As former dictator Augusto Pinochet was preparing to take pretrial mental exams, and as the Chilean military was releasing a report acknowledging that during the Pinochet dictatorship the bodies of scores of political opponents and leftists had been thrown into the ocean, perhaps the satirical Santiago tabloid The Clinic put the situation most pungently. “Why Bother With the Tests?” asked the headline. “Only a Psychopath Would Toss Bodies Into the Sea.”
It was, nevertheless, rather satisfying to stand outside Chile’s main military hospital on the morning of January 10 and gawk as the physically and politically diminished 85-year-old former general was finally forced to submit to four days of tests to determine whether he was “demented or crazy”–those being the only thus-defined illnesses that, under Chilean law, would permit Pinochet to elude pending trial on charges of multiple murder and kidnapping.
The former dictator’s defense team had struggled mightily to evade the tests–as well as a trial. A few days before, Pinochet had openly refused even to show up for the court-ordered tests. But that course was reversed after he was paid a personal visit by the current army Commander in Chief, Gen. Ricardo Izurieta, who reportedly lectured Pinochet that he must comply with the law and the courts or else risk losing any military support he still had.
Izurieta’s lecture was striking evidence of the depth to which the once politically omnipotent and legally untouchable Pinochet had fallen. If any further proof was needed, it was enough to see that no more than a pathetic dozen Pinochetistas bothered to demonstrate in his favor in front of the hospital doors (primarily by physically attacking reporters and passing tourists, all considered members of the International Communist Conspiracy).
This was a helluva long way to come in two and a half years. In the fall of 1998, thousands of enraged Pinochet supporters, upon learning of his arrest in London on a Spanish warrant, took to the streets of Santiago and threatened to sack both the British and Spanish embassies. It seemed that the entirety of the Chilean political establishment was pleading for the dictator’s liberation.
Pinochet’s medical examiners eventually found him to be suffering “light to moderate vascular dementia”–clinical language for a form of arteriosclerosis. It was not enough to stop investigating magistrate Juan Guzmán Tapia from formally interrogating the former dictator and moving his case to the brink of trial. And so, on the morning of January 23, 2001, as all of Chile looked on amazed, Judge Guzmán, accompanied by court reporters and detectives from Chile’s federal police, entered Pinochet’s uptown mansion and for more than two hours subjected the former dictator–who had once boasted that not so much as a leaf moved in Chile without his consent–to the same sort of questioning imposed on any common criminal suspect. Guzmán quizzed Pinochet on some fifteen questions relating to accusations that the former dictator was the “intellectual author” of Chile’s most macabre massacre and the disappearance of seventy-five civilians.