Panama is suffering from a "virus of corruption" and the political crisis can only worsen as long as Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega remains in power, ousted vice president Roderick Esquivel said.

"Panama is like a home with termites, from a distance one sees a beautifully painted house and from the inside everything is falling down," Esquivel said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press."The whole building is worm-eaten," he added. "We have to shun the virus of corruption and the authoritarianism that is consuming us."

The military-controlled legislative assembly ousted Esquivel and President Eric Arturo Delvalle in February after Delvalle tried to fire Noriega, commander of Panama's 15,000-member Defense Forces.

The general, Panama's de facto ruler, was indicted by two U.S. federal grand juries on drug trafficking charges. He has successfully resisted U.S. economic sanctions that were aimed at forcing him to step down but instead have severely damaged Panama's economy.

Esquivel returned to his private medical practice after he was ousted. He made his comments in his office in Panama City.

Esquivel said the country's political and economic crises will worsen because of Noriega's "stubbornness in maintaining authoritarianism."

"A complete reconstruction has become necessary in Panama, but not with words, not with rhetoric," Esquivel said. "We have to rebuild the reputation of the country, the banking system, education, the system of medical assistance."