The entrance of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is seen this month in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. A tourist died unexpectedly after getting sick two months ago at the hotel.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Family members identified the latest victim in the recent string of American tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic as Vittorio Caruso of Glen Cove, N.Y.
His family said Caruso was retired. He recently sold a pizzeria he co-owned with his brother for more than a decade in Glen Cove, and decided to vacation on the island, News12 Long Island reported. Lisa Maria Caruso said her 56-year-old brother-in-law died on June 17. She said officials initially told the family that Caruso was sick. Then they received another call informing them that he had died. The Caruso family expect to receive a full autopsy report and are working with the U.S. embassy and the FBI to get his body released.
At least eight Americans have died in the popular vacation destination this year. As NPR has reported, there were similarities in seven other deaths — most described as happening suddenly, and several after an alcoholic drink. However U.S. officials have not determined whether there is any connection.
In response to the deaths, some tourists have changed their plans to vacation on the island. An official from the U.S. State Department told NPR that in general, “over 2.7 million U.S. citizens visit the Dominican Republic each year, and we have not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen deaths reported to the Department.”
Tourism Minister Francisco Javier García told reporters Friday at a conference in the capital, Santo Domingo, that the incidents are isolated. He said in any six-month period, it is not unusual for eight people to die on vacation. Despite rumors and assumptions, García said the victims’ autopsy reports cited pre-existing conditions and natural causes. He said he’s hoping to clear the Dominican Republic’s reputation, ensuring that when people hear its name they know it is a “clean and safe country … and a country who treats their tourists like royalty.”
García said officials are enhancing internal security measures at hotels, including closely monitoring food and beverages.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana recently decided to remove “liquor dispensers” in its guest rooms. It says alcoholic beverages will still be available around the clock.
“All of the alcohol on property will continue to be brand name and sourced from the U.S., with the exception of a Dominican Republic specialty, Mama Juana, and local beer, Presidente, that we carry to support our community,” the hotel said in a statement.
The Punta Cana hotel is also working to create a U.S.-based health care facility to guarantee that the on-site clinic is “complying with all international and U.S. standards of care” in case visitors need medical care.
Customer care assistance manager Penelope Polanco told NPR the decisions are unrelated to the series of reported deaths, but are an effort to ensure the “tranquility” of their guests.
“We don’t want anybody to be afraid,” she said. “If this is something that’ll help them to feel more comfortable then we’ll do it.”
The FBI is helping local officials investigate three of the reported deaths.
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank town of Ramallah protest the Trump administration’s new peace plan on June 15.
Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images
Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images
The White House on Saturday published one-half of its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan — a multibillion-dollar proposal to upgrade the Palestinian economy. The Palestinian leadership has already rejected it, and so far, it has been widely panned by former U.S. envoys and Mideast policy experts.
The proposal, presented on the White House website ahead of a conference this week in Bahrain to promote the Trump administration’s peace plan, features slick promotional language, billing it as a kind of Marshall Plan and “the most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinian people to date.”
According to the proposal, drafted by White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and his peace team, if a comprehensive peace agreement is reached, a $50 billion international fund would be set up. More than half the money would be allocated for the West Bank and Gaza’s infrastructure and economy, with the goal of creating 1 million Palestinian jobs and doubling the Palestinian GDP within a decade. The rest of the money would go to increase trade, exports and foreign direct investment in neighboring Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner has called the proposal the “opportunity of the century.”
It is unclear who would contribute the funding. On Tuesday, Kushner is scheduled to convene a workshop in Bahrain to ask primarily Gulf Arab countries and investors to pitch in and underwrite this vision. The White House hasn’t said if it will contribute, and for the past year, the U.S. has been cutting aid to the Palestinians.
Kushner has called his proposal the “opportunity of the century” and he and Israeli officials have chided Palestinians for rejecting it.
Critics say the proposal is doomed to fail because it does not address central political sticking points of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as whether Israel will relinquish most of the West Bank to the Palestinians and whether the Palestinians can create an independent state.
Palestinians argue that their economic progress is held back due to the Israeli occupation and their lack of an independent state, and argue these issues need to be dealt with first. The White House says it will present its political plan perhaps later this year.
Here is a roundup of reaction to the White House proposal.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
Abbas laid out his concerns on Sunday in a press conference with international media at his West Bank office.
We need the money and really, we need assistance. But before everything, there is a political solution. When there is a political solution, when there is a vision of a Palestinian state … then we can say, dear world, come to assist us, we are ready to receive assistance.
We will not be slaves of [Jared] Kushner and [U.S. peace envoy Jason] Greenblatt and the other one, [U.S. Ambassador to Israel David] Friedman.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Netanyahu spoke while touring the Israeli-occupied West Bank’s strip of land bordering Jordan with John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser.
Under any peace agreement, our position will be that Israel’s presence should continue here for Israel’s security and for the security of all. In general, I would say that we’ll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness. I cannot understand how the Palestinians, before they even heard the plan, rejected it outright. That’s not the way to proceed. We believe that peace is coupled and dependent on security. Our presence here guarantees security, and therefore guarantees peace.
