Rafael Antonio Caldera, a two-time president who helped establish democracy in Venezuela and issued the pardon that allowed Hugo Chavez to rise to power, died on Thursday in Caracas, his son said. He was 93.
Andres Caldera, in comments to Venezuelan television, did not give the cause of his father’s death, but the former president who governed Venezuela from 1969-1974 and 1994-1999 had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for several years.
Although 20 years divided his terms, Caldera’s manner of ruling was the same: Reserved, tough with political adversaries and inclined toward populism. He was also known for living simply and eschewing luxuries, and for integrity in a country where corruption is common.
In 1994, Caldera pardoned Chavez, who was jailed for leading a failed military coup two years earlier. But Caldera was later deeply at odds with Venezuela’s current president.
Chavez called Caldera’s family to express his condolences, the son said. Family members said they 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.
Caldera was considered one of the last survivors of the generation that built Venezuela’s democracy.
Born in 1916 in the state of Yaracuy, he obtained a political science degree at the Central University of Venezuela, entered politics in the 1930s, and in 1946 founded the Social-Christian COPEI party, a movement grounded in the middle class.
Fully democratic presidential elections were held the following year, won by the novelist Romulo Gallegos.
But democracy collapsed and Caldera helped revive it as one of the three signers of the Punto Fijo pact, which organized elections after the fall of dictator Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958.
Under the pact, COPEI and Romulo Betancourt’s Democratic Action party shared power for nearly 40 years.
“One of the heroes of our civil democracy has disappeared,” former presidential candidate and COPEI leader Eduardo Fernandez said.
In office, Caldera 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.
Caldera led the country through relative stability, and also granted amnesty to a young army paratrooper commander behind one of the coup attempts: Hugo Chavez, who four years later would be elected to succeed Caldera.
Caldera is survived by his wife, Alicia Pietri, and six children.
A funeral is scheduled for Dec. 26 in the capital.