by Jacob Lyman

History has a weird way of showing sorts of weird butterfly effects; moments on the opposite end of the globe that had surprising local repercussions.

Entering the 1970’s, the Tooele International Smelting and Refining facility was an aging and outdated facility. The copper smelting portion had closed in the 1940’s, and the entire smelter was focused on lead and zinc production. International Smelting’s parent company Anaconda though was still expanding into the global market, and one of their most illustrious projects was a series of open pit copper mines in the mineral rich Andean ranges in Chile.

A chain of dominoes though began to fall, and Chile soon elected as president an openly Marxist politician, Salvador Allende. Within a year of taking office, Allende nationalized all the mines in the nation, kicking out foreign owners including Anaconda.

Tooele Smelter as Photographed by the HAER survey in 1972

For Anaconda the loss of the Chile mines was a sudden hit, and the company had to trim resources to stay solvent. One of the first facilities to get cut was the Tooele smelter; the decision was made to close down at the end of 1971, however due to an overstock of materials the smelter ended up operating into January 1972 before closing. Tooele, Utah had lost a major employment source. The Tooele Valley Railway, once critical in hauling ore to the smelter had now been relegated to hauling trains of scrap out from the now under demolition smelter site.

Anaconda looking to regain lost market share, began prospecting the old Highland Boy claims near Bingham Canyon, and began plans for a four shaft mine at Carr Fork near the old Tooele smelter site. Despite the Carr Fork project bringing jobs and stability back to Tooele, it wasn’t enough to stave off Anaconda’s own woes and the company was gobbled up by the oil company ARCO in 1977. Even then, a drop in copper prices would bring a sudden end to the Carr Fork mine and the Tooele Valley Railway both in the 1980’s.

Salvador Allende in Chile

In the tension of the Cold War where the US and USSR tended to use Latin American nations as cat paws and proxy battlegrounds; the CIA backed a plan for the military to overthrow Allende’s government… perhaps in retribution for how Allende had crippled American business interests including Anaconda’s. In September 1973, early spring in Chile; a military junta lead by General Augusto Pinochet ousted Allende. Shortly afterwards Allende committed suicide. The Pinochet years turned into a dark dictatorship; not unlike the many other CIA backed juntas in South America. It is estimated that Pinochet’s regime killed about 3,197 people and tortured and imprisoned about 29,000. Although Chile eventually transitioned back to a representative democratic republic in 1990, Pinochet continued to hold politcal influence until his death in 2006 while dodging claims of tax fraud and mounting human rights accusations.

Memorial to the victims of the Pinochet regime. Photo by Carlos Teixidor Cadenas.

Would the Tooele smelter have still closed down without the actions of Allende? Likely, the facility was aging; and a sudden interest in environmental protection likely would have hit Tooele hard had it survived beyond 1972, while decreasing domestic lead markets would have also lead to its demise. Its just strange how a Marxist president in Chile was intricately responsible for hastening the demise of a plant in Utah, a world away from him and far from what most would assume to be his own sphere of influence. Butterfly effects indeed.