Things That Matter

New Safety Measures In The Dominican Republic Following American Deaths

It’s only common sense that tells you to watch your back when you travel, no matter where you go. After all, tourists are prime targets for scams, pickpockets, and the like. And sure, sometimes certain places give you a bad dose of something, which leaves you making best friends with the toilet bowl for a good 24 hours. But, what you most likely don’t anticipate is having to contend with death – and after the deaths of 11 American tourists in the Dominican Republic, officials have been scrambling to deal with the fallout.

New safety measures are being rolled out to protect and assist American tourists visiting the Dominican Republic.

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The reason why we know this is because officials from the Dominican Republic, along with the US Ambassador, gathered in New York City to announce the new initiatives to be put in place. Talking to the media at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan, the Dominican Republic’s Minister of Tourism, Javier Garcia, said that the proposed safety measures are designed to address safety issues reported to be at the center of the tourists’ deaths. Granted, even though the safety measures were only recently announced, it’s likely that these initiatives have been in the works for a while – so here’s hoping that they’ve hashed out all the little details, and see some success!

So what was said in the announcement?

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Well, there were four main changes that are gonna be made in the Dominican Republic. Firstly, the plan is to reinforce mandates requiring that both emergency information and 911 be available in guest rooms. A new emergency tourist center, manned by multi-lingual staff, is to be constructed in Bávaro, Punta Cana. The aim behind this initiative is to ensure that, should there actually be an emergency, then there is plenty of help on hand. It’s great to see that they’ve considered language barriers, too, as navigating them can be the difference between life and death in an emergency.

Improved access to emergency services is not all that’s been announced.

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The Ministry of Tourism also announced a partnership with Ecolab, a U.S.-based water, hygiene, and energy technology developer. Ecolab has been brought on board as a training and certification provider for current and would-be Department of Tourism, Services and Companies inspectors. The benefit of this partnership is that the U.S. tends to set acceptable standards for lots of industries, worldwide. Granted, we’re not here to go down that rabbit hole and judge whether that’s a good or a bad thing. Rather, it’s important to acknowledge the line of thinking that if inspectors from the Department of Tourism, Services, and Companies have been trained to what’s synonymous with a world-class standard, at what they do.

This means inspectors who are good at their job ensuring that accidents don’t happen.

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In terms of more general security, our man Garcia also announced that 4,000 agents would be hired across the tourist security agency and the national police. Beyond manpower, 3,000 additional public security cameras are to be installed. On the one hand, this indicates a considerable boost to security resources within the Dominican Republic. On the other hand, not many specifics were mentioned around this new personnel and cameras. For example: where exactly would these agents and cameras be stationed? It’s no good if they’re just added to the current roster of security resources, without any thought about how they could make an impact. It’s no good placing a camera in a busy thoroughfare if it’s not really an area where any crime occurs in the first place, right?

The US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic was on board with the announcement.

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Robin Bernstein reminded the press that the U.S. State Department maintains a level-two advisory on travel to the Dominican Republic – a standard that’s also been applied to countries such as Spain, Denmark, and Belgium. In fact, she declared that the deaths of the American tourists in the Dominican Republic fueled an “unfounded negative campaign,” which has created a “tourism crisis” for the country. “American tourists should feel safe and secure,” Bernstein said. “I am totally comfortable with [the Dominican Republic’s] safety level, it is one of the safest tourist destinations I have ever visited. In fact, it has now become an even safer place to come because of the initiatives.”

The ambassador is cautiously optimistic about the long-term benefits of these safety measures.

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While the Ambassador indicated that she has full faith in the safety standards of the Dominican Republic, she also addressed the reports that tainted alcohol had lead to the deaths of U.S. tourists. “If it was alcohol, people would be dropping like flies,” Bernstein said. “It is not alcohol.” However, she did not offer an alternative explanation as to why the deaths occurred.

Not all of the deaths have been attributed to compromised alcohol.

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That doesn’t mean that concerns haven’t been raised around the alcohol provided at hotels in the Caribbean country. Back in June, Hard Rock Hotel and Casino announced that it would remove liquor dispensers from the guest rooms at its Punta Cana location. Apparently, this was due to “guest feedback” and an effort to “enhance safety moving forward.” From there on in, all alcohol onsite would be brand-name and sourced from the U.S. – bar specialty beverages from the Dominican Republic. Hard Rock also announced that it would be contracting a U.S. third party organizations to assist with inspecting and testing the location’s food and beverages. Seems that it’s a bit of overkill for just merely responding to customer feedback.

