This year several American tourists have died of suspicious causes while vacationing in the Dominican Republic, causing the public to panic and back away from booking trips at the popular, and notoriously inexpensive, travel destination.
Just this week it was reported that comedian Steve Harvey had decided to move his third annual Sand and Soul Festival out of the Dominican Republic due to safety concerns.
Haitians in the DR have literally been left hanging from trees like strange fruit and Dominicans with Haitian lineage who have called that part of the island home for generations are suddenly being deported from the country where they were born. Thousands of Black people were being violated there for years and not just the 35,000 plus people killed during the Parsley massacre either but also in the last few years as well.
Journalists like myself — Haitian-Americans — not only wrote about it but also pleaded for assistance and asked the public to consider boycotting tourism there to send a message to the government that they needed to stop these crimes against humanity or risk losing their primary industry, but the response has largely been silence until now.
The message that sends is that the lives of a half a dozen or so Black Americans means more to a lot of folks than the lives of tens of thousands of Haitians.
Dominican people as individuals are not my issue. Haitians and Dominicans don’t just share an island they often share blood. To dismiss Dominicans is to dismiss a significant part of my own Haitian heritage.
So to those who have barely seen just a fraction of the corruption that I’ve personally witnessed on the island of Hispaniola, here’s are three quick things you may need to keep in mind about this current controversy before booking your next discounted vacation package to Santo Domingo and surrounding areas.
There may be more deaths than we realize
Although there have been varying reports, right now we know at least nine people have been found dead or killed under dubious circumstances while visiting the nation.
But there is speculation that the death toll may be higher, because even the ones that are being counted are often being dismissed as natural deaths despite evidence to the contrary.
For example, Annette Wedington, of Baltimore, was told her son Terrence Richmond, collapsed and died of a heart attack during a hike near the central highlands town of Jarabacoa on August 29, 2018. But she later confessed to a local CBS affiliate that she believes something far more sinister was at play.
“He was beaten because his knuckles were bruised all up,” Wedington said. “He had a fractured skull and he had a bruise on his back like he had been kicked.”
An autopsy Wedington obtained from the country’s National Institute of Forensic Sciences (INACIF) confirmed her son had fluid in his lungs and a cracked skull. And this grieving mother isn’t alone. Several of the victim’s families has come forward to voice inconsistencies that have lead them to believe their loved ones were targeted and brutalized before dying.
It’s been difficult to have the bodies returned or even found
In the aforementioned story, Wedington had to deal with the grief of losing her son compounded with the mounting evidence that she was being lied to when it came to the circumstances surrounding his death. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s also had to grapple with the financial burden of having her child’s remains returned to her.
In an interview with the “TODAY” show, Wedington noted that officials held on to her son’s body for a month. She had to pay $4,000 to transport his remains back to the United States, and another $1,000 to get his backpack, wallet and camera from officials.
In addition to the costs, some families have reported that it’s taken them days to even locate the bodies of their loved ones in the first place.
Back in April, Orlando Moore and Portia Ravenelle flew to the island for a romantic getaway. The couple stayed at the Grand Bahia Principe Cayacoa resort at the country’s Samaná peninsula and were expected back to the states on March 27, but never returned.
Moore’s sister, Lashay Turner alerted the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic and subsequently filed a police report. Shortly thereafter, a woman who fit the description of Ravenelle, was found lying on the route that led to the international airport in Santo Domingo. She was rushed to the Doctor Dario Contreras Hospital in critical condition and died on April 4.
But by the time a man they believe to be Orlando Moore was found on March 31, at sea near Sans Souci, his body was already in the advanced stages of decomposition.
The government is pretending nothing is wrong
In America when an inconvenient truth makes headlines, Trump yells, “Fake news!” and it appears officials in the DR have chosen to take that same tactic during this PR nightmare.
In an interview with CNN, Dominican Republic’s tourism minister, Francisco Javier Garcia, said the recent wave of deaths in the country are isolated incidents.
“Investigation into them is a top priority for us and for the National Police. We are asking them to deploy all resources to help provide answers as quickly as possible,” he said.
And according to The New York Post, Dominican Republic officials have downplayed the deaths as coincidences by literally using the term “fake news.”
“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,” Carlos Suero, the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Public Health spokesman told Fox News in an interview.“People are taking aim at us.”
So to the Dominican government, people are supposedly dying of “heart attacks” that cause them to be found with cracked skulls and and broken bones. Families are being charged thousands just to get the victims’ bodies and belongings back. And tourists who already booked trips to the island are in fear for their safety and debating losing their investments to err on the side of caution.
And in the midst of all that, the government’s response is still essentially: “Our haters are just blowing this out of proportion.”
If that doesn’t speak for itself about who we’ve left this in the hands of, I don’t know what does.
Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric