Many of the deaths occurred after drinking alcohol at various resorts and family members of nearly all of who died have indicated they believe the deaths were not natural.
But public health officials spoke out on June 19, claiming the reporting on the deaths is “fake news” and a plot to harm tourism to the country.
“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. People are taking aim at us,” Ministry of Public Health spokesman Carlos Suero told Fox News.
“The testing results are all negative, everything—the food, the alcohol, the air—is normal, there is no alteration of the alcohol. With all the tourists we get every year, we make sure we comply with international standards for everything.”
Suero said that autopsies show nine tourists died of natural causes. Officials haven’t addressed the three other reported deaths.
In addition to the deaths, a slew of Americans have said they became violently ill while on vacation in the Dominican Republic, some indicating they barely survived.
But Suero said that deaths occur in any country and wondered why people were making such a big deal.
“People die all over the world,” Suero said. “Unfortunately, very unfortunately for us, these tourists have died here. We had about 14 deaths last year here of U.S. tourists, and no one said a word. Now everyone is making a big deal of these.”
The comments came a few days after Minister of Public Health, Rafael Sánchez Cárdenas told reporters in Santo Domingo that Leyla Cox, a New York woman who died in the country on June 10, died from cardiac problems.
He said that she was at risk of a heart attack due to a number of health issues.
Cárdenas then launched an attack on the media, reported El Nuevo Diario, saying: “There is a perverse communication management, particularly by Fox International.”
“It is clear that the stories are being published with malicious intent to harm the tourist services offered by the country,” said the official.
He said that tourists have nothing to fear and should continue traveling to the Dominican Republic.
Suero told CNN on Wednesday that the FBI is helping Dominican authorities with the toxicology tests for three of the American tourists who died.
The U.S. Embassy said earlier this month that it could take up to 30 days for the tests to be completed.
Samples were taken by Dominican officials from the minibars of those who died in addition to the water from showers and sinks, Suero added.
While officials slammed reporting on the issue and claimed there was malicious intent, a tourism expert warned that authorities should be transparent about the investigation or else tourism will suffer.
“If this is not figured out, it will be a catastrophe [for the country],” an expert on Dominican tourism told Fox on condition of anonymity.
Coming after some travel agents warned American clients not to go to the country, the expert said that a decline of visitors likely started in June and will continue in July.
The situation could prove as damaging for the Dominican Republic as the disappearance of an American teenager was for Aruba, the expert added.
Natalie Holloway, 18, vanished in Aruba in May 2005, triggering international news reports and leading to a sharp decline in tourism from America.