Contribution to Individual Liberty


Muso’s pamphlet in the 1970s Ten Lessons for Underdevelopment was key to awakening in me the vocation and commitment to defend liberty. The contribution of Manuel Ayau is decisive in the history of liberty. UFM is the holy see of liberalism in Latin America; and Manuel Ayau is our pope. Enrique Ghersi, attorney-at-law, Peru *

Manuel Ayau successfully established a new model for promoting classical liberal ideas in the world. Few anywhere have done anything like it. I believe, without exaggeration, that Manuel Ayau can be compared to Antony Fisher or Pierre Goodrich as a true pioneer, part of the generation that sought out new methods to transmit liberal ideas. Like them, Muso came up with his own unique path, one that perhaps called for more work at first—it is not the same to create a university as a think tank—but with more impact in the long run. His work has taken on a life of its own; it is part of a social fabric, part of the spontaneous order. Carlos Sabino, sociologist, Venezuela

Manuel Ayau’s contribution to human liberty has been as an “entrepreneur of ideas,” both as a master synthesizer and communicator of classical liberal thought through his writings, and as founder of Universidad Francisco Marroquín, a unique and lasting venture in the world of ideas.

Manuel Ayau applied his great entrepreneurial spirit and creativity to designing an institution and forging a team that have evolved into something far more than an imprint of the man and with a projection far beyond his country or lifetime. When he undertook this audacious enterprise in 1971, he did so in an environment that was intellectually hostile and politically dangerous, one that would call for personal risk and sacrifice. For more than four decades, with a balance of leadership and humility and a disdain for short cuts, he has invested enormous effort and time to attract, teach and inspire a team to take up the battle of ideas.

We believe that no one in Latin America has had more impact on those who today carry the torch of classical liberal ideas in the region. He has not only enriched and challenged their intellectual lives but by his example provides a model of courage especially for those who still face politically unstable and dangerous times.

Manuel Ayau is an example of a coherent life; his commitment to liberal philosophy is a thread that weaves through its every aspect. This is probably nowhere more manifest than in his difficult decision to leave the presidency of the university in 1989—when he was only 64 years old—to give following generations room to strengthen their wings and fly on their own, a move that would guarantee the university’s future beyond his person.


I knew the legend before I met the man: somewhere in the jungles of Central America was a light so bright that, like El Dorado, it could be seen from afar. In every encounter, I have learned from Muso. The balance of our relationship places me entirely in his debt. True intelligence is found in the power to make simple that which is very complex. In Ayau such intelligence overflows. It is thanks to intellectual promoters like him that ideas and institutional models advance in the world. Martín Krause, economist, Argentina

Manuel Ayau is a true intellectual hero, a giant not only in the world of ideas, but of turning ideas into reality, at the same level as a Ludwig von Mises or a Friedrich Hayek. Muso’s academic contributions have been fundamental. I have never heard anyone explain the concept of comparative advantage so clearly and conclusively. In this sense he is a twentieth century Frederick Bastiat with the same genius for taking the abstract and putting it—engagingly and convincingly; in editorials and pamphlets—into colloquial language that everyone can understand. He deserves recognition as one of those who have made a difference in the lives of the citizens of the world over the last 100 years, as one of the great heroes of classical liberalism of the twentieth century. Roberto Salinas, philosopher, Mexico

Manuel Ayau is a synthesizer and disseminator of ideas on a grand scale. I can think of no other person who has had the capacity to transmit classical liberal ideas with such force to so many people in such a short time. Juan Carlos Cachanosky, economist, Argentina

In 1959, one of Latin America’s first classical liberal think tanks was born in Guatemala of discussions among Ayau and a cluster of friends, who were concerned about the poverty of their country and what to do about it. At the Center for Economic and Social Studies (CEES), they set about studying, writing pamphlets and translating the thoughts of great classical liberal thinkers into Spanish which they mailed far and wide to anyone in Latin America who might or should be interested. These pamphlets, especially those—like the one that landed in Ghersi’s hands—penned by Ayau, would echo throughout Latin America.

The extraordinary success of the Fabian Society convinced Ayau and his small group of followers (“rebellious improvisers,” in his words) that education of the influential elite and not of the masses was the most determining factor in the destiny of a country. For the university they founded, they developed a foundational document (Ideario/Philosophy) that imbues all aspects of the institutional structure with a classical liberal philosophical consistency: organization, administration, teaching activities, and relationship to society. Although a non-profit, the university is run as an entrepreneurial venture, subjecting the decisions and activities of authorities and teachers to the law of supply and demand. Flying in the face of traditional academia, UFM does not offer tenure, board members are business people and entrepreneurs, department budgets must be balanced, and to fulfill its social role as educator, the university does not engage in the political and social issues of the day so that it may focus on essential themes that transcend these issues in time. We also believe it to be unique in the world for another reason: all students regardless of discipline are taught the causes and origins of the wealth of nations.


