Havana Rotary Club’s 100th Anniversary

And its future in Cuba

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Graham Sowa

HAVANA TIMES — In 1979 Rotary International, the world’s largest service organization with clubs in over 120 countries, laid the foundation for a program to rid the world of polio, which became to be known as Polio Plus. Coincidently, the same year Cuba was put on a list of countries where Rotary Clubs were no longer allowed to be chartered.

During the past decades Polio transmission has been eliminated in all but three or four places on our planet. The effort has been tremendous, with multiple service groups, health organizations and The United Nations making contributions. Cuba has been there along the way, sharing its experience of having eliminated natural polio transmission by the mid 1960’s.

Even though Cuba has played a role in this project with its tens of thousands of doctors in dozens countries, working in some of the world’s most rural and underdeveloped areas, Rotary International has yet to charter any new clubs on the island.

Now, in 2016, we are on the doorstep of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Havana Rotary Club, which had its first meeting on April 29, 1916.


The Havana Rotary Club was the first Rotary Club to be founded outside an English speaking country, and within 30 years of its founding there were close to 60 other clubs across the island. Rotary had such a strong presence in Cuba that Havana was selected as the site of the 1940 Rotary International Convention. It was here in Havana that Rotary issued a desperate call for peace on the doorstep to World War II. Cuban nationals served on three different occasions as President of Rotary International.

As far as public record goes the Cuban government never had a problem with Rotary. As with other social and service organizations present on the island (such as the Odd Fellows, Masons, and Red Cross) respect for local laws and sovereignty is expected. As Rotary has an apolitical mandate and exists in almost every country in the world respecting local law will not likely be a problem in Cuba.

rotary-cubaRotary’s Polio Plus program to eliminate polio transmission worldwide is just one example of the potential collaborative space that the organization has in common with Cuba. Cultural exchange, projects focused on the environment, healthcare, ensuring clean water, university scholarships and working towards global friendship while respecting identity and celebrating differences are all parts of what makes Rotary what it is.

The 100th anniversary of the founding of the Rotary Club of Havana should be seen as an opportunity for Rotary International to reach out and once again let clubs be chartered on this Caribbean island nation.


Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

16 thoughts on “Havana Rotary Club’s 100th Anniversary

  • March 19, 2016 at 10:02 am

    I will be in Cuba in early November of this year (2016). Is there a club open now?

  • March 15, 2016 at 5:59 pm


  • March 15, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    Hello, I am a Rotary member in Lakewood, Colorado, Lakewood Foothills. We will be visiting Cuba May 9 – May 23 as part of a Sustainable Cuba delegation. We will be in Havana for a few days and then on to Santiago for a conference and tours of solar, wind, and sustainable agriculture in that area. I would love to make contacts in Cuba for Rotary, and here in the U.S. with people that are working on reinstatement of Cuba Rotary clubs. We also have interest in establishing projects in Cuba. You may reach me at [email protected] Thanks!!!

  • March 15, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    Hi Marie, I have the same request – see my post above – please email me at [email protected]

  • February 9, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    Hello, I am trying to get in touch with people involved in Rotary in Cuba. Do you know anyone I might be able to contact? My email is [email protected]. Thanks!

  • January 13, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Hello Graham – I have already sent a request to reinstate the Havana chapter! If I get the go-ahead I will write to you so you can spread the word – we will need a minimum of 20 members!

  • January 10, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    That’s one heck of a link and over 100 years! Wonderful alliance for worldwide combinations and discussions regarding business and opportunities. Was totally unaware Cuba still had this program.

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