Conversations with a Brazilian Drug Dealer


Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 20 illustrations Published: April 2015

Author: Robert Gay

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Brazil, Sociology

In the 1980s a poor farmer's son from Recife, Brazil, joined the Brazilian navy and began selling cocaine. After his arrest in Rio de Janeiro he spent the next eight years in prison, where he joined the Comando Vermelho criminal faction and eventually became one of its leaders. Robert Gay tells this young man's dramatic and captivating story in Bruno. In his shockingly candid interviews with Gay, Bruno provides many insights into the criminal world in which he lived: details of day-to-day prison life; the inner workings of the Brazilian drug trade; the structure of criminal factions; and the complexities of the relationships and links between the prisons, drug trade, gangs, police, and favelas. And most stunningly, Bruno's story suggests that Brazilian mismanagement of the prison system directly led to the Comando Vermelho and other criminal factions' expansion into Rio's favelas, where their turf wars and battles with police have terrorized the city for over two decades.


“This particular account is interesting and engaging…” — Ed Hart, Sounds and Colours

"The real contribution of Bruno [is]... the private reflections that we gain from a single informant who is intelligent, critical, and painfully idealistic. It is this personal voice, rather than the empirical data, that makes Bruno truly special, and a necessary supplement for scholars interested not only in drug trafficking and prisons, but in the relationship between crime and self-reflection as well." — Samuel E. Novacich, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

“In telling the story of Bruno, sociologist Robert Gay succeeds in demystifying not only gangs and the drug trade but also an entire country. This is a carefully crafted study of a criminal career embedded in a society that for generations has denied citizenship to large numbers of its population…. This is an important book that skilfully utilises ethnographic interviews to tell the story of one man in the trenches of the global war against drugs.” — Dick Hobbs, Times Higher Education

"This gripping book is a superb entry point into the maze of Brazilian prisons and, hopefully, a spur to more systematic historical research into the country’s current dilemmas with prisons, drugs, and gangs." — Paul Gootenberg, Hispanic American Historical Review

"From the haunting cover to the emotional ending Bruno: Conversations with a Brazilian Drug Dealer shapes up to be a gripping read for anyone interested in the shady underworld of drug gang culture. . . . Bruno is a fascinating account that will serve as a useful testament of life in the Brazilian underworld which will be of immense value to students of cultural studies and Latin American history for years to come. In that sense, Bruno is strictly not the sensationalised bestseller that the story has the potential to be, but something infinitely more valuable." — Jay Kerr, Latin American Review of Books

"Robert Gay has written an intimate, eye-opening book that opens a window into the politics of prisons and drug prohibition in Brazil."  — Kevin Lewis O'Neill, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"[Bruno] offers astounding levels of detail about one man’s experience of daily life, survival, and organized crime within a broken prison system, the rise of the Comando Vermelho and Amigos dos Amigos, and the reach of these organizations inside and outside the prisons. Bruno is concise and clearly written, making it accessible to a general readership in addition to undergraduate and graduate students." — Alison Bruey, H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews

"Stirring. . . . Gay offers a finely grained ethnographic account of an individual whose life is embedded in a complex world of drug trafficking complicities." — Robert Gay, Latin American Research Review

"It is amazing to read an insider's account of the evolution of the Comando Vermelho. Bruno's structure and themes are similar to those used in Robert Gay's previous book, Lucia. The details of Lucia's life are gripping and unique, but Bruno's life story is more unusual, the events recounted more shocking, and the insights afforded perhaps more valuable. Gay's success is a testament to long, patient research, and to bonds built up over many years. The details of Bruno's life confirm and substantiate the maddeningly speculative picture already held by specialists. Bruno goes beyond confirming this picture, however, revealing new insights." — Bryan McCann, author of Hard Times in the Marvelous City: From Dictatorship to Democracy in the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro

"Bruno's virtues are obvious: clear expository writing, an almost unmediated access to the heart and mind of a tough guy, and to an underworld that neatly connects to concerns here in the United States. Robert Gay has become an unavoidable reference for scholars on criminality, violence, and drugs in Latin America. Bruno is another key contribution."
— Javier Auyero, author of Patients of the State: The Politics of Waiting in Argentina


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Price: $14.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Robert Gay is Professor of Sociology at Connecticut College. He is the author of Lucia: Testimonies of a Brazilian Drug Dealer's Woman and Popular Organization and Democracy in Rio De Janeiro: A Tale of Two Favelas.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 1
1. Trafficking  7
2. Things Come Undone  29
3. The Family  47
4. The Devil's Cauldron  63
5. On the Run  85
6. Paradise Lost  109
7. The Leader  135
8. Judgment Day  175
Postscript  195
Timeline of Events  201
Notes  203
Bibliography  215
Index  219
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5849-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5841-1
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