Thursday evening, Jan. 24, I walked into the Plaza San Jose of the Porta Hotel in Antigua, Guatemala for the opening festivities of the second annual Antigua Forum. I was invited to the event six months ago, and was delighted to attend. Hosted by Guatemala’s Francisco Marroquin University (UFM), the Antigua Forum is an annual conference billed as a “place of learning for reformers.” The forum brought together 40 scholars, entrepreneurs, activists, think-tank leaders, authors, politicians, business executives and even a Nobel Prize winning economist. My fellow participants came from England, Pakistan, Malaysia, South Africa, India, Slovakia, Australia, China, Canada, Mexico, Columbia, Peru, Chile, Honduras, San Salvador, Sweden and the United States. The common denominator was our shared belief that individual rights to freedom and property are the surest foundation for a prosperous society.
The Antigua Forum is the brainchild Giancarlo Ibarguen, President of UFM. Giancarlo is well known among reformers for his fearless defense of free markets. In the mid-1990s Giancarlo successfully led the efforts to introduce competition to the Guatemala telecom industry, and has worked hard to replicate his success elsewhere in Latin America. Giancarlo and his UFM colleague Wayne Leighton recognized a need for free-market reformers to collaborate and learn from each other. The Forum would be the opportunity for reformers to do just that.
Each individual came to the event with a specific reform project in mind, and everyone who wanted help pitched his or her project to the entire group. We then broke into smaller groups in a large courtyard and spent the bulk of two days analyzing, exploring and refining the projects. We challenged each other, pushed each other, and debated our positions vigorously. Most importantly we built detailed, actionable plans to make the projects realities.
Our project work was leavened by breaks, meals, and events that helped us to make personal connections. I was deeply touched by the sincerity and humility of my colleagues. We shared our successes. We shared our failures. We spoke about families, and society, and God. We discussed the universal questions of life. I crave more time with my new friends. I hope to continue our association for many years to come.
I returned home from the Antigua Forum with two overwhelming feelings. First, I feel renewed hope for the future. Despite all the bad news we hear, great things are happening all over the world. Whether it is a movement for school choice in India, or a new private sector bankruptcy process in Honduras, or economic liberty zones in San Salvador, free-market innovators are making persuasive cases for reform and are having success. And where such reforms take root, the people begin to prosper. Second, I feel more motivated than ever do my part here at home.
Most policy decisions we wrestle with in this country are mired in the vagaries of politics. A perpetual fog of war seems to shroud our political institutions. Hyperbole and invective often drive our public discourse. And achievements are measured, if only briefly, by election results. In so many ways it feels like we are rudderless, drifting where the currents take us.
If we are to right our ship in the United States we must get back to the foundational principles upon which all of our institutions were originally built. We must remember, as it is so elegantly stated in UFM’s philosophy statement, that “freedom and property must always be respected, not only because they are innate to the human being, but also because of their utilitarian value to society.” There is no “conflict between individual rights and social interest.”
Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.