PERU'S PRESIDENT Alberto Fujimori lives on the line between democrat and dictator. Lately, but hardly for the first time, he has been crossing the line and in the wrong direction. He gathered authority in urgent and well-supported opposition to terrorism. Now he is abusing his presidential privilege to aggrandize his personal power.

He is back in the news on account of his tamed parliament's decision to withdraw from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. President Fujimori professed outrage at the court's effort to give due-process civilian trials to four terrorists convicted by "faceless" military judges (masked for their own protection). He even invented a false scare that the court would free all 2,000 jailed terrorists. At that, Mr. Fujimori probably satisfied many Peruvians. The cushion he enjoys for his power-grabbing arises from his success in all but wiping out the Shining Path and Tupamaros.

But that was not enough for Mr. Fujimori. He went on to raise the widespread suspicion that he was sticking it to the Inter-American Court in order to have free sailing for his power plays against political opponents at home. The most notable of these critics is Baruch Ivcher, proprietor of the hard-charging Channel 2.

The Inter-American Court is a safety net strung under the vulnerable court systems of Latin countries. It needs help. The United States, though it now criticizes Peru's withdrawal, itself opted out lest its sovereignty be compromised. Not even Costa Rica has so far been heard to criticize Peru.

In Latin America and in the United States, too, despite muttered disapproval of the high-handed Mr. Fujimori, there is a layer of quiet respect for what is seen as his rescue of his country from terrorism, a crippled economy and the drug traffickers. There is also a fear that by hardening personal rule he subverts the evolution of an institutionalized democracy. He aggravates this fear by pressing now for a third term, harassing his political opponents and cracking down on independent media and judges. For short-term convenience he tempts long-term chaos. This cannot be to Peru's advantage.