A Clueless or Cunning Witness?

When Cuban forensic pathologist, Yleana Vizcaíno Dimé, finished testifying near the end of the day, the prosecution introduced what it called a “witness out of order.” Since his testimony has to do with Posada Carriles’ voyage on the Santrina and not the bombs in Havana, this witness should have testified during the beginning of the trial. He may have been unavailable—or perhaps reluctant—at that time.

Generoso Bringas

The witness’ name is Generoso Bringas. His friends call him “Gene.” He’d spent the day outside the courtroom, patiently awaiting his turn, but Bringas did not come willingly to testify. The government subpoenaed and extended him immunity from prosecution. In other words, to get him to agree to testify, the Department of Justice had to get a judicial summons and promise that he would not be prosecuted.

Bringas is in his 80s. What little hair he has left is now completely gray. He wears thick-framed glasses whose large lenses rest squarely on a nose similar to Jimmy Durante’s famous “old schnozzola.”

The Generoso Show

The first thing that Bringas did when he got on the stand was to loudly announce that he is hard of hearing. “I’m half deaf,” he bellowed. The prosecutor responded by raising his own voice to try and match Bringas’, not realizing that the only person in the courtroom whose voice was needed at higher decibels was that of the interpreter. Bringas, you see, speaks no English, so it doesn’t matter whether he can hear the prosecutor. He wouldn’t understand him anyway.

Judge Cardone pointed this out to government attorney Jerome Teresinski and everyone chuckled.

Perhaps it was still not obvious to all, but the curtain had just risen on the Generoso Bringas Show.

“You are here under official summons?” asked Teresinski. “HUH?” shouted Bringas. Teresinski asked the question a different way, “You didn’t want to be here today. Isn’t that right?” It wasn’t clear whether Bringas understood Teresinski’s question. “My wife is sick,” he responded.

Teresinski then showed Bringas an exhibit that Judge Cardone had accepted as evidence last month. The jurors could also see it on their television monitors. “Is this your passport?” asked the prosecutor. “It was my passport in 2005,” answered Bringas, making the point that it is now in the hands of the United States Government. Once again, laughter shook the courtroom.

A passport’s trip on the Santrina

At Teresinski’s urging, Bringas—as well as the jurors—turned to page seven of the passport, which bore an unmistakable entry stamp for the Bahamas on March 11, 2005. “I didn’t go to the Bahamas on that date,” said Bringas.
Perhaps the jury remembers that a month ago Gilberto Abascal testified that Generoso Bringas helped the crew load the Santrina for its famous voyage to Isla Mujeres to pick up Luis Posada Carriles in March of 2005. Abascal testified then that Bringas did not go on the voyage himself. “Bringas no, but his passport, yes,” he declared under oath.

“I saw Bringas’ passport in the Bahamas,” said Abascal last month. “I heard Santiago Alvarez tell Ruben López Castro to show it to Immigration and Customs there.” He added, “When we arrived in the Bahamas, I saw that Santiago took out Bringas’ passport.” Abascal went on to explain to the jurors how, at the urging of Santiago Álvarez, he bribed a Bahamian customs official to entice him to place an entry stamp on the passport.

“Santiago told me to take a television set and give it to the customs official,” Abascal testified in court on January 24, 2011. Abascal also swore that Bringas was not in Isla Mujeres in March of 2005, and he said that when the Santrina left Mexico, Bringas was not on board. Posada Carriles was, Abascal testified. According to the exit stamp on page 11 of Generoso Bringas’ passport, its holder left Isla Mujeres by boat on March 15, 2005.

Teresinski showed page 11 to Bringas and to the jury. “Not by boat or plane. I haven’t been to Mexico for many years,” Bringas shouted into the court microphone, chuckling as he did. Everyone began to laugh.

After the earlier testimony about bombs, shrapnel and murder, the sight of this apparently good-natured, nearly deaf, elderly and eccentric fellow on the stand was—to many of the jurors—a welcome relief.

“Do you know how this stamp came to be in your passport?” asked Teresinski. “No idea and no explanation,” answered “Gene” Bringas. “No further questions,” government counsel said to the judge.

Generoso, que gracioso toca usted

It was then the defense attorney’s turn to interrogate Bringas. Arturo Hernández—his face red from laughing, stood up and approached the witness with a grin. It was clear that he found the witness hilarious. This, despite Bringas’ sworn declarations that were ultimately quite damaging to the defense, since they corroborate the government’s allegation that Posada Carriles used Bringas’ passport to leave Isla Mujeres on the Santrina in March of 2005.

What did Posada Carriles’ attorney have up his sleeve that made him so cavalier before this witness’ testimony? After bidding Bringas a good afternoon, Hernández asked him, “Your name is Generoso Bringas?” Another amusing answer from Bringas, “Ever since I was born”, he said. The jurors, the lawyers, the judge, the marshals, the guards and the reporters in the courtroom all laughed.

“You left your passport on the Santrina?” asked the defense attorney. “Sometimes I left even my chancletas (slippers),” answered Bringas who by then had his audience in stitches.

After a few more innocuous questions, the cagey defense attorney shot the arrow he’d prepared all along. But it wasn’t directed at the witness. He wasn’t interested in the least in impeaching Bringas’ credibility, as he had tried to do to all the other witnesses. No. His arrow was directed at Gilberto Abascal, the FBI confidential source who had testified earlier in the trial and sworn under oath that the Santrina had picked up Posada Carriles in Isla Mujeres and smuggled him into Miami in March of 2005.

