Dominican Republic resort deaths prompt congressman to announce trip to Caribbean nation

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., announced Thursday that he plans on travelling to the Dominican Republic to meet with officials in the Caribbean nation about the recent string of mysterious deaths of American citizens.

Espaillat, the first and only Dominican-American to serve in Congress, said he will head to the Dominican Republic sometime in the next two weeks.

“More than 3.2 million Americans visited the #DominicanRepublic last year,” Espaillat said in a tweet. “I am taking this trip to see for myself and ensure the safety of American tourists and visitors to the Dominican Republic remains priority.”

Along with Espaillat, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., sent a letter on Wednesday to the State Department and the FBI asking for timely updates in the investigations into the nine Americans who have died in the Dominican Republic since last June. Pallone also asked the State Department to reconsider its travel advisory for the country in light of the deaths.

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The nine Americans who have died over the last 12 months in the country all were staying at luxury, all-inclusive hotels and all died under somewhat similar circumstances, sometimes involving liquor from the mini-bar.

Neither the Dominican ministry of public health nor the ministry of tourism has publicly shared the final autopsy reports showing the reasons why the men and women succumbed.

The strange cases - along with the recent shooting there of ex-MLB star David Ortiz - have triggered a wave of speculation and questions from the victims’ families in the United States and prompted many to question whether the island is safe for visitors.

Government data shows that the Dominican Republic welcomed more than 6.5 million visitors from around the world in 2018. In the first two months of 2019, the country saw more than 600,000 tourists - an increase of eight percent compared to the same time last year. Of those 600,000, 65 percent came to the Dominican Republic from North America, mainly the U.S.

The Dominican government, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo, have emphasized over the last few weeks that the cases are isolated incidents and that the tourist destination is safe for travelers.

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Gustavo Montalvo, the minister to the Dominican presidency, has reiterated the claim, saying no city in the island appeared in a recent report of the 50 most violent in the world by the Interamerican Development Bank.

“In that list of the 50 most dangerous cities in the world, there is none from the Dominican Republic,” he said during an event Wednesday hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in the Dominican Republic. “Actually, we find ourselves very far from any similar figure.”

The ministries of public health and tourism are expected to release more information later this week, sources told Fox News.

Fox News’ Lucia Suarez Sang and Mark Meredith contributed to this report.