The bombs that went off in Madrid last week, three days before national elections, had all the characteristics of al-Qaida's reign of terror. The Spanish government's attempt to control information had all the characteristics of political opportunism.

A week before last Sunday's election, the conservative Popular Party (PP) seemed unbeatable, even to the leadership of the main opposition party (the Spanish Socialist Worker's Party, or PSOE).

According to conventional wisdom, the PP had managed Spain's economy credibly during eight years. It had whipped the PSOE into political mimetism and submitted virtually all opposition into official silence regarding any flexibility to re-negotiate the constitutional claims of nationalists, strengthened by recent regional elections-especially Catalonia and Euskadi, the Basque province. Thus, Spain's Achilles heel as a multi-national state in the world's interdependent economy-the phenomenon that economic integration and political disintegration go hand in hand and reinforce each other-has now re-emerged from European integration where it had been seemingly buried.

The unconscionable plan to kill and wound thousands of innocent people from all walks of life at the architecturally impressive Atocha train station took place exactly 911 days after an equally macabre plan in New York and Washington punished the innocent on 9-11, two-and-a-half years ago. It was a reminder that the Spanish government "provoked the Madrid terror bombings by supporting the US-led war in Iraq" and thereby made Spain "a target for al-Qaida." (STAR, Mar. 15.)

Trying to minimize the political damage of an alliance with the US that the overwhelming majority of Spaniards decried, the conservative government attempted to manipulate information by insisting that the culprit for this carnage was ETA, a Basque nationalist organization that engaged in armed struggle against Spain's central government. Immediately, high government officials menacingly decreed official intolerance of anyone who questioned the official story. The notion of ETA's guilt was expected to strengthen the PP's expected electoral victory.

But the plan backfired. Everyone in Europe is well acquainted with ETA's modus operandi, which targeted government, police and military officials-not the public, at large. Furthermore, the grandiose scheme of blowing up Atocha from within four morning commuter trains (which fortunately failed, greatly reducing the number of probable victims), had the imprints of al-Qaida terrorism widely known and analyzed throughout Europe after the events of 9-11 in the US. Finally, two days after Atocha, on the eve of the election, Italian and French newspapers commonly sold and read in Madrid, carried the headlines that the Spanish press did not publish until the following day when the conservative government admitted that five suspects unrelated to ETA had been arrested; and that al-Qaida credibly claimed authorship of this crime in a recording in Arabic found a few hours after the explosions.

Spontaneous demonstrations, especially by university students, crystallized the indignation that so many Spaniards felt at the insensitive use of this tragedy by the PP government for partisan political purposes. Not only did the PSOE socialists win. Catalonian independentista and nationalist forces dramatically increased their parliamentary representation, practically ensuring that the new government would have to seriously face the claims of nationalities for constitutional reform. These are difficult questions for the socialists.

Other issues are much more simple, though not without consequence. Will the new government, mindful of the overwhelming opposition to Spain's involvement in Iraq, continue to support the US policy that brought innocent people at Atocha into harm's way? Or will it declare its independence from the Americans? The latest reports show the socialists are firmly committed to the latter.

In Puerto Rico, we are not off the hook. Under the pretext of "common defense," the colonial parties that alternate in government have submissively caved in to US militarism. They allowed Puerto Rico, without protest, to be used as a pawn in the Cold War and as a launching pad for US interventionism in Latin America through the 20th century. They have consistently defended Navy abuses against Puerto Ricans in Vieques. And they have blindly supported US madness from Viet Nam to Iraq.

Last year, the resident commissioner and candidate for governor begged Homeland Security to set up its anti-democratic quarters in Ceiba, even after the people's civic opposition had forced the Pentagon out of Vieques and Roosevelt Roads. And last week, the governor unveiled a costly "peace plan" that rather resembles a "pre-paid plan" for over-the-limit campaign spending, while simultaneously promoting military recruitment of Puerto Rico's youth in the public schools.

The longer Puerto Rico's colonial leadership seeks refuge in the American Empire under the sovereignty of the United States, the more our people shall be placed in harm's way in this world we live in. The longer it takes to decolonize, the greater the chances of a reign of terror such as that which reigned last week in Spain.

Now, to avoid becoming sitting ducks for international terrorism, we must begin to ponder a crucial question: Which way will we vote in the next election?