Although Rocinha is still a favela, it has developed from a shanty town into an urbanized slum. Today, almost all the houses in Rocinha are made from concrete and brick. Some buildings are three and four stories tall and almost all houses have basic sanitation, plumbing, and electricity. Compared to simple shanty towns or slums, Rocinha has a better developed infrastructure and hundreds of businesses such as banks, drug stores, bus lines, cable television, including locally based channel TV ROC, and, at one time, even a McDonalds franchise, though it has since closed. These factors help classify Rocinha as a Favela Bairro, or Favela District.
The population of Rocinha is estimated to be anywhere from 60,000 to 150,000 though some believe more than 400,000 people live in the favela. It is the largest favela in Brazil and definitely one of the most highly developed in Latin America. Some episodes of the Brazilian television series Cidade dos Homens or City of Men were filmed in Rocinha.
Rocinha, like most of Rio’s favelas, is under the control of a criminal faction. The faction that controls Rocinha, as of late 2006, is the ADA (Amigos dos Amigos). Typically, Rio’s favelas fall under the control of one of three main factions, the CV (Comando Vermelho), the TC (Terceiro Comando), and the ADA. These groups are famous for providing much needed resources such as support for day care, medicine for the sick, and money for the poor. They also have been known to asphalt roads, host huge community parties, and even sponsor other recreational spaces and activities, such as soccer pitches. These groups normally maintain a very high level of control over social behavior, strictly prohibiting street crimes such as rape, muggings, and break-ins within the favela. Even so, Rio’s criminal factions should not be glorified or romanticized as some sort of modern day Robin Hoods. Besides drug trafficking, such organizations in Rio have historically been involved in arms smuggling, bank robberies, kidnapping, and murder.
Despite the low incidence of street crime in favelas, the frequency of gun battles between police and rival gangs in these communities can present real dangers. Police and drug traffickers co-exist in a very complicated balance of power that involves a high level of corruption and cooperation. Even so, police invasions of favelas such as Rocinha are common, and the results can be dramatic and intense large-scale gun battles. The climate of tension between police and the drug traffickers has been especially high since 2004s invasion of Rocinha by the famous CV gangster Dudu and his men. As a result, Rocinha switched from the CV to the ADA, a loss the CV has never accepted. Despite Dudu’s arrest in late December of 2004, many residents still feel another invasion by the CV is imminent. This sense of uncertainty became even more real after the death of Rocinha’s charismatic ADA leader Bem-Te-Vi in 2005. Currently, as of October 2006, Rocinha is run by two leaders/bosses; Nem and Joca. As of July 2009, Nem is in control as Joca is now in prison.