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Chapter Four DAVIDOFF'S VISITS After the unilateral communique of the beginning of March all parties to the dispute recognized that it was moving into a new and more difficult stage, although none realized just how serious it was about to become. It cannot be said that there was any lack of understanding at this point. If anything everyone understood each other only too well. The dispute was intensifying because Argentina had decided that the time had come for a breakthrough, which Britain could not provide so long as the islanders' wishes remained paramount. The diplomats lacked any freedom of manoeuvre. In Argentina a British response to the unilateral communique was awaited. If unsatisfactory, the ante would be upped in some way that had yet to be decided. Planning for a military intervention was continuing but the work was not yet complete. There was concern that the Falklands lobby might prove sufficiendy powerful to get the decision on Endurance reversed, with the result that Britain would reinforce the overall military position in the South Atlantic and develop closer co-operation with Chile. For their part the islanders were gloomy about the future as it became clear that the Argentine stance was toughening without a commensurate British response. And Endurance, it seemed, was still going to be withdrawn. In London it had now dawned on the Foreign Office that it would not be possible to prevaricate much longer, but the exact nature of the Argentine challenge remained uncertain. This widespread feeling that matters were moving to a head was 39 Crisis critical to the management of the scrap-metal merchants affair in March. In itself this was not an exceptional incident, but with both sides edgy it led to quicker and stronger reactions than before, working to confirm both sides' fears about the other's intentions. Project Alpha The scrap dealers in question were working for a private Argentine company, Georgias del Sur SA, run, since 1978, by Mr Constantino Davidoff. His contract had been awarded by a British firm in Edinburgh , Christian Salvesen Co., for the removal of what was left of the old whaling stations at Leith, Stromness and Husvik on the island of South Georgia. The British Embassy in Buenos Aires knew of the contract. Davidoff was a free-wheeling entrepreneur and there is little doubt that his role in the affair was governed largely by a desire to make money out of his contract. Financial difficulties meant that he needed help to get to South Georgia and service his group. At one point he even inquired whether HMS Endurance might be able to provide passage; this was refused.1 Accordingly in August 1981 he applied to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the Argentine Navy for permission to use its Antarctic transport ships at a favourable rate. This would involve a place on the ship to get to the Islands and then subsequent logistic runs over the four-year span of the contract. It was quite standard for naval transports to be used in this way in the Sub-Antarctic.2 When they were approached by Davidoff the Argentine authorities were aware that the British Antarctic base at Grytviken could be removed in the near future, and that the decision had been made to withdraw Endurance from the South Atlantic. An Argentine presence for the next four years, with yearly runs by transports to the Islands, under a legal contract between a British and an Argentine company, offered a way of strengthening their position in the disputed territories while setting precedents for joint ventures in the South Atlantic. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs therefore recommended to the Navy that it agree to Davidoff s request. 40 Davidoff s Visits This the Navy was happy to do. The advantages were obvious and could be achieved without having to do anything blatandy provocative. It had no alternative means of establishing a presence. The arrangement would allow for at least two stops a year for its ships on Antarctic duties to provide supplies. It seemed preferable to a covert attempt to establish a base on South Georgia, which might be precluded because of the fragile state of the negotiations with Britain. However, there was also a scheme to take advantage of the Davidoff venture to establish a base covertly. This was Project Alpha. The aim was to replicate the successful venture in 1976 when, in one of the first Junta's earliest acts a presence had been established on...


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