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Rubén Arteaga worthy son of his father

19/01/2022

A little more than a couple of hours’ flight (from Madrid) away, one can find oneself in front of the mirror of Caribbean tobacco: the Canary Islands. Tobacco tradition and culture is embedded in the history of the so-called Fortunate Islands and in the DNA of its people, so that, without much effort, one can feel there the same as in the Caribbean, but just at the opposite end of the trade winds, on this side of the quicksilver.

That makes Rubén Arteaga’s story, in reality, not very different from that of any Cuban, Dominican or Central American tobacco grower. His grandfather was a tobacco farmer and that tradition is important. Every good tobacconist likes to show it, as is the passion they feel. Rubén Arteaga’s is no less so. You only have to see how enthusiastically he guides you through every corner of the Dos Santos factory, where brands such as La Regenta, Cónsul and Condal are produced, to realise that Rubén exudes passion from every pore of his skin.

But there is something more to someone who was destined for tobacco with no possible escape. His father, Pedro Arteaga, “Periquín”, fed his family thanks to tobacco; his own house was a chinchal and if he and his siblings wanted presents for Christmas, they had to help out at home. There is passion, no doubt, but there was a need to be met that today has become a trade and a source of gratitude.

THE SIESTA IN THE BALE

At 43, Rubén Arteaga is today the master tobacconist at a century-old tobacco factory, the last bastion of the great Canary Islands industry: Dos Santos (formerly La Regenta). That baby that his father, Periquín, used to place on top of the bales of tobacco, “with the chupa on [the dummy in the Canary Islands] so that he would take a nap there while they worked. My father was employed at the Insular Tabacalera, which was a huge factory here in Las Palmas. In fact, my parents met there.

In 1981, Pedro Arteaga appeared in the newspapers in front of the cigar that was then the biggest in the world, twisted by him and other fellow tobacco growers with 110 kilos of tobacco. Rubén shows me the newspaper clipping, which he still keeps, while he laughs and exclaims: “Four metres of tobacco, look at that missile!

The transfer of Insular Tabacalera to the Dominican Republic was a cataclysm for the tobacco industry in the Canary Islands. Many tobacco growers were left without work, among them Periquín himself, who, without hesitation, set up the chinchal in his house. And he put his three sons to work. “I was the youngest. My older brothers would twist the cigars and I would be left to do the stalking, make some tirulo? But for me it was a game. They did have to work. They made 400 cigars a day. The brand was called Los Divinos and, afterwards, my job was to sell them in the streets, in the port, to tourists, to bars…”.

Despite the hardship, Rubén has fond memories of that time. You can tell that when he talks about his father, he does so with respect and admiration for a man who went out of his way to provide for his family. “The factory was at home, in one of the rooms, and we lived in a block of flats,” Rubén recalls, “so you can imagine what it was like to unload the bales, take them up to the house…. It was quite a story”. That chapter, that of necessity, was overcome when Periquín finally joined Dos Santos at the end of the 1980s, where he left an indelible mark. There is no one in that company who does not speak with admiration, and a smile, of Pedro Arteaga. The first of them, the current master tobacconist: his son Rubén.

LA REGENTA

Rubén was determined to follow in his footsteps. He had not yet come of age when he joined his uncle’s factory in the La Isleta neighbourhood of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria as a tobacconist. In that small chinchal, Rubén Arteaga fully developed his skills as a tobacconist until, finally, in the year 2000, Dos Santos hired him as well.

His father was already a well-known tobacconist in the Canary Islands. He took Rubén, sat him next to him and prepared to pass the baton to him. “These are the best memories I have of him. We used to sit together to do the “ligas”, to taste cigars and he always made me do it with sparkling water! While he had his rum…”. And when he saw that his son could fly on his own, he retired.

Now, Rubén Arteaga is in charge of production at Dos Santos: he buys the tobacco, processes it, makes the bands, controls the consistency and quality, and develops new projects. And, of course, he does it with passion, a son worthy of his father, Periquín.