“Do you know about Gilberto Abascal’s reputation in the community for telling the truth?” Teresinski rose from his chair and objected to the question. Judge Cardone ruled that although it is inappropriate to ask the witness about his personal opinion of Abascal, asking him about Abascal’s reputation within the community is permissible under the rules of evidence. “If he knows,” said the judge.

Bringas knew what he had to do with defense counsel’s question, “It’s difficult to say for sure, because Abascal has mental problems. He’s half crazy. The poor guy has personal problems,” said Bringas.

Teresinski objected once again. “This, Your Honor, is his personal opinion,” said the prosecutor. “His statement is inadmissible.”

Posada Carriles’ defense attorney regrouped and tried to establish a proper foundation for Bringas’ knowledge of Abascal’s reputation in the community. “Do you know about Abascal’s reputation in the community?” he asked. “No,” said Bringas.

Hernández had asked one question too many. Bringas’ last answer led Judge Cardone to sustain the objection. Bringas’ opinion about Abascal’s mental state was disallowed. However, the jury had already heard the congenial and apparently clueless old man state that one of the prosecution’s star witnesses, the only one to state that he had seen Posada Carriles on the Santrina, was crazy.

Although Bringas is no psychiatrist and his opinion about Abascal’s mental state ought to carry no weight with the jury, nonetheless Posada Carriles’ cagey defense attorney had scored a significant point.

The prosecutor was furious. He asked if Bringas had spoken previously with Attorney Hernández or with Santiago Álvarez, the owner of the Santrina and Posada Carriles’ financial benefactor. “No,” answered the witness.

Generoso Bringas left the stand to the laughter and smiles of those in the courtroom. Out of fear of being slapped with sanctions, no one applauded, but I’m sure many wanted to.

Judge Cardone beamed as she bid the smiling jurors goodbye. Posada Carriles quickly stood and strode over to his defense attorney. They looked at each other and burst into laughter. “I couldn’t keep myself from laughing,” said a jovial Posada Carriles—as if instead of hearing Generoso Bringas testify, he had been listening to orchestra leader Generoso Jiménez play his famous “naughty trombone.”

Who is Generoso Bringas?

Who is this comical witness for the prosecution who was so generous with the defense? Is he really so clueless? Posada Carriles mentions him in his book, Los Caminos de Guerrero [The Pathways of a Warrior]. Posada calls him a survivor of the 1960s battles against the Cuban Revolution in the Escambray Mountains.

Generoso Bringas is now the Secretary General of the Movement for Revolutionary Recovery (MRR)—an organization he founded along with Manuel Artime, a leader of the 2506 Brigade whose members invaded Cuba on behalf of the CIA on April 17, 1961 at the Bay of Pigs.

Bringas appears to have some strong opinions about the federal prosecution of those who were aboard the Santrina in March of 2005—that is, Santiago Álvarez, Osvaldo Mitat, Rubén López Castro and, of course, Luis Posada Carriles. For example, in an interview he gave in 2007, Bringas said:
“It’s regrettable, it’s sad, that in a country of freedoms such as this one, in a democratic country such as this one, that such a witch-hunt has been unleashed in recent years against men who fight for freedom.”

Bringas’ militancy goes way back. In 1965, the CIA dispatched him to the Congo with a small group of Cuban exiles in order to fight against Che Guevara and the guerrillas there. Bringas told the author of the book Cold War in the Congo that the United States paid him $800 a month for his services.
According to the Cuban government, in May of 1998, the MRR headed by Bringas sent men to infiltrate Cuba by boat. They landed in Pinar del Rio Province. The terrorist operation failed, and authorities arrested Ernestino Abreu Horta and Vicente Marcelino Martínez Rodríguez. Cuba also confiscated four rifles, two shotguns, a Makarov pistol and two .22-caliber Magnums. The men stated that the military operation was conceived in Miami by MRR and that Generoso Bringas had helped with the planning and logistics.

Miami’s El Nuevo Herald reported that MRR sources confirmed the arrest in Cuba of the organization’s militants. According to the Herald source, “we were patient. We collected money, did target practice and combat exercises in the Everglades and rebuilt the movement.” Generoso Bringas, who the Herald identified as the “former military head of the MRR,” of course, denied participating in the terrorist plot, despite confessions from the militants that Bringas had helped in the military operation.

Just two weeks before the start of the trial against Posada Carriles in El Paso, Bringas did not appear as clueless as he did in court today. He presided over an MRR event in Miami to honor one of its founders, Manuel Artime. Before microphones and cameras, Bringas declared: “We have the obligation to continue the struggle, ever forward, giving our maximum effort.”

Some questions

So who then is the true Generoso Bringas? The clueless, hard of hearing little old guy who testified on Thursday in El Paso, or the former military leader and now Secretary General of an organization whose purpose is to dispatch armed commandos to Cuba? Was his character assassination of Gilberto Abascal on purpose? Did he conspire to lend his passport to the owner of the Santrina so that Posada Carriles could use it to get out of Isla Mujeres, or did he truly have no clue as to its whereabouts? How is it possible that a witness called by the prosecution to strengthen the case against Posada Carriles could have been so generous with the defense?

It’s a pity that the jurors won’t be able to pose these questions. They only know one side of the story, while you now know both.

José Pertierra practices law in Washington, DC. He represents the government of Venezuela in the case to extradite Luis Posada Carriles.

Translated by Machetera and Manuel Talens. They are members of Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity.

Spanish language version: http://www.cubadebate.cu/especiales/2011/02/11/diario-de-el-paso-arenas-movedizas




José Pertierra is an attorney in Washington, DC.