One of the most significant and courageous contributors to the cause of liberty and individual responsibility in Latin America, Manuel F. Ayau was a classic example of someone who made a difference. From an early age, Ayau, affectionately known as “Muso” to his many friends, decided that he would do whatever he could to create the conditions that promote liberty and therefore, the opportunity for authentic human flourishing.
Born in Guatemala City, Ayau undertook his university studies in the United States. An engineer by training, he had one of those intellectually curious minds that are forever seeking to know the truth of things. Hence, alongside a successful career as an entrepreneur, businessman, company director, commercial banker, and member of the Central Bank of Guatemala, Ayau never ceased to be a pioneer in promoting the life of the mind. On the virtues of the market economy, he wrote this memorable line: “In a very real sense, we all compete to enrich others.”
In the late 1950s, Ayau founded the Center for Economic and Social Studies (CEES) in Guatemala. Its purpose was simple: to study and develop wider understanding of the preconditions of societies that were both free and prosperous. In the conditions of 1950s Guatemala, most would have viewed such an enterprise as worthy of Don Quixote himself. But to Ayau’s mind, ideas mattered, and unless people were willing to invest in good ideas, then bad ideas would surely prevail.
Eventually his determination to spread the ideas of liberty in his own impoverished, fractured country led Ayau to found what will surely be his most lasting legacy, the Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala, which today is widely recognized as one of the best universities in Latin America. Named after an early bishop of Guatemala, Francisco Marroquín, this university and its exceptionally talented faculty has educated thousands of young Latin Americans in the foundations of freedom and responsibility, and alerted them to the importance and virtue of always seeking after the truth.
Nor was Ayau afraid to take his ideas directly into the public square. He served, for instance, as a member of Guatemala’s Congress and even stood for president in 1990. Ayau was no stranger to threats, including against his own life, yet he was never intimidated by those who prefer violence to reason. In the face of political pressures that most would find unbearable, Ayau never lost hope in the cause of freedom and its capacity to contribute to the common good of his country.
He also worked tirelessly for liberty at the international level. As a reflection of the esteem in which others held him, Ayau served a term as President of the Mont Pèlerin Society and was a long time member of the board of directors of the Liberty Fund as well as a trustee of the Foundation for Economic Education—organizations that have all worked tirelessly over many decades in often difficult circumstances to explain and develop the ideas of freedom and the virtues needed to sustain them to several generations of students and scholars.
Those who knew Ayau best marveled at his quiet confidence that, no matter how difficult the odds, truth would prevail over error, not least because he believed that human beings were made for freedom—in the fullest and richest sense of that word—rather than slavery and ignorance.