A failed Social Licence to Operate for the neoliberal modernization of Amazonian resource use: the underlying causes of the Bagua tragedy of Peru

de Jong, Wil and Humphreys, David (2016). A failed Social Licence to Operate for the neoliberal modernization of Amazonian resource use: the underlying causes of the Bagua tragedy of Peru. Forestry: An International Journal of Forest Research, 89(5) pp. 552–564.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/forestry/cpw033

Abstract

The concept of a social licence to operate (SLO) was originally developed for mining and has since been extended to other resource extraction operations, such as forestry. We develop and apply SLO theory as the conceptual framework to analyse neoliberal economic development in the Peruvian Amazon. The Peruvian administration of Alan García secured a legal licence to pursue this programme through legislative decrees, but the policies were not considered legitimate by Amazonian communities. As such the administration lacked a SLO from the communities affected by the policies. The failure to obtain a SLO led to civil protests culminating in violent confrontations between police and citizens causing 33 deaths. Theoretically, the study extends SLO analysis from projects proposed by companies and contested by communities to government policy decisions that may support actions by companies but which are contested by a range of social actors. The state, we argue, is not a neutral arbitrator in economic development and resource extraction but an active political agent. As such, it needs to legitimize its policies. In addition to the SLO literature, therefore, we also draw from legitimacy theory and argue that legitimacy requires both legal compliance and coherence with wider societal norms and standards.

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