MEXICO CITY -- One of Mexico's largest retailers has been unwillingly dragged into the hullabaloo over just how dirty the nation's recent presidential election was, and now it's yelling "ya basta!" -- enough already -- and accusing the runner-up of promoting protests at its stores that have been marked by "aggressiveness and violence."
The retail giant Soriana, which operates more than 500 grocery stores, quickie marts and Wal-Mart-style megastores, became entangled in the country's impassioned postelectoral narrative soon after the July 1 vote. At that time reports surfaced that supporters of the victorious Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, were jamming the outlets' aisles in the hopes of redeeming prepaid Soriana gift cards that the PRI had allegedly given them.
The PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, bested left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador by 6.6 percentage points. But Lopez Obrador and his Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, allege that the PRI engaged in vote buying with a debit-card scheme. They have also alleged that the PRI laundered money and spent more than federal campaign limits.
The PRI has denied wrongdoing, and accused the left of its own campaign shenanigans. Lopez Obrador, meanwhile, has called for the election to be annulled and filed a formal complaint with the electoral tribunal, which has until Sept. 6 to issue a ruling.
The chances of an annulment appear slim, but that hasn't stopped thousands of left-wing Mexicans from taking to the streets demanding one. Some of them have also been targeting Soriana. Some students in the protest movement known as Yo Soy 132 ("I am 132") have called for a boycott. Other protesters have shown up at Soriana stores to protest the election and condemn Soriana for its perceived role.
Soriana officials have said that they have no involvement with politics. They have argued that the cards in question were part of a customer loyalty program used for discounts and earned prizes and not prepaid gift cards at all.
The company began throwing sharper elbows after Monday morning, when someone lobbed what appeared to be Molotov cocktails at a Soriana store in the state of Nuevo Leon. Police made no mention of a known political motive.
On Wednesday, Soriana released full-page newspaper advertisements calling Lopez Obrador and other members of his party "responsible for all of the physical and material harm" from the protests, which, "lamentably, have intensified in their aggressiveness and violence."
Soriana executives claim there have been 200 protests outside their stores, some of which involved broken glass, stolen shopping carts, vandalism of merchandise and attacks on shoppers and employees.
Lopez Obrador and other party leaders have urged their followers to remain peaceful. But they have been blunt in their assertions that the PRI and its allies had been caught doing shady business.
A tweet from Lopez Obrador on Wednesday didn't mention the company, but stated: "The PRI's owners thought they could buy the presidency and now their illicit money is showing them naked. Don't blame me. Calm down."
At a news conference Thursday, Lopez Obrador said he had a "tranquil conscience" when it comes to Soriana because of his repeated calls for peaceful protest. He also urged employees not to "convert Soriana into a department store of Peña Nieto and the PRI."
-- Richard Fausset
Photo: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, presidential candidate for the Democratic Revolution Party, shows a retail card during a news conference in Mexico City on July 18. His supporters say such cards were given to supporters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party before the July 1 election, allegedly to influence votes. Credit: Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press