Illustrious visitors to Cuba

By Marilia Brocchetto, CNN

Updated 2:31 PM ET, Wed March 16, 2016
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Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, left, visits Cuba in 2002. He was invited by Cuban President Fidel Castro, right, and the two men shook hands at the State Council in Havana. This month, President Barack Obama will be the first sitting U.S. leader to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But the nation has been far from isolated. Here are other world leaders, religious figures and big-time celebrities who have been to the Caribbean island. Adalbertp Roque/AFP/Getty Images
Shortly after being released from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela visited Cuba and shook hands with Castro. Castro and Mandela were friends. In 1994, when Mandela became the first black President of South Africa, Castro was a guest of honor at his inauguration. AP File Photo
In 1989, just two years before the Soviet Union collapsed, Castro met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Cuba and Russia enjoy a long friendship going back to the Cold War. Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, no Russian leader visited Cuba until 2000, when President Vladimir Putin traveled to the island to meet with Castro. Putin returned in 2014, meeting with Castro and his brother Raul. "Cooperation with the Latin American nations is one of the key orientations and prospects of Russian foreign policy," Putin said afterward. Adalbertp Roque/AFP/Getty Images
Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was one of Fidel Castro's closest allies. Their friendship spanned almost two decades. Chavez visited Cuba for the first time in 1994, shortly after his release from jail for his involvement in a failed government coup. Chavez visited Cuba many times in the years after that visit. He also received medical treatment on the island until his death in 2013. Adalbertp Roque/AFP/Getty Images
Cuba has hosted multiple visits by Iranian heads of state. Here, Cuban President Raul Castro, left, attends a welcoming ceremony with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2012. During his trip, Ahmadinejad called on developing countries to unite against "imperialism and capitalism." Alejandro Ernesto/AFP/Getty Images
Fidel Castro enjoyed a close relationship with many Middle Eastern heads of state. One of them was Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Hussein's first visit to Cuba was in 1979, when he was vice president. AFP/Getty Images
Cuba has also welcomed three Popes since the revolution. Pope John Paul II paid the first-ever papal visit to Cuba in 1998. He was greeted personally by Fidel Castro. The pontiff toured the island nation for five days. Paul Hanna/AFP/Getty Images
Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba 14 years after his predecessor. The trip came a little less than a year before his retirement. During his visit, the Pope told the audience that he sought to emphasize "the importance of faith," highlighting the need for good relations between the church and the island nation. L'Osservatore Romano/Vatican-Pool/Getty Images
No Pope has been to the island more times than Pope Francis. Even though he has been the leader of the Catholic Church for less than three years, Pope Francis has already visited Cuba twice. His first visit was in 2015. Francis called on the communist nation to "open itself to the world," while praising its recent restoration of diplomatic ties with the United States. In 2016, Cuba served as a backdrop to the first meeting between the heads of the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches since the Great Schism in 1054. Gregorio Borgia/AFP/Getty Images
In recent years, Cuba has seen a star-studded cast of visitors. Rapper Jay Z and his wife, pop star Beyonce, caused a stir during their trip to the island in 2013. Their visit was so heavily criticized that the Treasury Department's Office of Inspector General had to get involved. The Treasury Department deemed their trip did not violate any U.S. sanctions laws that were in place during the visit. Tumblr/IamBeyonce
American movie director Steven Spielberg spent four days in Cuba in 2002. The trip, which had been authorized by the U.S. government as a cultural exchange, served as a way for the filmmaker to showcase some of his movies and meet with some Cuban filmmakers. Spielberg also dined with Fidel Castro, discussing arts, politics and history. Jorge Rey/Getty Images
In the early 2000s, when former soccer star Diego Maradona was battling his cocaine addiction, the Argentine sought treatment in Cuba. He and Fidel Castro have been close ever since. Maradona has visited the island and met with Castro multiple times. The two have even exchanged letters. In 2015, it was a letter to Maradona that quelled rumors the Cuban leader had passed away. Ismael Francisco Gonzalez/AFP/Getty Images
In 2001, American actor Kevin Costner went to Cuba to give Fidel Castro a private screening of Costner's movie "Thirteen Days." The movie dealt with the subject of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Jose Goitia/AP
"How could I miss this opportunity? Fidel, much more than a man, is a great idea." Those were French actor Gerard Depardieu's first words upon arriving in Havana. The actor has been to the island multiple times, including a celebration for Castro's 80th birthday in 2006. William Stevens/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images