Ayau knew how to pull together an important group of persons. He also knew when to withdraw and delegate to the next generation. He created a tremendous esprit de corps, along with norms and rules that guarantee that the institution will last over time. Carlos Alberto Montaner, journalist, Cuba (exiled in Spain)

UFM completely changed my mindset. I came from a world where the dominant ideas are leftist. UFM presented me with a different way to look at the structure of society and the roles of the state and the entrepreneur. UFM is a seedbed. From inside Guatemala, we sometimes don’t realize how wide an impact UFM is having. As I begin to travel, I realize that we have graduates around the world who are defending liberal ideas with intellectual honesty. Andrés Marroquín, PhD program in economics, George Mason University

The work of UFM—because it has been faithful to its mission over the decades—generates a point of reference in the ideological landscape of Guatemala, like a great river or mountain range, something EVERYONE has to take into account, whether they like it or not. Carlos Sabino

In countries with a twisted institutional base, straightening out the mess is often like trying to put back together a broken egg. You need a new egg. In the meantime, however, windows of political opportunity occasionally open up to extend individual liberty by ratcheting the machinery of the state at the level of a particular policy measure or even a constitutional reform.

Ayau and members of the classical liberal community formed by Ayau have been directly responsible for reforms that have had huge and tangible impact on individual liberty in Guatemala; sometimes as outsiders, sometimes from a key position on the inside: in the mid-80s the central bank abandoned fixed exchange rates; in 1993, a constitutional reform prohibited the central bank from lending to the government; in 1998, Guatemala’s congress passed the most liberal telecommunications law in the world; in 2001, the central bank authorized use of all currencies as legal tender.

In the Third World such opportunities to effect change are a bit like the appearance of a comet. When they come along you had better be ready, since they may not be back for a long while. Unfortunately in most countries such precious opportunities go unnoticed. Ayau, as a person and through UFM, has created a critical mass of classical liberal thinkers and advocates—in all professions and distributed over generations—with the intellectual eyes to recognize a comet (or an egg) when it passes and the courage of their convictions to make the most of it.


When Ayau started UFM, statist, populist and Marxist ideas were converging in a huge wave of followers in Latin America. Sometimes armed, sometimes peaceful. In a country that has had as much violence as Guatemala, what he did takes on a level of personal risk that is almost heroic. Carlos Alberto Montaner

Guatemala was pioneering territory for Marxism in Latin America—the first communist experiment—long before Cuba. For the international communist movement, Guatemala was THE place to be; Che Guevara was involved in Guatemala before Cuba. The movement took root in the national university and from there it spread to the private universities, creating a front against UFM.

When UFM was founded, the guerilla movement was just entering its period of greatest strength. Manuel Ayau knew that the philosophy he espoused was a magnet for assassination. The many precautions he took (that today he downplays as amusing anecdotes) most certainly saved him: disguises—wigs, funny glasses, mustaches—, switching vehicles, and a button to start the engine of his bullet proof car from afar in case it was rigged with a bomb. Here again, we believe he set an example of the coherent life, put to the test: If my ideas are more important than my person, this means that I must risk my life for them.


UFM is not an isolated case of a small university in a remote spot of the world. Rather it is a true example to follow. It shows that it is possible literally to found an “idea factory” with a lasting and well defined classical liberal profile. I know of few institutions in the world that have inspired the creation of such an important repository of persons who not only understand but are committed to all aspects of liberty. Roberto Salinas

When Ayau led the founding of CEES and later UFM, he was inspired by the example of others. It was the encouragement from scholars, promoters of ideas and intellectual friends made through organizations such as the Foundation for Economic Education and the Mont Pélerin Society that convinced him and his followers in 1971 to take up the daunting challenge of founding a classical liberal university, in a poor, third world country, where the battle of ideas had already moved beyond rhetoric and into the realm of violence. Manuel Ayau has, in turn, left an example that we hope will be emulated by others. We believe that Manuel Ayau’s lifework—his courage and humility; vision and self-sacrifice—can inspire others to undertake and succeed at great enterprises that will continue to expand human liberty around the world.

*We are grateful to those in the classical liberal community in Latin America who participated in this document with their voices.