Well, he tried the hardest of all of us to outlive Castro. By sheer strength of will he pushed himself to the threshold of his 100th birthday, but his great heart, battered as few by life's adversities, needed and deserved rest and now he has it at last. Emilio ("Millo") Ochoa y Ochoa, the last survivor of the drafters of the Cuban Constitution of 1940, the last man to run on a presidential ticket in Cuba (for vice-president with Roberto Agramonte), the oldest of the Old Guard of republican politics, is dead.
[We will write more about him on Friday, the day of his funeral. The sense of loss and of life's unfairness overwhelms us now and we will write better later...]
... Death puts everything in perspective. The 19th-century English essayist William Hazlitt was writing a critical notice of Byron's latest book when the news reached him that the poet had died in Greece aiding in its war of independence. Hazlitt stopped the harsh review in mid-sentence and continued it as a panegyric to Byron the genius and lover of freedom. Of course, there is nothing in "Millo" Ochoa's life that would require censure. It is a life eminently free of any taint, which is all the more remarkable because he lived so very long. The anecdote about Hazlitt serves to illustrate the fact that death concentrates our minds on the essential things and leaves behind everything that is ephemeral or spurious. So it was with the death of the Cuban Republic. Men who had been political adversaries all their lives, even those who had actually felt personal animus towards each other (and these cases were very rare in Cuban politics) fell into each other's arms to endeavor to support together a burden that none could endure individually. Then parties disappeared and political differences and all that had divided them in the past was forgotten: all that remained was mutual respect for what they had accomplished together and everlasting grief for what they had lost.
If only honest and well-intentioned men like "Millo" Ochoa had been able to see before the national hecatomb what the future held: these brave and patriotic men would have put aside their ephemeral differences and worked together to save the fatherland from the common enemy, and good would have defeated evil. In the back of their minds this thought always lurked as a personal reproach, unspoken but never absent. Men like "Millo" Ochoa built a great country, great in that it should have satisfied in every way the needs and desires of its people. Why wasn't this good enough? This will always remain our national enigma: why did we risk everything in order to gain nothing; no, much worse, in order to lose everything? Well, we were not alone to blame. Our great neighbor to the North pushed us along that route; indeed, closed all other roads to us. The Eisenhower State Department and the U.S. media led by The New York Times propelled us over a precipice that many of us were only too willing to jump.
But that is all history now and beyond repair: a loss to be mourned forever and never buried. It is only men that we can bury, and today we will bury one who lived a noble life in service of our country and humanity: Emilio Ochoa. His life encompassed practically the entire Republican period as well as the last 48 years of despotism. He was the last living link to the greatest monument of the Cuban Republic, the Constitution of 1940. Even if the Repuublic is dead or in abeyance and all the signatories to that Constitution now dead, the 1940 Constitution still lives; and it is that Constitution which will again some day breath life into the Republic. In the respect we owe to it and the hopes we have placed in it we are all living heirs to that legacy. Nothing about the future of our country is known to us except the fact that it will some day live again under the protections and guarantees of our Fundamental Law. And something more: the assurance that when the Constitution of 1940 is restored, freedom at last shall have returned to our country.
There are many chapters in "Millo" Ochoa's life: the poor boy who raised himself in life through merit and heroism (a background which most of our Republican politicians shared); the honest guardian of our national patrimony (which most of our politicians also were, though many still refuse to believe it); and, even more importantly, a man who never spoke a falsehood, never misled anyone, and never pretended to be something that he was not, an absolutely transparent and profoundly good man. And, yes, he was not alone in that either. Other men, such as Santiago Verdeja and Rafael Guas Inclán, as well as my own grandfather and great-uncle, come to mind; but the list could almost be endless; for even in the midst of the greatest corruption — and there were corrupt politicians, few in number but boundless in their rapacity — men of good such as Eddie Chibás and "Millo" himself always fought against corruption and upheld by their own conduct the highest ideals of public service. That is precisely what distinguishes the past from the present. In the past, there were rogues and there were honest men; today there are only rogues and much worse than rogues. The Cuban Republic was not perfect if judged on its own merits; but perfection itself when compared to the Castro regime. Today will be buried much of the greatness that still survived from that period of our history, our country's Golden Age. But buried does not mean forgotten.
"Millo" Ochoa was one of the fathers of our Republic, but he was also a father to his own children. "Millo" volunteered for the Brigade 2506 but was turned down because of his age (he was old even in 1961). His only son volunteered instead. When he was captured with the other survivors of the Bay of Pigs invasion, "Millo" returned to Cuba to attempt to save his son's life. And when his son was ransomed with the other survivors, "Millo" was forced to remain in Castro's Cuba, but was eventually able to return to this country and his family.
"Millo" Ochoa died in a housing project in Miami. Without a cent to his name, but a priceless legacy for all Cubans.
Nothing more needs be said about the character of "Millo" Ochoa. It does and will always shine brightly in the most glorious pages of our country's history and as a beacon in its darkest pages.