Chuck Schumer wants ATF to probe tourist deaths in Dominican Republic

In recent weeks there have been a number of stories in the news regarding American tourists who died under suspicious circumstances while vacationing in the Dominican Republic.

While several media outlets have indeed been shining a light on developments and asking key questions, few politicians have weighed in on the troubling matter until now, with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) calling Sunday for a major U.S. federal agency to investigate the unexplained deaths.

Working theory

Schumer has requested that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, better known simply as the ATF, lend support to the FBI as it probes the deaths of at least eight American tourists on the Carribean island.

While the ATF is most famous — or infamous, depending upon one’s perspective — for regulating firearms, the agency also has regulatory control over alcohol, as the name quite obviously implies.

The ostensible reason for the agency’s involvement in this matter is the prevailing, yet still unproven theory that the deaths of the American tourists are linked to potentially adulterated or poisoned alcohol stocked in guest rooms at resort hotels frequented by Americans.

Question of jurisdiction

In a statement provided to the media, Schumer said, “Given that we still have a whole lot of questions and very few answers into just what, if anything, is cause for the recent spate of sicknesses and several deaths of Americans in the Dominican Republic, the feds should double their efforts on helping get to the bottom of things.”

Though the ATF does maintain some branch offices throughout the Carribean region, it remains unclear if the U.S. agency has any jurisdiction in the Dominican Republic to investigate the matter, at least not without an explicit invitation to do so from Dominican officials.

Schumer indicated that he believes the agency’s forensic and technical capabilities could prove extremely helpful to local authorities.

Dominicans downplay concerns

For their part, Dominican officials have denied that there is any real mystery here, much less a dark conspiracy and have asserted that all of the reported deaths were attributable to natural causes.

Moreover, the Dominican Republic’s tourism minister, Francisco Javier Garcia, suggested that the deaths of American tourists this year were, statistically speaking, no different from any other year and essentially accused the U.S. media of lumping the deaths together for some unspecified purpose.

So far, autopsies have reportedly been completed on five of the eight deaths, and the FBI is providing toxicology testing and other assistance in the remaining three cases.

Whether the ATF is ultimately dispatched to the Dominican Republic to investigate reports linking alcohol consumption to the mysterious deaths remains to be seen, but at least there is now some high-level attention being shifted to the matter, so hopefully, satisfactory answers to surviving family members’ questions will soon be forthcoming.

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