How the Mysterious Deaths of Tourists Could Hurt the Dominican Republic

How the Mysterious Deaths of Tourists Could Hurt the Dominican Republic
A beach resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, Feb. 1, 2013 (DPA photo via AP Images).

In recent weeks, the Dominican Republic has found itself at the center of a human tragedy and public relations nightmare. Mounting reports of the unexplained deaths of tourists were interrupted briefly by news of the shooting of David Ortiz, a beloved and recently retired Dominican star of Major League Baseball, at a club in Santo Domingo. It added yet another black mark to a country whose economy has become increasingly dependent on attracting visitors. What toll will this all take on the economy, and on Dominican politics?

It wasn’t very long ago that the Dominican Republic was riding a wave of good fortune. Dominicans could boast of having the fastest-growing economy in the Americas, despite still dealing with a host of troubles common to Latin American and other developing countries. Security measures had managed to keep visitors mostly safe from common crime, turning tourism into a gold mine. Some 6.5 million tourists, a third of them Americans, visited the Dominican Republic last year, the most to any Caribbean country, according to the Caribbean Tourism Association. Attracted by pristine beaches and images of sun-bathed enchantment, these travelers often spent lavishly at luxury resorts, driving a tourism industry that looked like it would only keep booming. Or so it seemed.

Suddenly, the tragic stories started coming and a pattern appeared to emerge. Mostly American tourists, relatively young and apparently healthy, were falling ill and dying during their dream vacations.

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