Venezuela navy threatened to "open fire" on U.S.-financed aid ship, Puerto Rico's governor says

By Camilo Montoya-Galvez

/ CBS News

Trump on humanitarian aid for Venezuela

A Venezuelan Navy vessel threatened to "open fire" on a ship carrying humanitarian aid that was dispatched and financed by Puerto Rico's government, according to the island's governor.

In a statement Saturday night, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he instructed the ship, which departed the island Wednesday and has six American citizens on board, to leave the area where it was reportedly threatened by embattled President Nicolás Maduro's navy to ensure the crew's safety.

"This is a direct threat against a humanitarian mission being carried out by American citizens," he said. "This is unacceptable and shameful."

Rosselló said he had notified U.S. government official about the alleged incident.

A spokesperson for the Puerto Rican government told CBS News the ship was entering Venezuelan territorial waters when it was threatened. The ship, carrying more than 200 tons of humanitarian aid, was heading to the port city of Puerto Cabello, in Venezuela's northwestern coast, the spokesperson added.

Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, a state with one of the largest Puerto Rican communities in the nation, said the U.S. would not tolerate any threats against American citizens. "The U.S. will stand against the threats of gangs and thugs and will ensure the safety of our citizens!," Scott wrote on Twitter Saturday night.

[email protected] has now threatened U.S. citizens for attempting to help the people of #Venezuela and that will not be tolerated.

The U.S. will stand against the threats of gangs and thugs and will ensure the safety of our citizens! https://t.co/cAqev1kn28

— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) February 23, 2019

The State Department didn't immediately respond to CBS News' request for comment.

Saturday was a critical moment in the ongoing political standoff in Venezuela between Maduro's regime and the main opposition leader, National Assembly President Juan Guaidó, who is backed by the U.S. and a growing international coalition. Bold efforts by opposition officials, international workers and civilians to transport tons of foreign aid into Venezuela from its borders with Colombia and Brazil have provoked deadly skirmishes.

According to the government of Colombia, a staunch U.S. ally which has taken in more than a million refugees from its crisis-stricken neighbor, dozens of Venezuelan soldiers defected and entered Colombia Saturday. After accusing Colombia of "lending itself to an aggression against Venezuela," Maduro severed ties with the neighboring country and expelled its diplomats.

Vice President Michael Pence will travel to Colombia Monday and call for Maduro's ouster.

Along with recognizing Guaidó and issuing sweeping sanctions against the largest state-owned oil company, the Trump administration has pledged more than $20 million in humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people.

First published on February 23, 2019 / 7:50 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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