As the United Nations prepared to send a peacekeeping force to Haiti, armed gangs continued to hold sway in the country, while the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and Venezuela refused to recognize the U.S.-installed interim government.

Late last week the UN said it would send a contingent of over 8,000 troops and police to Haiti for an initial period of six months. The new force would take over from the 3,600-member force of mostly U.S. troops that entered the country after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was kidnapped and forced out Feb. 29 by U.S. forces.

The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti – to be called Minustah – is to maintain law and order, help the government demobilize armed groups and protect civilians from violence. It will also help the U.S.-installed transitional government restructure the police and organize elections, expected next year.

Last month Venezuela joined the Caricom nations in refusing to recognize the interim government headed by Gerard Latortue. “We don’t recognize Haiti’s new government,” said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, himself a target of Bush administration ouster efforts. “The president of Haiti is named Jean-Bertrand Aristide and he was elected by his people,” said Chavez.

Caricom announced last week that it was postponing two high-level meetings with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, on fighting terrorism and on financial and security concerns, because Washington insisted the Haitian interim government participate. Caricom is slated to consider in the next few weeks whether to recognize the new government.

If developments of recent weeks are any indication, the UN peacekeepers will have their hands full. The London-based Haiti Support Group said April 21 that armed irregular forces are continuing to work at establishing themselves as de facto administrative authorities around the country. It cited incidents in Jacmel and St. Marc, in which armed gangs prevented installation of government administrators, claiming the right to be consulted about all appointments.

At the same time, the Support Group said, by negotiating with the armed gangs holding de facto power in cities including Gonaives, Cap-Haitien, Les Cayes and Hinche, the interim government and foreign intervention forces “have lent these blatantly illegal, de facto authorities considerable credibility.”

The Haiti Support Group called on “the individuals and organizations that were so vocal in supporting democracy and the rule of law during the Aristide/Neptune administration to end their silence on the continuing erosion of governmental authority over the last two months.”