Ex-dictator Pinochet has oral surgery in hospital

SANTIAGO, Chile, Reuters

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet underwent oral surgery in a military hospital on Sunday after an infection flared up, triggering swings in his blood pressure, hospital officials said.

A court is set to decide in the coming days whether Pinochet, who ruled Chile with an iron first between 1973 and 1990, is well enough mentally to stand trial on charges of covering up killings and abductions.

Seventy-five murders were allegedly committed by a helicopter-borne military death squad shortly after Pinochet’s 1973 coup.

Pinochet, 85, suffers from dementia, according to a Chilean court report. He also has diabetes and has had at least two strokes.

The military hospital in Santiago said in a statement his latest health problem was caused by “an orthodontal infection for which he had to undergo maxillary-facial surgery.”

His spokesman, Guillermo Garin, said the former general would spend Sunday night in the hospital.

On arrival, Pinochet was suffering “weakness and indisposition, accompanied by metabolic disturbances and swings in blood pressure,” the statement said.

“Last night he felt bad, and this morning the doctor examined him and became worried. There are blood pressure problems again, something that has shown up in the last couple of weeks,” Garin told the Cooperativa radio station.

The British government held Pinochet for 16 months last year but freed him after a judge ruled he was too ill to be extradited to Spain to face torture charges.

Human rights campaigners said Pinochet and his aides exaggerated the extent of his health problems to avoid his being sent to Spain.

His lawyers have told the Chilean court that the former general’s dementia is too severe for him to be able to assist in his defense.

The spokesman said the imminent ruling by the Appeals Court had not worried the former strongman unduly.

“He has not been so concerned that it could have affected his condition,” Garin said.

President Ricardo Lagos told Reuters in an interview on Friday that the wounds inflicted on Chile during Pinochet’s dictatorship, when more than 3,000 people were killed or “disappeared,” would never fully heal.