CARACAS, Venezuela – Two-time President Rafael Antonio Caldera, considered one of the founders of Venezuelan democracy after decades of dictatorship, has died. He was 93.
Caldera died around 2 a.m. in the capital of Caracas, his son Andres Caldera told Globovision news channel.
Andres Caldera did not give a cause of death, but the former president suffered from Parkinson's disease for several years.
Born in 1916 in the northwestern state of Yaracuy, Caldera obtained a political science degree at the Central University of Venezuela, entered politics in the 1930s and founded the Social-Christian COPEI party in 1946.
He was one of the three signers of the Punto Fijo pact, which organized democratic elections after the fall of dictator Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958.
Under the pact, his Social Christian party, COPEI, and Romulo Betancourt's Democratic Action party shared power for nearly 40 years.
Caldera was president in 1969-74 and 1994-1999. Although 20 years divided his terms, his manner of ruling was the same: Reserved, tough with political adversaries and inclined toward populism.
During his first term, Caldera eliminated the remnants of leftist guerrilla movements by granting them a general amnesty. The period was also marked by lavish government spending of oil revenues on public works and a growing bureaucracy.
His second time in office, Caldera led the country through relative stability after two failed military coup attempts in 1992 and the impeachment of President Carlos Andres Perez on corruption charges in 1993.
He soon confronted the nation's worst banking crisis, in which half of Venezuelan banks failed. He decreed price and currency exchange controls to surmount the crisis and focused on development in interior Venezuela.
In 1994, Caldera pardoned and ordered the release of current President Hugo Chavez, who had spent two years in prison for leading the first 1992 coup as a young army paratroop commander.
The amnesty paved the way for the leftist leader's election in 1998 to succeed Caldera, but the two have been at odds.
In a 2003 newspaper interview, Caldera warned that violence could ensue if Chavez, using state resources, blocked efforts to hold a recall referendum on his leftist presidency. Caldera questioned the legitimacy of a new constitution under which Chavez has increased his power.
Chavez shot back that Caldera's comments "reflect the depths of desperation" that opponents to his rule had reached. He blamed Caldera and others for creating a corrupt system that left millions of Venezuelans to live in poverty.
Andres Caldera said the former president's relatives do not want the government to play any role in commemorating him.
"The family has already discussed the matter, and we decided we will not accept any homage from the government of Hugo Chavez," he said.