Some think that the timing seems a little too coincidental to think otherwise.

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In addition to the Hard Rock Hotel’s change in company policy, Delta Airlines also decided to give its customers a bit of leeway with their flights. The most recent death of 46-year-old Denver resident, Khalid Adkins, on July 25 triggered an announcement from Delta Airlines that the airline would allow travelers with tickets to Punta Cana to cancel or reschedule their flights “due to recent events” – a euphemism for the deaths that have occurred in the region. 

Despite the reactions of these companies to the deaths, the facts still say that the Dominican Republic is a relatively safe holiday destination.

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For anyone who is planning to travel to the Dominican Republic, it’s worth thinking about this: last year, about 13 U.S. citizens died in the Dominican Republic. In 2017, the figure was 17 deaths. So, the rate of deaths is actually decreasing for U.S. citizens traveling to the Caribbean island. The Dominican Republic saw more than 2.7 million visitors from the U.S. in 2017.

Yet, it is always important to feel safe and comfortable when traveling.

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At the end of the day, there’s just not enough information out there to really say how many of the deaths could be connected – or if they were connected at all, save the fact that these US tourists traveled to the same place. Some of the US citizens who died did so due to car accidents, or heart conditions – things that, unfortunately, happen all too common in the US, too. However, some of the deaths are yet to have a particular cause attributed to them. A few of them have occurred after the tourist was drinking, exhibiting symptoms such as excessive vomiting. And, okay, entirely possible that authorities are genuinely still investigating the causes of the deaths, or even keeping the cause of the deaths quiet out of respect for the families of the victims. But, the moral of the story is that it never hurts to exercise caution when you’re in traveling overseas, babes.

READ: Dominicans Are Taking To Social Media To Make Sure That People Stop Trying To Cancel The Dominican Republic

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The Dominican Republic Finally Outlaws Child Marriage After Years of Campaigning by Girls’ Rights Activists

Fierce

The Dominican Republic Finally Outlaws Child Marriage After Years of Campaigning by Girls’ Rights Activists

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Outside of the U.S., some good news has occurred amidst a week that has otherwise been full of mayhem and chaos.

On Wednesday, the Dominican Republic’s Executive Branch approved a law that unilaterally bans child marriage in its country.

In the past, children younger than 18 were allowed to marry with a special exemption from a judge. These exemptions happened often. Now, no woman or man under the age of 18 are allowed to marry under any circumstances in the Dominican Republic.

This move is significant because the Dominican Republic has the highest rates of child marriage in Latin America and the Caribbean. Official government figures show that 36% of Dominican girls and adolescents marry or enter into “unions” before the age of 18. In 12% of these relationships, the female partner was less than 15 years old.

More informal “unions” where a girl simply moves into an older man’s household are also common in the DR. These are very common in higher poverty communities where many girls are considered a financial burden on their families. Unions like these will be harder to penalize because there is no formal documentation of their partnership.

There are multiple factors that play into the Dominican Republic’s high child marriage rate.

One of the main factors is the culture of machismo that informs the way that young men and women approach relationships.

According to research conducted by Plan International, 81% of Dominican girls said they preferred men that were five years older than them. This statistic is in stark contrest to 39% of Dominican men who prefer their partners 18 or younger because they found them more “obedient” and “adaptable”.

Not only that, but there is also a strong cultural expectation for girls and women to become mothers and wives. These cultural beliefs have simply stoked the practice of child marriage.

“Child marriage and early unions are seen as normal in society. It is driven by machismo that sees the role of a woman to be just a mother and wife,” said Rosa Elcarte, UNICEF’s representative in the Dominican Republic, to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Ending early unions will require years of work to change cultural norms.”

Feminists and human rights activists consider this law a win after many years campaigning to put an end to this practice.

But on a bittersweet note, many advocates realize that one law doesn’t dismantle the patriarchal structure of their culture that enabled this practice for so long. There is still a lot of work to be done.

“Our girls and adolescents will be protected … and cannot be forced into marriage in their childhood or adolescence, which in the past was often carried out by parents and legally allowed,” said Sonia Hernandez, an associate director of the International Justice Mission, in a statement to NBC News.

