It was the Portuguese who brought rumours to Europe of the cannibal Mexicans and their attacks on the Caribbean and the South American coastland. They also brought news of the first great disaster in this war, the capture, sack and carrying away for sacrifice and consumption of the inhabitants of the old city of Cartagena. The news, which was of mild concern in Europe because of the developing economic links, caused scandal and uproar throughout Brazil. No one knew how it had happened, but rumours soon spread that the city had been betrayed, or that the Mexicans had infiltrated it and bribed some of the garrison, or that they had found a weak spot or gate left unguarded by laziness or inefficiency or corruption. The war was not going well for the Brazilians. They were on the defensive, dispersed across a vast region, unable to concentrate against a much more mobile enemy who could attack anywhere, and incapable of mounting a strong invasion of Mexico to destroy the source of their problem. Although they tried to create and deploy a navy of small craft, drawn from their fishermen and coastal traders, these ships were seldom in the right place at the right time and in sufficient strength to defeat the raiders. This did create opportunities for European traders to winkle their way into the coastal trade and sell their goods to people who could no longer obtain local products, even though some of these ships and sailors were seized and press-ganged into the Brazilian navy. The Mexican raiders had established temporary and permanent bases and hideouts on the Caribbean islands, and started to do the same on the coastlands of South America, so clearing them out was a task which would have taxed Pompey.
That was just the start of the problem for the Brazilians. It was made much worse by their military, political and social weaknesses. Their state, although large was not very strong. Loyalty to the state was undercut by virtually feudal loyalty to noble families and by the jealousies between them. Army units were more likely to obey the family interests of their officers (who would all be drawn from families supporting that of the commander of each unit) than the orders of ministers or of the President, who were regarded as successful players of the political game on behalf of their own families and interests. They were not well trained for war or accustomed to service in the field, since they had lacked a local enemy and were used mainly for riot suppression, brief coups and as counters in assessment of the relative power of influential families. Consequently there was much bitter bickering after each failure or defeat, buck-passing, name-calling and refusal to co-operate and even suspicion of treachery. This suspicion was not always unjustified. Some families found that the best way for them to preserve their estates and their lives was to co-operate with the raiders. Others formed gangs to pillage their neighbors, make them prisoners and sell them to the Mexicans. Some officers and officials accepted bribes to turn a blind eye to the activities of the Mexicans. Peace, prosperity and the possibility of civilised living fled the region. The disorder spread down the social scale. Many of the poor decided that they had no objection to eating those that were richer than themselves, or even each other, or to helping the Mexicans to do so, particularly if they personally stood to benefit thereby. Some imitated the Mexicans when they could and professed to be converts to their religion of blood. As chaos and disorder spread across the north of the country some people just formed gangs to fight off everyone else in the desire to be left alone.
Some of the more nervous or far sighted investors began to sell their interests in Brazil and to re-invest their wealth in Portugal. German investors began to re-consider the prospects of Brazil and made their unease known to the German government. This latter refused Brazilian requests for military support. They had no desire to mount a major expedition across the Atlantic and Caribbean, and thought it would probably have been futile in any case. The most they would offer was a small training and advisory mission, although they had no expectation of converting the local soldiery to German attitudes and standards. It might help to prop up the defence of the main towns, and it would ease the political pressure from German investors. They were sure that the Brazilians and the Mexicans needed no training and not much encouragement to inspire them to cut each other’s throats, and were quite welcome to do so. They would, however, offer the assistance of some warships, no longer so urgently needed in the Mediterranean, and encouraged their allies and associates to do likewise.
This contributed to the interest felt in other European countries in safeguarding their access to tropical produce and obtaining their own sources of supply. This was a trade in luxuries, paid for largely with wine, whiskey, brandy or whatever mainly alcoholic luxuries they themselves made. It had been simpler to buy from the Brazilians, but as their future became more uncertain, and their present production less reliable, thoughts turned to the alternative of growing Europe’s own supplies on small islands which it was hoped would be easier to defend from raids by the Mexican cannibals. The Portuguese resumed their much earlier control of the Atlantic islands, and their experience, together with some Brazilian assistance would help to get plantations going again in the Windward and Leeward Islands. Geography was helpful. These islands were furthest from Mexico, against the prevailing winds for much of the year, which correspondingly assisted communication with Europe and created a back-stop which was a natural limit to the Mexican raids.
Over several decades Brazil slowly stabilised. Most of the north had been abandoned to cannibals, outlaws, forest and disease. The plantation economy of the north east had been severely disrupted by uprisings and attacks, flight to the forest and cannibal raids. New religious sects had arisen amongst the poor and these added to the craziness. Some of them believed that their children were witches, casting evil spells and causing all their problems. This led to child abuse and population decline. Yet the country had not been overwhelmed. The German military advisers had improved the quality and the discipline of the infantry garrisons of the main towns, so they were able to suppress unrest and fend off assaults.The ruling class was more united and determined to resist further incursions, and the bulk of the population was behind them, fearing victory by the cannibals.The Brazilian cavalry was effective in chasing down raiders, especially when they were burdened by captives and loot. European countries had successfully re-colonised many of the smaller Caribbean islands, where their plantations were thriving, supplying most of their countries needs for tropical produce.Their small naval forces and militia were alert and effective in limiting cannibal raids. They co- operated with the Brazilians on counter-raiding the coastlands and islands and made it difficult for the Mexicans to maintain themselves there after they had eaten the local inhabitants. Some of the less scrupulous Portuguese and Brazilian merchants and seamen had the bright idea of buying blacks on the African coast and selling them to the cannibals, or ‘blackbirding’ them directly from Brazil, but this did not prove a very profitable trade because they had to pass through areas patrolled by the European naval forces, which were more resistant to bribery than the Brazilians, reluctant to see the Mexicans strengthened, and keen to obtain the prize money awarded for capturing these ships.
Pressure from the Mexicans eased as their raids became less profitable and encountered stronger resistance. Indeed, whilst still ferocious and aggressive, the Mexicans were becoming weaker and subject to internal divisions. The Americans had pushed them far away from their settlements behind a broad cordon sanitaire of worthless deserts and mountains. Many Mexicans had gone south to repopulate Central America and even to establish towns in towns in what had been the north of Brazil, Bermuda, Cuba, Haiti and San Domingo. This gave their enemies targets to attack once they had discovered them. Their raids were just as bloody as the Mexicans’s, but better organised. No prisoners were eaten. No prisoners were taken. The Brazilians and the Europeans gradually established naval dominance. They raided the coast of Mexico and drove the Mexicans inland. It was agreed between them that the mainland of South America belonged to Brazil, the islands would belong to the European countries and the Brazilians would help to conquer them. Central America and Mexico itself were tacitly accepted as being up for grabs.It was such a coastal raid that encountered the Americans who had gradually expanded around the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.