El Univeral has a piece regarding Shannon O'Neil's view that we should avoid using the word "cartel" to describe Mexican smugglers. (I agree.) She favors TCO or DTO, which I think is a bit cumbersome; I'd prefer just gang or crew or syndicate, which is smoother and also gives a good sense of the fluid nature of relationships within organized crime.
It's hard to make that switch, however, as long as the groups themselves are calling themselves "cartels". Not all of them do (La Línea, Los Zetas, et cetera), but many do, and it's going to be nearly impossible to eliminate "cartel" from popular usage when arguably the most important group calls itself the Sinaloa Cartel.