Politics & Policy

Freedom U, Part III

At Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala City
Where students are told, ‘You don’t have to be a victim’

Editor’s Note: In a recent issue of National Review, we published a piece by Jay Nordlinger called “Freedom U: A unicorn of a university in Central America.” This week, Mr. Nordlinger is expanding the piece in his Impromptus. For Parts I and II, go here and here.

This university, Francisco Marroquín, has had a significant influence on its country, Guatemala. How does one know?

Well, the nation’s telecommunications industry was liberalized, for example. UFM has been pushing for this kind of thing, and salting the country, for 45 years.

“Salting”? I mean, UFM has flavored the country – all sectors of it – with its alumni.

The president of the university’s board of trustees, Guy Wyld, tells me something that I find touching. Last year, he got a hold of an index of economic freedom worldwide. Being a Guatemalan, he is accustomed to looking at the middle of such lists and running his finger down, in order to find his country.

He couldn’t find it.

And the reason he couldn’t find it was that Guatemala was in the top-most quartile – No. 33, in the world.

What does the liberalization of a country mean? Here is one thing it means: greater respect for contracts. In countries such as the United States, respect for contracts is taken for granted. Elsewhere, it is semi-miraculous.

Let me tell you one other thing, concerning UFM and its influence: In the last presidential election, two of the three leading candidates mentioned . . . Mises. Ludwig von Mises. Including the eventual winner, Jimmy Morales.

This may have been lip service, merely. But can you imagine a U.S. presidential candidate citing Mises? I can’t even imagine one citing Moses.

‐The university’s vice president, Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, is a Spaniard. I ask him my standard, nagging question: “How did you come to your views? How did you turn out the way you did? Why are you a classical liberal? How come you’re not a socialist like everyone else?”

He was born in 1966. “I’ve been interested in politics ever since I can remember.” He remembers Spain’s transition to democracy, after the death of Franco in 1975.

No one in his family was much interested in politics except him. The interests, hobbies, and passions of people can be hard to explain. Sometimes they just seem to be there.

“There are two names that explain why I think what I think,” says Javier: “Thatcher and Reagan.” Javier was 13 when Margaret Thatcher came to power in Britain. “On TV, I saw this lady standing in the door of 10 Downing Street. I heard what she was saying. I thought, ‘Wow.’” The next year, Ronald Reagan was elected. That was another wow.

The 1980s were momentous, of course. Javier says, “Reagan’s clear position of not surrendering to the Soviet Union was very important. Very, very important.”


‐Jesús María Alvarado is a young law professor at UFM. He comes from Venezuela – Caracas. When he was a student, he got a hold of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. That was a wow (to use that word again). This book led to other books by Tocqueville. And to other liberal democrats.

Jesús María says, “I am a liberal, or a conservative in the United States. The conservative mind is an ally of classical liberalism.” He feels he has found a home here at UFM: an institution that reflects his values and at which he can perpetuate them.

His native country, Venezuela, can use a lot more Tocqueville, and a lot less Chávez.

‐While other universities in Guatemala and the rest of Central America may not like UFM, they have to respect it. UFM has been called “the Harvard of Central America.”

Not long ago, UFM’s president, Gabriel Calzada, was at a meeting of university officials and heads of professional associations. One of the university officials lit into him as a tool of Big Business, a defender of privilege, etc. Later, the official asked to speak to him privately.

“Listen,” he said, “my son is approaching college age, and there is of course no other place for him to go but UFM. Do you think you can get him in? Also, how about a scholarship?”

There is an expression: “to vote with your feet.” People also vote with their tuition dollars, I guess. This dear fellow evidently placed the interests of his offspring over his ideology. (Which is good.)

‐Plenty of leftist parents send their kids to UFM. They tell them, “Just don’t fall for that freedom stuff!”

‐As you can imagine, free enterprise is stressed at UFM. Stressed, taught, celebrated, and encouraged. Students get involved in start-ups. Also, there is a mock trading pit. It looks pretty real to me. (Not that I have spent much time in trading pits.) I’m trying to imagine a mock trading pit at the universities I attended. They were not places of mock trading pits. Mocked trading pits, maybe.

‐One of the most sparkling personalities at UFM is Carla Hess. Appropriately, she leads a program called “Spark.” It seeks to find and fan the entrepreneurial spark in human beings.

Señora Hess grew up during the civil war and was taught by Maryknoll nuns. They preached Communist revolution to the girls in their charge. Most of these girls came from wealthy families. Some of them ran off with the rebels. But Carla did not. Why?

For one thing, her father had always impressed on her a respect for life: “Thou shalt not kill.” Also a respect for private property: “Thou shalt not steal.” You never take what’s not yours – even a rubber band at school or work.

This girl could not join the rebels.

She tells her students that they can be victims or achievers – their choice. They may say, “I was born in Guatemala, so how can I be or do anything in the world?” That is a mentality that UFM seeks to erase.

Carla gives me a set of coasters – yes, coasters. They come from the Spark program, I believe. They say things like “Response-ability” – that refers to an ability to roll with the punches. Or to counterpunch. In any case, to deal with the curves that life may throw your way.

The coasters also say, “Free to choose!” “Think BIG!!!” “Walk your talk!” Etc. I’m glad to have them. They’re reminders, for one thing.

Some students tell Carla, “I now realize I’ve let myself be a victim my whole life. No more.” How gratifying.

Thanks for joining me, ladies and gentlemen. Shall we wrap up tomorrow? We’ll have our fourth and final part. See you then.

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