Political Personalism, Epic, Myth and Political Heritage

Political Personalism, Epic, Myth and Political Heritage


Sergio Ricardo Quiroga[1]



Este trabajo pretende indagar en el fenómeno del personalismo político en la provincia de San Luis, Argentina, lugar en donde el Partido Justicialista ha estado en el poder por más de treinta y seis años, es decir, desde la llegada de la democracia a Argentina en diciembre de 1983. Sus líderes son los hermanos Rodríguez Saá, Adolfo y Alberto, quienes han sido gobernadores de San Luis en varias oportunidades y han construido una alianza política poderosa utilizando como herramienta al Partido Justicialista.

Estos personajes de la historia política de San Luis construyeron día a día su poder político en base a diversos factores, pero entre ellos, y quizás el más relevante, está la construcción de una epopeya y un mito como estilo de comunicación y como forma de acción e indaga en la idea de patrimonialismo político.

Palabras Claves: personalismo, política, partidos, poder, patrimonialismo



This paper aims to investigate the phenomenon of political personalism in the province of San Luis, Argentina, a place where the Justicialist Party has been in power for more than thirty-six years, that is, since the arrival of democracy in Argentina in December 1983. Its leaders are the Rodríguez Saá brothers, Adolfo and Alberto, who have been governors of San Luis on several occasions and have built a powerful political alliance using the Justicialista Party as a tool.

These characters in the political history of San Luis built their political power day by day based on various factors, but among them, and perhaps the most relevant, is the construction of an epic and a myth as a communication style and as a form of action. and investigates the idea of political patrimonialism.

Key words: personalism, politics, parties, power, patrimonialism



In Argentina and Latin America, the exhaustion of traditional politics can be seen, particularly in the growing contradictions that governments experience as they deepen extractivism, allowing scandalous levels of corruption and increasingly intolerant of dissent. Antidemocratic authoritarianism has begun to grow in the region showing its most terrible face, in which political participation is beginning to be risky for people.

This paper describes and explores the phenomenon of political personalism in the province of San Luis, Argentina, a place where the Justicialist Party (heir to the teachings of Juan Domingo Perón three times president of Argentina), has been in the government for more than thirty-six years, since the arrival of democracy in Argentina in December 1983. Its leaders are the brothers Rodríguez Saá, Adolfo and Alberto have been governors of San Luis several times and they built an almost objectionable political alliance using as a tool the Justicialist Party.

These characters in the political history of San Luis built their political power day by day based on various factors, but among them, and perhaps the most relevant is the construction of an epic and a myth as a communication style and as a form of action. This construction was confirmed by the low relative weight of the provincial press, the weakness of the political opposition, the strong investment in public works and the promotion of prebendary policies. Public works were an important driver of government management, often of low quality, and confirmed the neglect for many years of strategic areas such as health, public education and security. Under the government of Adolfo Rodríguez Saá (five times governor of San Luis and former president of Argentina in a term that lasted five days), social housing plans were promoted, some carried out in unsuitable places, and with few controls on the companies that were awarded them. plays. Home planning had two potential benefits: home delivery was a future voter and the likelihood of doing personal business with construction companies. The San Luis journalist Gustavo Heredia has recounted in more than five hundred pages more than thirty years of corruption and despotic power of the San Luis government (Heredia, 2019).

San Luis poor and forgotten

San Luis is a small province, located almost in the geographic center of Argentina with just 500,000 inhabitants, but in 1970 it was a region where livestock and agriculture prevailed. The incipient industrialization of San Luis began around 1980, with the industrial promotion regime that governed some of the country’s provinces. The industrial regime established that the industries that were established in the provinces of La Rioja, Catamarca, San Luis and San Juan were exempt from paying income tax and value added tax. Law 22.021 was enacted in 1979 and only granted these benefits to the province of La Rioja. Then, between 1982 and 1983, the extension and validity of the tax promotion regime for Catamarca, San Luis and San Juan was sanctioned (Quiroga, 2018). The application of the law first corresponded to the national government and since 1983 to the government of the province of San Luis, and this fact helped to build the idea of ​​a San Luis with “full employment” and political use in management.

The Industrial Promotion Law made it possible for different companies with tax benefits to settle on San Luis soil since 1980. Citizens from different Argentine provinces came to San Luis with the dream of working, obtained employment and settled in the province. The new social composition and the emerging changes arising as a consequence of the demographic growth produced by the arrival of new settlers (workers, businessmen, etc.) since the implementation of the Industrial Promotion Law since 1980, modified the urban and social geography of the province (Quiroga, 2018). The job offer in San Luis was attractive due to the stagnation and recurring economic crises that Argentina was experiencing in that period and allowed new settlers to arrive in search of employment in San Luis. On the other hand, employees of the public administration of San Luis, teachers, policemen and doctors among others, received meager salaries that were always paid on time to guarantee, as the government advocated, “social peace.”

The Peronist party of San Luis with the Rodríguez Saá brothers in government, knew how to build the myth of good government in a climate of social peace and economic prosperity, thanks to a government strategy that included various public policies, such as a strong public works plan , control of government media and allied media, information concealment, official press services, distribution of “official” advertising in media close to power in a context of artisan journalism and famished media, and the construction of a new epic for San Luis.

