UNLIKE my pal Rosie Kane, I’ve never met Fidel Castro. There’s no doubt she was smitten though. Rosie couldn’t bear the all-too-common leftie man that would stand and lecture you for 50 minutes – but when she met Fidel in Cuba, he held her attention for hours on end.

Along with Che Guevara, Fidel Castro was a backdrop to my youthful revolutionary tendencies. My childhood was immersed in poverty, inequality and injustice. As Britain delivered Thatcherism, the idealistic, glamorous and audacious Cuban revolutionaries were the ideal focus for a mix of teenage political and hormonal infatuation.

Cuba was a living example that revolution was possible. And sometimes necessary. Castro set out to be a social democrat and stood for elected office – but he was thwarted by a US-backed military coup in 1952, which installed the brutal, dictatorial Batista regime. Impatient for change, he formed the 26th July Movement along with his brother Raul, Che Guevara and others. They waged a near six-year guerilla war and eventually took power on Ne’erday, 1959.

I’m not one for sanctifying the dead. And I’ve always struggled with the use of violence for any purpose. I question the integrity of change gained by force. But when we discuss Cuba and its flaws, we cannot forget that the country was shaped not just by the personality of Castro, but also by economic, social and military forces beyond anyone’s control.

Back in 1959, Cuba was a small island nation of just seven million people. And almost from the start of Castro’s rule, the USA set out to destroy the socialist experiment taking place just 90 miles from the Florida coast, closer than Shetland is to Orkney.

For more than half a century, the most powerful country on the planet combined economic warfare with military subterfuge against its tiny neighbour. The country was never allowed to blossom by the world. Counter revolutionaries, within and without Cuba, plotted its demise from its first breath.

Barely a year after the Cuban Revolution, a paramilitary army trained and funded by the CIA invaded the country. The Bay of Pigs invasion failed, but it left Cuba with nowhere to turn but the arms of the Stalinised USSR.

In the decades to come, Cuban agencies documented over 600 assassination attempts and conspiracies against Castro. Many were orchestrated by the CIA, whose bizarre plots included the use of exploding cigars, poisonous syringes and Mafia mobsters. That Fidel died of natural causes at the grand old age of 90 was an amazing achievement.

Then there was the economic blockade, which cost the little island an estimated $833 billion.

And during all this time, lest we forget, the United States of America armed and funded some of the most murderous dictators of the 20th century. General Pinochet, for example, who overthrew a democratically elected government, turned football stadiums into mass torture chambers, slaughtered 50,000 people and drove a million more into exile.

Or General Zia-ul-Haq, who staged a military coup in Pakistan against the elected government of Ali Bhutto, banned all political activity and publicly flogged women accused by their husbands of adultery. Or General Suharto in Indonesia, who embezzled billions of dollars and massacred 500 students for taking part in a protest march.

Or the Shah of Iran, whose notorious secret police force tortured and executed anyone who expressed dissent. Or Saddam Hussein, who exterminated 100,000 Kurds with poisonous gas and chemical weapons. And that’s before we even start on Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other murderous regimes bankrolled to this day by Washington DC.

The US stomached them all. But the ripples of socialism lapping at their shores were unpalatable.

Yes, Castro can be legitimately criticised for human rights abuses. But just imagine for a moment where we might be today had the UK been subjected to a 57-year economic blockade and Queen Elizabeth targeted for 600 assassination attempts by the most powerful states on earth. And let’s also look at the other side of Cuba, which has avoided the extremes of dripping wealth and hunger, starkly visible almost everywhere else in the world.

Let’s acknowledge some of the concrete achievements of the Cuban revolution. Under the old Batista dictatorship in the 1950s, half of Cuban children did not go to school. Under Castro Cuba achieved 100 per cent literacy.

By way of comparison, Scotland’s literacy rate stands at around at 73 per cent. Cuba’s secondary school class sizes are half the size of Scotland’s. Cuba offers universal free school meals as well as free before and after-school care. The Caribbean island even sends thousands of volunteers a year on missions across the world to pursue “literacy without borders”.

Its achievements in education are mirrored in health and lauded by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In 2015 Cuba became the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. THE US spends 20 times more per head on healthcare than Cuba, most of which lines the pockets of shareholders. But Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate and a similar life expectancy. And it exports doctors across the world – most recently to help tackle the Ebola crisis in Africa.

Yes, Cuba has its problems – not least its highly educated but under-employed youth population, which tends to be seduced by the material luxuries that wealthy tourists ostentatiously display. They don’t remember the horrors of the corrupt Batista regime, which killed 20,000 Cubans in seven years while wheeling and dealing with the Mafia, drugs cartels and the US government.

On the day Castro died, Guardian columnist George Monbiot set out “The 13 impossible crises that humanity now faces”. It makes stark reading. Soil depletion that could mean we have just 60 harvests left; the destruction of millions of jobs by automation; runaway climate change; Donald Trump and more.

Those right-wing free marketeers queueing up to list Castro’s faults really need to have a long hard look at themselves and the catastrophe around us. Just exactly what is their plan to save humanity and the planet?

Cuba has at least tried to build a new model society that tries to grapple with the great crises of our age: inequality, ecological destruction, climate change. Those of us on the left who call ourselves green, feminist, and socialist do need to critically examine Cuba, warts and all, and learn from whatever mistakes it’s made. We then need to come up with a coherent and attainable alternative for the 21st century. But we have nothing whatsoever to learn from those responsible for taking us to the brink of Armageddon.