Former President Rafael Antonio Caldera, 93, who helped found Venezuelan democracy after years of dictatorship and issued a pardon that paved the way for Hugo Chavez to rise to power, has died.

Mr. Caldera died yesterday in the capital, Caracas, his son Andres Caldera told Globovision news channel. He did not give a cause of death, but the former president had suffered from Parkinson's disease.

Born in 1916 in the northwestern state of Yaracuy, Mr. Caldera entered politics in the 1930s. He 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 it, COPEI and Romulo Betancourt's Democratic Action party shared power for 40 years.

As president from 1969 to 1974, Mr. Caldera eliminated the remnants of leftist guerrilla movements by granting them amnesty.

Two decades later, with Venezuela in turmoil after two failed military coups and the impeachment of President Carlos Andres Perez on corruption charges, Mr. Caldera won a new term in 1993.

In office, he soon confronted the nation's worst banking crisis. Half of Venezuela's banks failed. He decreed price and currency exchange controls to surmount the crisis and focused on development in interior Venezuela.

He led the country through relative stability - and also granted amnesty to a young army paratroop commander behind one of the 1992 coup attempts: Hugo Chavez, who four years later would be elected to succeed Mr. Caldera. Chavez and Mr. Caldera were later at odds.

- AP