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The Republic of El Salvador is located in Central America and, with around 21,041 km² and a large population, is a small, very densely populated country. It borders Guatemala in the northwest, Honduras in the northeast and the Pacific Ocean in the south.
The coastal cordilleras run along the Pacific coast; here there are about 20 volcanoes, some of which are still active. The highest mountain of the country is the Cerro El Pital (2 730 m), which is located in the interior near the border to Honduras on a high plateau of 400 to 1 000 m above sea level. The plateau is crossed by wide high valleys and was considered the preferred settlement area due to its fertile volcanic soils. The longest river in El Salvador is the River Lempa, which rises in Guatemala and flows into the Pacific Ocean after 140 km. The capital of the country is San Salvador with 1.99 million inhabitants (agglomeration).
El Salvador’s geographical location makes it a particularly earthquake-prone area: three continental plates meet on the Pacific coast in front of the country. Their friction repeatedly causes earthquakes such as those in 1986 and 2001, when earthquakes measuring 7.0 and 7.6 on the Richter scale caused devastating damage in the country and claimed thousands of lives.
El Salvador is a presidential republic with a constitution from 1983. Head of state and government is the president (since June 2014 Salvador Sánchez Cerén). He is elected by the people for five years (no re-election possible).
The unicameral parliament of the country (Asamblea Legislativa) has 84 seats, the members are directly elected by the people for three years. Elections are compulsory from the age of 18. The country is divided into 14 departamentos.
The economy is only slowly recovering from the consequences of the long civil war, with repeated natural disasters such as Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the earthquake of January 2001, which caused devastating damage. Over a third of the population lives below the poverty line. The official unemployment rate is 6%, but in reality it can be assumed that unemployment and underemployment are around 40%. Foreign exchange from former inhabitants of the country who now live abroad accounts for 18% of GDP.
In agriculture, coffee, sugar cane and cotton are grown in large plantations for export. The export of shellfish (shrimps) also plays a role. Rice, cereals and beans are cultivated for personal consumption. The industry produces food and beverages, tobacco, chemical products (e.g. fertilizers) and textiles. Raw materials, capital and consumer goods are imported.
The USA is by far the leading trading partner for both exports and imports. Other partners are Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico and Honduras. Tourism plays virtually no role in El Salvador. In 2001, the government decided to peg the local currency (colón) to the US dollar and introduce it as a second currency in order to stimulate the country’s stagnating economy. In the meantime, the US dollar has almost completely replaced the colón.