García says with the fellowship, “I proved to myself that I can report anywhere.”

When Kamala Harris came to Guatemala City in June of last year, Jody García covered the story — particularly the vice president’s comments on corruption and migration — for a small monthly magazine called La Cuerda.

With Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei beside her, Harris said the United States “must root out corruption wherever it exists” to be true to the country’s principles and to reduce people’s desire to migrate.

On Sept. 18, a few weeks after her Alfred Friendly reporting fellowship ended, García had an article published that assessed the Biden administration’s actual impact on corruption and migration in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America — this time for The New York Times.

García and NYT’s Mexico correspondent reported that “Central America has emerged as one of the Biden administration’s biggest foreign policy setbacks. Many nations have slid deeper into authoritarianism and poverty and sent record numbers of migrants to the U.S. southern border, leaving the region’s fragile democracies in the worst state since the Cold War, according to former U.S. diplomats and civil society leaders.”

“In Guatemala, Central America’s most populous nation, Mr. Giammattei has methodically dismantled the last vestiges of independent institutions. One by one, his government has jailed, exiled or silenced the very people the United States said would underpin its efforts to make Guatemala a more fair and ultimately more livable society: independent judges, prosecutors, journalists and human rights activists.” 

“The article was widely read in Guatemala,” García said. “I received tons of comments from people saying, ‘good job, great analysis.’ People are happy that international media like The New York Times is paying attention to what is happening here.”

García is concerned that there could be repercussions, although in the days after publication the government-backed “troll armies” had not targeted her. 

García’s strong reporting on corruption in Guatemala was a primary reason she was selected for a 2022 fellowship sponsored by the TRACE Foundation, a nonprofit that supports investigative journalism and projects that encourage greater commercial transparency.

García worked for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald during her fellowship. She recently contributed to the Times and The Guardian in London, but García said this bylined article, published on the front page of the Sunday international section, required the highest level of reporting she’s ever experienced.

Jody Garcia comments in a video call on her New York Times reporting experience

The two reporters went to Washington and then spent a week in Guatemala City, and ended up interviewing more than 40 people over a month’s time.

“It was super demanding, but I definitely learned a lot,” García said. “In some media in Guatemala there is a tendency to speak to just one side for the story. Here I was reminded how important it is to speak with everyone involved to have a better understanding of what is happening.”

García said the advanced training at the Missouri School of Journalism and an Investigative Reporters and Editors conference during the fellowship prepared her for the rigors of international reporting. 

The interactions with journalists from all over the world gave her a broader perspective and brought her into a supportive network she can tap into if “the harassment gets too strong” and she is forced to leave Guatemala. “There are a lot of (Guatemalan) journalists right now in exile, in Washington, in Costa Rica, in Mexico.”

“It wouldn’t be the end of my career — I can still do the job in other countries,” García said. “The fellowship helped me a lot to realize I have these options. And I have the skills to keep growing, not just in Guatemala. With this fellowship, I proved to myself that I can report anywhere.”

TRACE International President and Founder Alexandra Wrage said, “The TRACE Foundation is proud to have sponsored Jody García’s fellowship with AFPP. High-quality, independent investigative journalism is critical to countering autocracy and corruption worldwide, and we look forward to seeing more of Jody’s successes in the future.”