Americans Warned Against Going to Caribbean Tourist Destination Over Concerns of Violence

Americans Warned Against Going to Caribbean Tourist Destination Over Concerns of Violence
Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic offers plenty of beaches as well as other outdoor activities. (Photo courtesy of Robert Coffey,
Jack Phillips

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday issued a travel advisory for U.S. citizens traveling to the Dominican Republic due to a recent increase in sexual assaults and violent crime.

A yellow-colored, level two advisory was issued for travelers going to the Caribbean tourist hotspot that they should "exercise increased caution," according to the bulletin.

"Violent crime, including armed robbery, homicide and sexual assault is a concern throughout the Dominican Republic," said the State Department in its advisory. "The wide availability of weapons, the use and trade of illicit drugs, and a weak criminal justice system contribute to the high level of criminality on the broader scale."

Notably, the Dominican Republican's Level 2 advisory has the same warning level as countries like Germany, Italy, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, and the Bahamas.

According to the State Department, recent reports indicate American citizens have been robbed by individuals who they met via dating apps in the Dominican Republic. Some of the incidents involved drugs that occurred at hotels and resorts.
One American woman said she was sexually assaulted after being drugged in late January when she visited the country with a friend. After she ordered a drink at a live entertainment venue, she blacked out and was allegedly assaulted.

“Sexual assault victims in the Dominican Republic should not expect the totality of assistance offered in the United States,” the U.S. agency's travel advisory said. The process in the Dominican Republic moves "very slowly" and that victims may have to return to the country.

If Americans go to the Dominican Republic in the coming months, State Department officials have advised them to be aware of their surroundings, not display expensive watches or jewelry, and not try to physically resist any robbery attempts.

Travelers should also be cautious about the taxis they’re using by using one hailed via their hotel, resort, or through a vetted company. There are also rideshare services, including Uber, in the Dominican Republic. Those who suffer any kind of assault should contact their hotel to contact the police and the U.S. Embassy, officials say.

Dominican officials have issued no public response after the State Department revised its advisory to Level 2.

Other Alerts

The Dominican Republic shares a border with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola. Haiti in recent months has seen a significant uptick in crime, gang activity, and vigilantism in the wake of the 2021 assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse and as armed groups have taken over swaths of territory in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

About a month ago, the FBI issued an advisory to Americans not to travel to Haiti in the midst of the violence and criminal activity, which includes kidnappings.

“While we understand that there are strong ties between Haiti and South Florida, before traveling there one should consider the trauma and financial costs of being kidnapped not only to themselves but to their family and friends as well,” FBI Supervisory Special Agent Liz Santamaria told the Miami Herald in late April.

If an American citizen decides to go to Haiti for any reason, the agency included a large number of recommended actions that a traveler should take. That includes avoiding demonstrations or crowds, traveling in groups, and not driving through roadblocks.

A woman walks past a barricade amid gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 3, 2023. (Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters)
A woman walks past a barricade amid gang violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 3, 2023. (Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters)
“Kidnapping is widespread, and victims regularly include U.S. citizens,” the State Department warns. “Kidnappers may use sophisticated planning or take advantage of unplanned opportunities, and even convoys have been attacked. Kidnapping cases often involve ransom negotiations and U.S. citizen victims have been physically harmed during kidnappings. Victims’ families have paid thousands of dollars to rescue their family members.”

Earlier this year, two U.S. citizens were kidnapped in Haiti when they visited the country to see relatives and attend a local festival. Jean Dickens Toussaint and his wife, Abigail Toussaint, were released earlier in April after spending a month in captivity.

Since the death of Moïse in mid-2021, violence and lawlessness in Haiti—considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere—has spiraled out of control.

Criminal gangs, including an organization reportedly led by former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, have taken over vast swaths of Haiti, including Port-au-Prince. “Gang expansion into areas previously considered safe … has been alarming,” said the United Nations Security Council in a report released in April.

Reported killings from January to March 31 have risen by more than 20 percent compared with the last quarter of 2022, and 637 kidnappings have been reported so far this year, an increase of 63 percent compared with the last three months of 2022, the report stated. Meanwhile, Haiti’s National Police has been decimated in recent years.

The country only has 1.2 officers per 1,000 inhabitants of more than 11 million people, while “the police remain under resourced and face overwhelming odds in their struggle to keep gangs from tightening their grip on the country,” the U.N. report stated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.