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Mexico Announces 11 New Pueblos Mágicos And It’s The Post-COVID Travel Lust We All Need Right Now

Culture

Mexico Announces 11 New Pueblos Mágicos And It’s The Post-COVID Travel Lust We All Need Right Now

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Although Mexico is literally one of seven countries that U.S. citizens can travel to right now amid the global Coronavirus pandemic, it doesn’t mean that we should all pack up our suitcases and hop on a plane. In fact, U.S. visitors to the country are already causing a spike in cases across the country.

However, Mexico is looking forward to a post-COVID world and the hopeful return of tourism to the country, which so many Mexicans depend on for their livelihoods.

With that in mind, the government is expanding its widely successful ‘Pueblo Magico’ program that highlights cities and towns across the country for historical, architectural and/or cultural contributions to the country.

Just last week, officials announced 11 new pueblos to the list of 121 existing destinations on the list, with the hope that these new communities will become pillars of the economy and help drive tourism and much-needed growth.

Mexico adds 11 new destinations to the successful ‘Pueblo Mágico’ program.

Mexico has long been a popular destination for travelers from around the world. But much of that tourism (and along with the economic benefits) has focused on the large coastal resorts, like Puerto Vallara and Cancun. The government hoped to help diversify that development when it launched the ‘Pueblo Mágico’ program, by bringing tourists to typically less traveled destinations.

Now, the list of 121 existing “magical towns” has grown by 11 more as the government announced new destinations to the list for 2021.

Mexico’s lakeside community of Ajijic, Jalisco, and the small port of Sisal, Yucatán, are among 11 new “Magical Towns” announced last week by the federal Tourism Ministry. The other nine new Pueblos Mágicos are Isla Aguada, Campeche; Maní, Yucatán; Mexcaltitán, Nayarit; Paracho, Michoacán; Santa Catarina Juquila, Oaxaca; Santa María del Río, San Luis Potosí; Tetela de Ocampo, Puebla; Tonatico, México state; and Zempoala, Hidalgo.

Announcing the new Magical Towns at a virtual press conference, Tourism Minister Miguel Torruco said that they and the existing ones will become “pillars of the regional and national economy” under the current federal government.

He also said that domestic tourism – many of the Pueblos Mágicos rely heavily on local visitors – will be “the driving force” of the tourism recovery amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

As we wait for a post-COVID world, here’s a look at some of the highlights from these incredible pueblos mágicos.

Located south of Guadalajara on the banks of Lake Chapala, Ajijic has a population of around 10,000 people, a large number of whom are retired expats from the United States and Canada. The town has a lakeside malecón, or promenade, a well-maintained central square, cobblestone streets and several art galleries among other attractions.

Sisal will likely grow into a very popular tourist destination.

Sisal is located about 50 miles northwest of Mérida on the Gulf of Mexico coast. Formerly Yucatán’s main port, it is now a sleepy beach town with fewer than 2,000 residents. The town’s name comes from the Sisal plant, a species of agave that yields a sturdy fiber that was once shipped abroad from the Yucatán port. Sisal, the town, has a fort, pier and an abundance of mangroves that can be visited on a tour with a local guide.

Also in the state of Yucatán, Maní is a small city about 65 miles south of Mérida. Inhabited by the indigenous Mayan people for thousands of years, the newly-minted Pueblo Mágico has a 16th-century church and convent. Uxmal, one of the Yucatán Peninsula’s most impressive archaeological sites, is located less than a hour’s drive to the west.

In Michoacán, Paracho draws on its rich traditions.

The guitar making hub of Paracho, located about 75 miles west of Michoacán’s capital Morelia, is the sixth new town on the Pueblos Mágicos list. Full of shops that sell handmade guitars and other stringed instruments, Paracho’s fame was enhanced by the animated Day of the Dead-inspired Disney-Pixar film Coco because an artisan who trained there was responsible for the design of the main characters’s white guitar.

Oaxaca already has its fair share of pueblos mágicos but this new addition was much welcomed.

Inland from the Oaxaca resort town of Puerto Escondido is Santa Catarina Juquila, a town of about 6,000 people best known for its church. The Santuario de Nuestra Señora Imaculada de Juquila (Shrine of Our Immaculate Lady of Juquila) houses a small statue of the Juquila virgin, which has been venerated for hundreds of years. As a result, the church is a popular destination for Catholic pilgrims.

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