Reflections on My Grandfather “Muso” – An Interview with Pedro Ayau
JANUARY 28, 2013 by THE FREEMAN
In case you’ve never heard of it, Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM) is an institution of higher learning based in Guatemala. It could very well be the most classical liberal university on the planet. UFM’s founding president, Manuel “Muso” Ayau, had been inspired by FEE’s work, had been a long-time personal friend of FEE’s founder Leonard Read, and served for many years on the FEE board of trustees. Ayau remained an active champion of liberty until his death in 2010. FEE and UFM have worked together—both formally and informally— since UFM was founded in 1971. We decided it was time to share with readers some reflections on Muso Ayau. With inspiration from Lisa Hazlett, we thought: who better to offer these reflections than his grandson Pedro?
The Freeman: Don Boudreaux, a former FEE president, wrote in a December 2005 Freeman article that Muso possessed “an almost superhuman ability to get things done, to make good things happen, to move matters forward.” What are some examples of that ability that readers may not have previously heard about?
Pedro Ayau: As a family, we had an amazing opportunity, growing up, to have lunch with our grandfather almost every Sunday. At one of these meetings I recall him telling us about how, one time, he was leaving a meeting—early in the afternoon. As he and a friend were driving away together, they were discussing what changes they thought should be made to economic policy in Guatemala. In mid-discussion, he said: “We should go talk to the Ministry of Economics.” And they did. Without an appointment or previous call, they just showed up.
The Freeman: Muso was such a devoted advocate for liberty that it’s the supreme irony that his nickname comes from the Italian dictator, Mussolini. How did he get that nickname?
Pedro Ayau: His nickname was given to him when he was about three years old. His father was a good friend of the Italian ambassador in Guatemala, who brought a souvenir uniform of Mussolini’s, and his father dressed him in the uniform. One of his uncles on his mother’s side started calling him Mussolini, and being a child, the name stuck, with it having been shortened not much later.
The Freeman: How was your grandmother, Muso’s wife Olga, helpful to him as he built the university and worked in other ways for liberty?
Pedro Ayau: Whatever I tell you cannot begin to explain the magnificent relationship between my grandparents. Two things come to my mind—which I think are amazing—and can begin to give you some idea of what they had. The first is, my grandmother helped spell-check every article my grandfather ever wrote. That showed me my grandmother’s devotion to the cause of liberty, her support of my grandfather’s vision, and the trust that they had in each other to fight together. The second thing is that, as a family, we saw the love and respect they had for each other. Their amazing relationship is reflected in the family they raised. We are truly grateful for their love and care, as well as their great example as spouses.
The Freeman: Your grandfather had many business interests, including involvement with cotton, rice, and ceramic tiles. What can you tell us about his reputation as a businessman? How did his experiences in business help him when he founded UFM in 1971, or with the university in the years after that?
Pedro Ayau: He was straight as an arrow. He was always respected, not only by friends, but also by people who did not agree with his ideas. His good sense of humor and ability to think quickly for an appropriate answer was incredible.
The Freeman: Did he enjoy his time as chairman of the Guatemala Stock Exchange?
Pedro Ayau: It was a challenge, especially with the prevailing ideas of the moment. I remember him telling us that he and his colleague Mr. Gutierrez were invited to respond to questions at an office, which would supposedly grant “permission” to start a bank. He told them that they could not “give permission” for starting a stock exchange, as money was not being exchanged, only private documents. He said all this with his characteristic humor. And with that, the Stock Exchange of Guatemala was begun—and it is still active.
The Freeman: Muso served two terms on the Guatemala Monetary Board. He certainly understood money and inflation from an Austrian perspective. Did he find his experience on that board frustrating or rewarding? How about the time he spent as a member of the Guatemala House of Representatives?
Pedro Ayau: For him, it was neither frustrating nor rewarding, particularly, but he enjoyed sharing with other members of the board his Austrian-influenced ideas about money and inflation—including his thoughts on central banking, [an institution] which, of course, he didn’t think anybody needed.
He also served a four-year period at the House of Representatives in which he thought he could influence legislation with his ideas about limited government, rights, and the rule of law.
The Freeman: What did he think of Guatemala's politicians? Were there any that he thought had come to be particularly friendly to liberty?
Pedro Ayau: More than politicians, he had a very close group of friends who shared his ideas on liberty.
The Freeman: What can you tell us about Muso’s friendship with FEE’s founder, Leonard Read, and his relationship with and regard for FEE over the years?
Pedro Ayau: Muso heard of FEE through a publication that was given to him by his Mexican friend Agustín Navarro. I believe it was something written by Ludwig von Mises. I remember him telling us that he had finally found somebody with whom he could share his thoughts. He traveled to FEE at Irvington. It was during this time that he probably met with Leonard Read, with whom a very special friendship was established.
The Freeman: Muso spent a lot of time in the United States. He went to Louisiana State University and even owned a home in Florida, correct? Was he optimistic for the United States and its future?
Pedro Ayau: Yes, he graduated from LSU as a mechanical engineer. And yes, he owned an apartment in Florida. He was a great admirer of the American people. And he was optimistic, because he hoped that eventually government would go back to respecting the Constitution.
The Freeman: Our current FEE president, Lawrence Reed, knew your grandfather well and served on the FEE board with him. Reed remembers him as “a gentleman whose gentleness of demeanor belied nerves of steel and the courage of a lion.” Does that square with your intimate knowledge of him?
Pedro Ayau: Yes, it does. He was a man of vision and of courage to pursue his dreams in a country in which there were a lot of people who opposed the ideals of liberty and individual rights. I will always admire his humility, even though I believe he has changed our country and the world as few people have.
The Freeman: Like you, everyone who knew Muso mentions his mischievous smile and sense of humor. Can you give us an example or two of this lighter side of him?
Pedro Ayau: He had a tennis court in his house and he very much enjoyed playing with whoever wanted to play—including all of his grandchildren and some of his prestigious friends as well.
The Freeman: How did Muso spread ideas of liberty within the Ayau family itself? For example, did he ever put a book in front of you with instructions to read it and discuss it with him later?
Pedro Ayau: We were fortunate enough to have him home every Sunday even though he traveled a lot. At these Sunday family meetings we’d have a lot of interesting guests that visited my grandfather and the university. There were always interesting talks about freedom [in] those days. He’d often recommend books to read, and he would know if we’d read them just by talking about the subjects around the table. His house was nicknamed “The Bahia School of Economics.”
The Freeman: Under Muso’s leadership and Giancarlo Ibarguen’s afterward, UFM has achieved almost mythic status as the premier university in Central America and an institution committed from top to bottom to classical liberal ideals. Did Muso anticipate that it would become so well known and respected, and so sizable in its first 40 years?
Pedro Ayau: I believe that he knew that if the founder’s intent was respected and followed through, UFM would prevail for many years to come, as it has.
The Freeman: Muso served for many years on the board of Liberty Fund, another superb organization committed to classical liberal ideas. Can you tell us anything about his experiences there?
Pedro Ayau: He was on the board of Liberty Fund for 20 years. He traveled monthly, and missed out very few times. For him it was a school of thought. Muso was a good friend of Mr. Goodrich, who invited him to join Liberty Fund initially.
The Freeman: Is it true that on occasion, Muso feared for his life and wore a bulletproof vest?
Pedro Ayau: Yes, he did. When the university was founded, the internal conflict in Guatemala was still a threat to everyone, especially those spreading the ideals of freedom and individual rights.
To learn more about Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM), contact Lisa M. Hazlett (email@example.com).