Remembering Giancarlo Ibarguen (1963-2016)

Giancarlo Ibarguen, the former president of Francisco Marroquin University (UFM) in Guatemala, passed away today.

Giancarlo was a friend and teacher to many of us in the international freedom movement, and especially in Latin America. His influence at the University, the center of classical-liberal thought in the region, was large. He was an advocate of innovative and age-old techniques to promote ideas and learning. As Argentine scholar Martin Krause notes, he was an enthusiastic proponent of the University’s “New Media” program and of the Socratic method of teaching. As its chairman and founder, he was the proud backer of the Antigua Forum, a novel way of bringing together distinguished thinkers, entrepreneurs and others to solve real world problems. Giancarlo played no small role in making UFM among the most modern universities in the region, something to which thousands of UFM alums and countless visiting professors and other scholars from the Americas can attest. I was proud that, under Giancarlo’s encouragement, we began the first of our successful series of Cato University seminars for Latin Americans at UFM seven years ago.

In addition to strengthening classical liberalism through UFM, Giancarlo did so as a member of the board of directors of Liberty Fund, as a president and vice president of the Association of Private Enterprise Education, and as secretary of the Mont Pelerin Society. His interest in making the world of ideas relevant to improving the way people lived, led to him to advocate both the importance of liberal principles and of public policy reform. In terms of the latter, Giancarlo was an architect, along with Tom Hazlett, of Guatemala’s successful telecommunications privatization, putting the country on the vanguard in that policy area.

Most of us who knew Gianca, as his friends called him, will remember him for his commitment to the “principles of a society of free and responsible persons,” which was also UFM’s mission. Like his mentor Muso Ayau, the founder of the university, Gianca embodied the spirit of liberalism. He was tolerant, curious, modest about his own knowledge and accomplishments, courteous, open-minded and confident about the human potential. He urged students to question everything and to always question themselves. When Muso Ayau died, he told me that one of the things that most impressed him about Muso was that he had “a very strong sense of right and wrong.” The same could be said about Giancarlo.

Giancarlo died of a debilitating disease that he had been battling for several years. To those of us who interacted with him during this time mostly from afar, there was never any indication that anything was wrong, though his condition was no secret and we of course knew better. He kept extremely engaged, responding quickly to emails, sending personal notes and suggestions, recommending readings or events on Twitter, etc. He was a constant source of optimism and inspiration. To the end, he was a model of dignity.