Astute analysis. I would give this so-called plan a C- from an undergraduate student. The authors of the plan clearly understand nothing. https://t.co/tbjp1lKex0
— Daniel Kurtzer (@DanKurtzer) June 23, 2019
Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel
Kurtzer served as ambassador under President George W. Bush and tweeted this reaction.
I would give this so-called plan a C- from an undergraduate student. The authors of the plan clearly understand nothing.
Michael Koplow, policy director, Israel Policy Forum
Koplow is affiliated with a centrist U.S. advocacy group promoting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From Twitter:
It is the Monty Python sketch of Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives.
Even consider[ing] that this plan treats the West Bank and Gaza as a single entity, which is great so far as the Palestinians are concerned but runs contrary to current Israeli policy and is also belied by the facts on the ground. This really is the dead parrot sketch as [Israeli-Palestinian] peace
Dan Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel
Shapiro, who served under President Obama, shared his reaction with NPR.
There are plenty of good ideas in the economic plan. None of them are new.They have been proposed in previous economic plans.
But there are two big problems. First, the U.S. had aid programs to support all these goals, but the Trump administration canceled them. That kills our credibility in asking others for money.
Second, you can’t get others to invest in this effort without knowing the political backdrop. And since the administration has not presented its political plan, I expect most countries in Bahrain to say, “We are theoretically prepared to invest later, as long as we are talking about a two-state solution.”
Dave Harden, former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s mission for the Palestinian territories
Harden directed the local USAID mission under President Obama. He spoke with NPR on Sunday.
None of this is actually new … we’ve had lots of discussions about opening up Gaza, or power and water, or bringing in agriculture and trade. In many respects, none of this is new. The limitation has always been implementing it and making it succeed.
Israel is the dominant party … they have the most opportunity, control, power and ability to change the economic equation. Certainly more than the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
I like that [the plan is] audacious. I like that it’s regional. I like that it includes other actors, other nations …
The negotiating team is not credible in the eyes of the Palestinians. And so, therefore, it is very likely that they don’t get as much traction as they want, because they are perceived as being completely one-sided. So the bottom line is: good plan, big ideas, unlikely to succeed.
Robi Damelin, Israeli spokesperson, the Parents Circle Families Forum
Damelin is affiliated with a peace group of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She and a Palestinian colleague, Bassam Aramin, are pictured in the U.S. economic plan promotional materials. In an op-ed for Haaretz with the headline “We Bereaved Israeli and Palestinian Parents Will Not Be Pawns in Kushner’s Peace Plan,” she complains about use of the photos, referring to herself and Aramin in the third person.
The U.S. administration decided to cut all funding for cross-border peace and reconciliation activities. Imagine what this did to hospitals, to schools and to all the nongovernmental organizations. This message, given with little warning or time to plan, left us with a 30% hole in our budget.
Now comes the most cynical and cruel abuse of these two people and their organization. Jared Kushner is using them as a pawn by displaying their pictures to illustrate and unveil his “Economy First” plan for Mideast peace. He did not ask their permission, which would not have been granted. We as an organization have nothing to do with this plan and resent the use of our pictures.
Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s minister for regional cooperation
Speaking Sunday with Israeli radio, Hanegbi discussed the U.S. proposal for a road or train linking the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
[It] will be relevant when Gaza will stop being a pro-Iranian terror kingdom, meaning it’s irrelevant today and in the foreseeable future.
Dore Gold, former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry
Gold, who has served as a longtime advisor to Netanyahu, spoke with NPR after the U.S. economic proposal was unveiled.
The trains are pulling out of the station. Unfortunately, the Palestinians are letting go. I think the [Bahrain] event could be important, if handled correctly. There are a number of issues that, if dealt with, could be an advantage, even if it does not replace the political solution.
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon
President Mahmoud Abbas and the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, say that the plan is dead on arrival and that engaging with it is tantamount to a Palestinian declaration of surrender. I ask: What’s wrong with Palestinian surrender?
… A national suicide of the Palestinians’ current political and cultural ethos is precisely what is needed for peace. The belief that the Jews have no right to the land and Israel is to be destroyed, which engenders a culture of hate and incitement, needs to end… The United States did not eradicate the German and Japanese people after their surrender in World War II, but instead helped transform them from imperial military powers to what are today among the world’s leading economic powerhouses… There is no reason to believe a Palestinian declaration of surrender could not lead to a similar transformation.
Ambassador Husam Zomlot, Palestinian envoy to the United Kingdom and former envoy to the U.S.
Zomlot tweeted in response to Danon’s New York Times op-ed.
Obviously the Trump [Middle East] team are acting on such supremacists ideas. Except we don’t have an army that can surrender. We only have the greatest most resilient nation on earth: the people of Palestine. Surrender is not part of our history, resurrection is!