Opaque Democracy

Opaque democracies are characterized by tenuous or non-existent institutionalized divisions of powers, political personalities, personal businesses linked to the state, lack of public transparency, recurrent disqualifications of the “opposition” press and little citizen participation in public affairs, etc. When the executive power has preeminence over other powers of democracy, there is no transparency in the management of the state and confusion between public and private businesses and a personalistic political culture tends to develop, we are in the presence of an opaque democracy (Quiroga, 2018).

An opaque democracy is one in which one power (executive power) has more power and influence and is imposed on the others, that is, there is a pre-eminence of the executive power over other powers and is characterized by the concentration of control and control. Power in few hands, where citizen participation is not favored, restricted and scarce, government information is not abundant, and a general context where oppositional and transgressive voices have great difficulties to express themselves (Quiroga, 2016).

The Argentine executive power that has led the country since mid-December 2019 has shown overwhelming momentum favored by the Covid-19 (Coronavirus SARS-COV2) pandemic and the subsequent push for quarantine to rise above the legislative power and the judiciary , using as a tool the Decrees of Necessity and Urgency (DNU), on many issues unrelated to public concern. In the Argentine context, on March 20, the government issued a decree ordering “Obligatory and Preventive Social Isolation” for the entire population, suspending all non-essential activities, as well as all national and international travel and transportation. As days went by, Argentina exposed one of the largest quarantines to the world, and by mid-March seven provinces had closed their internal borders imposing access controls. The closure and block later spread in different regions, almost rigidly, in direct opposition to the country’s constitutional postulates.

In the case of San Luis, and in line with the idea of ​​an opaque democracy, the existing space between citizens and rulers tends to widen since it is characterized by a growing inequality that tends to widen. In this approach, we negatively characterize personalism as a tool for the construction of a participatory democracy, but we leave open the question about the possibility of recognizing the existence of participatory and progressive democracies without the presence of personalist leaders.

Political Personalism

The study of personalization is important for the study of democracy in general and of institutions in particular, because it challenges, the key role of political parties or political groups that are formed for eventual elections or to act in a sustained manner in the democratic system. . However, the conceptual understanding of personalization as well as the theoretical explanations of why and when personalization begins, are not yet sufficiently illuminated and the empirical evidence on this phenomenon is still scarce and inconclusive.

Recent research is drawing a distinction between centralized personalization characterized by the presence in the democratic universe of a few political leaders who concentrate the majority of the preferential votes in the list and decentralized personalization that occurs when a greater number of candidates manage to attract votes personal. Despite the relevance of personalization in political communication research, as well as in other areas of study, there is a state of confusion in the literature on this concept. The main reason is that there is no consensus around a widely shared definition or concept. A general definition of personalism in politics could be understood as a complex construct characterized by the appropriation of the public for individual benefit carried out by actions that do not have institutional or cultural restrictions. You can understand personalism as a particular way of exercising a function, leadership and / or representation, where the social or institutional regulation of such exercise is exacerbated by its own criteria. Political personalization is a “process in which the political weight of the individual actor in the political process increases over time, while the centrality of the political group (that is, the political party) decreases” (Rahat and Sheafer, 2007, p .65). Rebolledo (2017, p.152) affirms that there is personalization when “it lies in making the politician the center of the message through his image, making him a key element to interpret the political reality that occurs”.

Personalism in public organizations constitutes an emergent phenomenon of the social order and is characterized basically by the claim of certain individuals to belong, possess and dominate the public scene for a long time. The weakening of political parties and the difficulties of representation have been factors that have promoted personalization as a political attitude and at the same time, political personalization has affected political parties, fragmenting and weakening them. The parties suffer an erosion of partisan identities on the part of the average citizens and the gap has widened between representatives and represented.

The epic

San Luis has a democracy in the forms and an authoritarian regime in the action of the rulers (Quiroga, 2020). The two Rodríguez Saá brothers built strong power throughout their years in the San Luis administration, establishing an epic, and some myths (Quiroga, 2018) with strong social control supported by the power of the state and the media. . Basically, epic stories tend to attract and sensitize, they easily connect people with the characters and as a consequence it is easy to reproduce these stories, while citizens end up feeling part of the epic itself.

A few years after his tenure in power, the government of San Luis proposed a government communication and advertising system as a substantive part of government management. For this, they acquired the Diario de San Luis, which they refounded as El Diario de la República. El Diario de San Luis was founded on May 2, 1966, but in 1984 it changed owners. This operation allowed him to intervene in the public agenda and in the construction of reality, and at the same time to allocate the bulk of government advertising to his own company.

From July 17, 1992, El Diario de San Luis was renamed El Diario de la República. According to a chronicle of the newspaper itself from 2016, and which refers to the first days of the change of company name:

 “The new name is not capricious, it is the one that best suits our motto: The Republic in the world with democracy, justice and freedom, a motto that includes and encompasses the wishes of all our compatriots: an Argentina present in the world, that it be governed in a democracy, that it brings justice to all and allows each Argentine to be free” El Diario de la Republica (May 2, 2016).

