’s odd for both of them to pass around the same time,” Choi said. “So when I read about that, I wondered if the pulmonary edema had been from intoxication that could be intentional and unintentional. If there was any form of intoxication that happened to both of them because maybe they could have ingested the same thing.”
Choi also said that pulmonary edema can come about suddenly depending on the circumstances and some symptoms can be shortness of breath, a cough and crackles in the chest.
The FBI has announced that it is assisting in toxicology tests on some of Americans who have died in the D.R., but results can take up to 30 days. According to CNN, Samples taken from at least one minibar at the Bahia Principe Hotel in Punta Cana are being tested by the FBI as part of the agency’s collaboration with D.R. authorities.
The head of tourism in the Dominican Republic has insisted that was no cause for alarm.
“The Dominican Republic is a safe country,” Francisco Javier Garcia, the minister of tourism in the Dominican Republic, said Friday. “There is no such thing as mysterious deaths in the Dominican Republic. There is not an avalanche of deaths.”
But despite the D.R.’s attempts to reassure people, Robinson said she does not believe traveling to the country is worth the risk to one’s health and safety.
“There’s too many questions that still don’t have answers and unless it’s more like a familial type of visit, I wouldn’t do it right now,” Robinson warned. “I’m not saying never, [but] in a month from now we could have the insight that could completely change it, but something is wrong. Give it some time, let them get some answers and then reassess the situation.”