This system organized a message structure aimed at promoting and sustaining the epic and the governmental myth of good management, housing for all, full employment, (Quiroga, 2020) and highlights the persuasive use of communication, associated with the organization of arguments that they expounded the idea of ​​good management.

We present these considerations from the epistemological perspective that places the framework of political communication in the line of constructionism, which aims to understand reality as a social product and that this reality that is perceived is constructed by the first meanings that language grants. From constructionism, myths are considered as ―a political development based on long cycles of political communication (Riorda, 2006, p.1) and also constituted by the images of government management linked to the persuasive process, associated with the communication of the myth and its risks, transformed into a belief system, coherent and complete. A government is also a product that is credited to a public opinion that in general is increasingly unstable and unpredictable or that in many opportunities for convenience, tacitly agrees what the government does, even if it is not necessary for citizens.

In contexts where political opinions are not discussed and only official accounts that refer to the epic and myths are disseminated, generally, they cannot become shared opinions Political language is also behavior and both verbal and non-verbal language constitute a stimulus for the sensory apparatus of those who look and listen, to arrive at perception and the subsequent and inevitable associative networks.


The political myth

The government myth appears as a coherent, complex and totalizing belief system that integrates the strategic direction of government action expressed in government communication. The political myth is a theoretical construct used to describe and analyze government communication. Myths can be considered as a part of political development based on the cycles of political communication and also constituted by the images of government management linked to the persuasive process of communication. It is also a coherent and complete belief system and a government communication tool that allows creating consensus on reality and links the government with the citizen, making them feel part of it and structuring the social creation of meaning around the actions of the state ( Edelman, 1991). Relevant contributions to the theory were made by Edelman, 1991, Crigler 2001, Crozier 2004, Crompton, and Lamb 1986, Riorda 2004, 2006, Van Home, 2001 and Sánchez Galicia, 2013, among others.

In line with the communication theory of Francesco Fattorello (1964), for a party, political movement or a government, the image is relevant and can determine the behavior of people towards it, where the way the party or a movement is perceived Political influences the attitudes of individuals. The image is determined by the perception of his performance: what he does or does not do, what he builds determines his image in the minds of citizens, all potential voters, especially when the act of voting is mandatory. Then, the task of those who deal with communication both inside and outside the communicating entity, consists of guaranteeing the transmission of the “creed”, the epic and the mythology on which it is based and, above all, the coherence of all the signals and messages transmitted

Every myth harbors values, symbols, beliefs with which the government and citizens agree, it is also a social and political production built on the use of language and images, uniting the programmatic content of the government with the affective and emotional elements that sustain its permanence. , intervening in the formation of perceptions the government and its communication, the media, social networks, the citizens who support perceptions and reject ideas of intellectual construction.

Perception can be understood as the interaction between the identity of the person who proposes it and the experience of recognition of it from subjectivity by those who receive it. This perceived image, as Sánchez Galicia (2013) points out, is built in the mind of the citizen from the perception of their environment, in two planes of existence for political communication: one is the concrete plane signified by the physical satisfiers that society expects and the other is the presence of a symbolic image that contains those psychological raw materials (Sánchez Galicia, 2013). The expansion of the political myth requires the establishment of polarization, understood as a field in conflict.

Political heritage

Approached from the Social Sciences, the notion of heritage implies the idea of ​​a relationship between society, politics and the territory that it inhabits. The notion of heritage reflects a close relationship between cultural and symbolic assets that make up the identity of a specific social group, becoming an engine for the transmission of practices, skills and knowledge. The positive perception that citizens have of a government due to its material achievements (which can be seen and touched) is a political patrimony of those who govern. The notion of political patrimony indicates the transmission, valuation, inheritance, and generation, although these processes are always in permanent construction. The visible and palpable is not always what citizens need or should need. The material and visible hides the invisible, what is not realized. A material work can be seen, now what eyes do we need to see investments in health, education and security for example.

The idea of ​​the existence of a political heritage accounts for an intangible cultural asset, such as those intangibles that dialogue and confront with the identities of the social subjects of each community, and that from their vertical use from power, become elements that enhance the development and political dominance of a territory.

In a democracy based on popular consensus, doing politics means living in the present and governing the future. It means knowing the social needs and not being afraid of the specific ideas and proposals that the company itself poses to us. When the strong executive power imposes its story, its preeminent power over the other powers of democracy and citizens for convenience, indisposition or for other reasons, does not participate in public agendas and gives its consent, we have an exacerbation of personalization politics and an area in which rulers decide for themselves, rather than for citizens’ needs, also doing their own business in many cases.



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[1] Master of Higher Education. Coordinator of the ICAES Research Center based in Villa Mercedes (SL), Argentina. Member of the Personalism Project in Public Institutions of the San Luis National University directed by Dr. Carlos Mazzola. E-mail: sergioricardoquiroga@gmail.com

Palabras clave

parties patrimonialism personalism politics power


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